Ben Ehrenreich's unclassifiable, brilliant new book is a polymath's mix of personal memoir, nature writing, micro-histories, Mayan mythologies, and how it all relates to the (outgoing) American president, the acceleration of climate change, the politics of race, and the nature of time itself. It's a most unusual book, as you can tell, but one I can't seem to shake - and it's holding up as one of the best books I've read this year. Ehrenreich's general theory is that "Trauma stops time. Catastrophe breaks all cycles. Whatever rhythm had once been attained collapses." 2020 has definitely been such a massive, yearlong trauma point for most of us - whether racism, COVID, climate, Trump, or a heavy combination of all of the above. Now how do we deal with that trauma and move forward into the future? Through the desert, friends. -sm
Layering climate science, mythologies, nature writing, and personal experiences, this New York Times Notable Book presents a stunning reckoning with our current moment and with the literal and figurative end of time.Desert Notebooks examines how the unprecedented pace of destruction to our environment and an increasingly unstable geopolitical landscape have led us to the brink of a calamity greater than any humankind has confronted before. As inhabitants of the Anthropocene, what might some of our own histories tell us about how to confront apocalypse? And how might the geologies and ecologies of desert spaces inform how we see and act toward time--the pasts we have erased and paved over, this anxious present, the future we have no choice but to build? Ehrenreich draws on the stark grandeur of the desert to ask how we might reckon with the uncertainty that surrounds us and fight off the crises that have already begun. In the canyons and oases of the Mojave and in Las Vegas's neon apocalypse, Ehrenreich finds beauty, and even hope, surging up in the most unlikely places, from the most barren rocks, and the apparent emptiness of the sky. Desert Notebooks is a vital and necessary chronicle of our past and our present--unflinching, urgent--yet timeless and profound.
About the Author
Ben Ehrenreich writes about climate change for The Nation. His work has appeared in Harper's Magazine, The New York Times Magazine, the London Review of Books, and Los Angeles magazine. In 2011, he was awarded a National Magazine Award. His last book, The Way to the Spring: Life and Death in Palestine, based on his reporting from the West Bank, was one of The Guardian's Best Books of 2016. He is also the author of two novels, Ether and The Suitors.