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Geographical's pick of the books: September 2021

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Geographical's pick of the books: September 2021
06 Oct
Our nonfiction reviews for Septemer 

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BOOK OF THE MONTH – THE HEARTBEAT OF IRAN: Real Voices of a Country and Its People by Tara Kangarlou

Twenty-four characters make up The Heartbeat of Iran, Tara Kangarlou’s book about the people of this complex country. Each of them tells us something about Iran – its history, politics and daily life – and also something about human nature. It’s a combination that makes for a particularly readable book, one that serves both as a brief history of the country but also an entirely new portrait of life there today.

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BEASTS BEFORE US: The Untold Story of Mammal Origins and Evolution by Elsa Panciroli

One question kept popping to mind as I read this book – how did I not know about this? Author Elsa Panciroli would be less surprised at my ignorance. As an expert in Mesozoic mammals (the Mesozoic era being the one with all the dinosaurs), she’s clearly used to her subject being overlooked. So obsessed are we by the ‘Terrible Reptiles’ that, in popular culture at least, we have entirely overlooked our own forebears. As Panciroli demonstrates in her book, however, it’s a fascinating subject, filled with as many weird and wonderful creatures as any reptilian tale.

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FLIGHT OF THE DIAMOND SMUGGLERS: A Tale of Pigeons, Obsession and Greed Along Coastal South Africa by Matthew Gavin Frank

Along the west coast of South Africa, a vast stretch of land has been officially closed off to the public for almost 80 years. Die Sperrgebiet (the Forbidden Zone) is owned and controlled by the De Beers conglomerate, which supplies most of the world’s diamonds. It’s an unwelcoming place, as writer Matthew Gavin Frank discovers. The terrain is dusty and apocalyptic, the people often weary of outsiders – although many are willing to talk – and the bosses largely inaccessible. Security is tight, with little getting in or out without the express permission of De Beers or the other mine operators.

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FIELD WORK: What Land Does to People & What People Do to Land by Bella Bathurst

In recent years, there have been plenty of books and articles about farming, but as Bella Bathurst, author of Field Work, says, ‘often they were polemical: we should be eating less meat, we should be rewilding…’ In response, Bathurst moved into a cottage attached to the 180-acre Rise Farm, a hill farm in Wales, from where she was able to get up close to farming and view it from within. ‘The longer I spent at Rise, the more I looked for something that told me about the individuals, not the systems,’ she writes.

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A (VERY) SHORT HISTORY OF LIFE ON EARTH: 4.6 Billion Years in 12 Chapters by Henry Gee

If you’re prone to fleeting moments in the midst of daily tasks in which you stop to question how all of this precious life came to be, the answers – at least for a general audience – can be found conveniently packaged within these 234 pages. Throughout life’s perilous journey, extinction and evolution swing in perfect rhythm. Gee neatly portrays this dance in a way that dissolves life’s mind-boggling complexity into something digestible for everyone.

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SHACKLETON'S ENDURANCE: An Antarctic Survival Story by Joanna Grochowicz

The story of Ernest Shackleton’s Imperial Trans- Antarctic expedition of 1914–17 will be familiar to most readers. An adventure story chock-full of drama, disaster and extraordinary acts of fortitude, heroism and fellowship, the venture has a unique place in the public imagination. The original goal of the expedition now feels like a prelude to the main event: survival.

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