| GEOGRAPHICAL reviews |
TRIBE: Endangered Peoples of the World by Piers Gibbon CASSELL ILLUSTRATED, HB, £20
Biodiversity. It’s this year’s big green word. Yet when we think of biodiversity, we think mostly along the lines of plants and animals. This beautifully illustrated book reminds us that human diversity is a vital but oft-overlooked link in that chain.
among others. Few, if any, remaining tribes are able to maintain fully the culture of their ancestors, which these views represent. Nevertheless, it’s a wonderful compendium of diversity and a useful platform for thought, providing an opportunity to pose questions to ourselves. What is beautiful? What is sacred? What is useful? What is profane? What is family? What is love? What is community?
These days, when we talk about learning from other cultures, we often mean heading out on package tours to countries in a shrinking world where the safety net of a Starbucks or a McDonalds around the corner is guaranteed. Tribe helps make the world ‘big’ again, reminding us that there are whole worlds of civilised people out there who don’t accept the Western ideal – for whom this ideal is both an invasion and an assault – and that as they disappear, so do great chunks of our social, cultural and intellectual legacy.
The book is divided into chapters that examine a variety of unique views on birth and death, medicine, spirituality, dress, sex, money, law and art,
ABOVE: nomadic Bakhtiari herders camp on pastures in Iran’s Zagros Mountains during the summer. Here, a Bakhtiari woman is making yogurt in a goatskin churn; TOP: the ochre-painted face of a boy from the Nuba tribe of Sudan
But ultimately, for many, the real joy of Tribe may simply be the way that it revives the decadesold pleasure of lingering over magazines such as Geographical or National Geographic and falling in love with the world all over again. It reminds us that there is so much that we still don’t know, so much more to the world than we see in our homes and high streets; that the world is wondrous and precious and has an innate value that must be both defended and empowered if it is to survive. PAT THOMAS
THE PLANET IN A PEBBLE: A Journey into Earth’s Deep History by Jan Zalasiewicz OXFORD, HB, £16.99
Every now and then, I pick up a pebble in a foreign clime and bring it home as a souvenir: far cheaper than buying a gaudy paperweight and far less villainous than chipping a piece oﬀ a historical monument. Thanks to Jan Zalasiewicz’s new book, I will be looking at my collection with renewed enthusiasm.
Zalasiewicz takes as his subject a single, humble pebble from Wales. It isn’t much to look at, but it’s a wondrous thing: ‘a capsule of stories’, as the author puts it. The history of the universe, the ancient journeys of atoms, and the processes that have shaped the planet are all contained within this pebble’s story.
Sadly, Zalasiewicz is far too keen on purple prose. It’s enough to marvel at the atomic wonders of a tiny rock without being beaten over the head with phrases such as ‘molecular sleights of hand that would make a magician gasp’.
Such literary sins are easily forgiven, however. Zalasiewicz wears his vast learning lightly and the ingenuity of his book is breathtaking. We all have a basic understanding of the fact that a pebble might have been in existence for a very long time, but to have its history recounted in such detail is thrilling. I have rarely learned so much in so few pages, and this book (while addicted to elegy) has the makings of a minor classic. JONATHAN WRIGHT
68 www.geog raphical.co.uk JANUARY 2011