Recommended Reading: Earth in Human Hands

Welcome to another edition of Recommended Reading here on Planet Pailly, a special series devoted to books that I think you should read. Today I’m recommending Earth in Human Hands: Shaping Our Planet’s Future by David Grinspoon.

If you’re a fan of Star Trek, especially if you’re one of those fans who takes Gene Roddenberry’s vision of a utopian future for our planet seriously, then you really need to read this book. 24th Century Earth, according to Star Trek, will be a paradise; Earth in Human Hands tells the story of how we could make that fictional paradise a reality.

Now I should make it clear that this is not explicitly a book about Star Trek (though as I read it, I couldn’t help but notice the parallel). This is actually a book about the Anthropocene, which is something of a controversial term. I’ve written about it previously here and here. The basic idea is that human activies have already had such a dramatic impact on our planet that we’ve initiated a new epoch of Earth’s geological history. The Holocene is over; the Anthropocene has begun.

Up until now, the changes we’ve caused have been, for the most part, inadvertent. We might even be forgiven for our mistakes, since we didn’t realize for a long time what we were doing. But Grinspoon’s premise is that the time is coming when we will stop making inadvertent changes and start making changes that are deliberate and intentional. First, we’ll want to undo some of the damage we’ve caused, and then we’ll start to reengineer our environment to make our lives more comfortable and secure the planet’s biosphere against natural disasters.

To be clear, Grinspoon is not saying we’re there yet. We do not have the knowledge or technology to reengineer our planet—but we may be heading in that direction. If so, the Anthropocene might not be an age of ecological disaster but rather a golden age for planet Earth, under the wise and benevolent stewardship of the human species.

Admittedly this is a hyper-optimistic vision for our future, but then again so was Star Trek. So if Star Trek’s utopian Earth is something you believe in, something you’d like to see become a reality, then David Grinspoon’s Earth in Human Hands is the book for you.

Recommended Reading: Frank Herbert’s Dune

Over a month ago now, I was nominated for a Liebster award by awesome fellow blogger Ann W. Shannon (please check out her blog… it’s pretty awesome, especially if you’re a writer). Unfortunately I was mired in a research project at the time, and I never got around to accepting the award.

But Ann said she would still be interested in getting a book recommendation from me. Specifically, she asked “What is your favorite book? Why should I read it?” With that in mind, I’ve decided to launch a new semi-regular series called Recommended Reading, and today I’d like to recommend my #1 favorite book: Dune by Frank Herbert.

Okay, I realize not everyone will love Dune as much as I do. The book happened to connect with me for personal reasons. It gave me something I needed in my life at the moment when I needed it most. I have no idea if it will have a similar effect on other readers; I can only say this is the kind of book that’s capable of changing a person’s life and reshaping a person’s worldview.

The story is set in a world of medieval feudalism, except this is feudalism in space, with counts and dukes and barons ruling over entire planets rather than tiny parcels of land, and the “Emperor of the Known Universe” ruling over all. One of the noble families, House Atreides, is given control of an economically valuable planet by the Emperor, but this gift turns out to be a trap, part of a vast conspiracy to destroy the Atreides family for good.

Usually in science fiction, it seems you can either have good fiction or good science. In other words, you can either entertain your readers with a fun story or educate your readers about some interesting scientific concept. There are audiences for both of those things, but Dune is a rare example of how to do good science and good fiction at the same time.

Frank Herbert apparently did a ton of research on ecology and environmental science then used that knowledge to craft a beautiful and frightening alien world—the perfect stage for a deeply human drama. If you’re a writer—even if you’re not a science fiction writer—there’s a valuable lesson here about how to seamlessly incorporate research into a story.

Now some of you may have read Dune before. If so, I’d encourage you to read it again. I’ve read it five or six times now, and each time I get something different out of it. Dune is a classic revenge story, akin to The Count of Monte Cristo. It’s also a story about the temptation of power, similar in a way to The Lord of the Rings. It explores themes of political corruption, religious fanaticism (with distinctly Islamic flavoring), wars caused by resource scarcity, and a global climate in a state of change. You’d think this was an allegory of the many conflicts we face here in the 21st Century, except it was written over fifty years ago.

In fact, Dune feels so relevant to our modern world sometimes that you might say Frank Herbert was “prescient.” That’s a clever Dune reference, but you’ll have to read the book to get the joke.