The cast list of this hugely entertaining book is suitably wide-ranging and Pretty’s goal is to establish such peoples as examples who can offer ‘clues for moderns’ about how to live the good life. There are wonderful accounts of the ways in which nature permeates every aspect of their existence. Highlights include the shamans in Siberia who have a straightforward check-list of the treasures in their midst: the beauty of the landscape, the reassuring presence of animals, and a sense of humility before their spiritual guides and masters.
Hunters in Labrador also emerge very well. They never forget a single expedition because it is there that they commune with nature and emotionally connect with the landscape and fauna that sustain them.
Pretty avoids the pitfall of romanticising other cultures. It is easy to think of the societies described as static. In truth, they change all the time, but innovate on their own terms. If a mobile serves a purpose, super, but this does not preclude gratitude for nature’s bounty and a sense that Homo sapiens are a tiny, fragile, cog in mother Earth’s machine.
THE EDGE OF EXTINCTION: Travels with Enduring People in Vanishing Lands by Jules Pretty, Cornell University Press, £17.50
This review was published in the December 2014 edition of Geographical Magazine