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Geographical’s pick of the books: August

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Geographical’s pick of the books: August
26 Aug
2020
August’s top non-fiction reads

Fossils

BOOK OF THE MONTH: IMPERIAL MUD: The Fight for the Fens by James Boyce

James Boyce wants us to see the long-lasting assault on the marshy lands of Norfolk, Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire in the context of colonising invasion around the world. It’s hard to blame Boyce for expressing his indignation, not least because meddling in the region continued up to the very recent past. A new dynamism arrived in the post-WWII era when an obsession with drainage, as ambitious as any of its forerunners, stretched from the 1950s to the 1970s. Today, 99 per cent of the wetlands have been drained. The word ‘Commons’, Boyce reminds us, was always about more than land. Custom and kinship, ecosystems and traditions, were also at stake. That world has vanished and Boyce tells the tale with that rare but always winning combination of passion and scholarly rigour. Today’s heroic restoration schemes can only cover a couple of dozen square miles but you might spot some rare wildflower or a bittern returned from exile. There is at least as much poignancy as pleasure in the spectacle.

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Wanderland

WANDERLAND: A Search for Magic in the Landscape by Jini Reddy

‘I want to connect with the spirit of the land. I want to feel heard, cared for, led. I want signs, synchronicity, the whole deal!’ writes Reddy. Determined to wring some otherworldly magic out of the grass and rocks and rain of Britain, she searches for ‘lost’ springs in Hastings; visits a labyrinth in Cornwall and converses with modern-day pagan goddesses and the descendants of witches.

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Fossils

FOOTPRINTS: In Search of Future Fossils by David Farrier

There is surely nothing more thought-provoking in Footprints than the very concept of a ‘future fossil’. The notion that, one day, thousands or perhaps millions of years from now, the world as we know it will be wiped from existence, leaving behind mere remnants of contemporary life. 

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Unremembered

THE UNREMEMBERED PLACES: Exploring Scotland’s Wild Histories by Patrick Baker

In The Unremembered Places, Baker draws on boyhood fascinations to unravel the draw that many adventurers feel for the Scottish Highlands. 

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Owls

OWLS OF THE EASTERN ICE: The Quest to Find and Save the World’s Largest Owl by Jonathan C Slaght

In the primeval and largely untouched forests of Primorye, near the borders of Russia, China and North Korea, there lives a rare bird with a two-metre wingspan called the Blakiston’s fish owl. There are probably fewer than 2,000 of them worldwide. With its well-paced, engaging narrative, Owls of the Eastern Ice is an entertaining memoir of an extraordinary type of fieldwork, as well as an informative and much-needed voice for the fish owl.

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Mayflower

MAYFLOWER: A Sea Change by Dawn Bébe and Juliet Coombe

2020 is the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower sailing from Plymouth to what is now called New England. This well-presented book tells that sad story and its sequels with passion and then goes on to present today’s Plymouth in a glowing light. From the ashes of perhaps the most devastated city in Britain from the horrors of the Blitz, due to its importance as a major naval base, a diverse, proud and multi-faceted new community has grown.

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