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Monday 18 December 2017

Building a better world - from a dining room table to your wealth

Why We Make Things and Why It Matters By Peter Korn Vintage Publishing (2015) €22.50 HHHHI

I have always thought that I'd like to give carpentry a go, to learn how to make something tangible and useful, and hopefully beautiful. This is a book that appeals not only to a wishful thinker like me, but also to anyone who has a gra to learn a craft, or is interested in the philosophy of objects.

Korn embarked on his life's work as a maker, creator, teacher and writer almost on a whim: born in the early 50s and graduating college, he chose to go against the expected grain of his middle-class upbringing plus college education and instead take a manual job as a carpenter's apprentice.

new york

This lead to furniture design, a shopfront in New York, a set-back due to a cancer, and a continual exploration of what it means to be a craftsperson.

He teases out several tantalising streams of thought, along the line of, "if a bespoke cabinet fell down in the forest, would it exist in three dimensions".

That is, the work produced exists as much from its genesis at the hands of its crafter as it does in the gaze of its appreciator.

Korn established a woodworking school in Maine, and in talking of it, he begins to sound a little defensive, as if he's let down the side somehow by not continuing to build full time. Rich and thoughtful read.

GODS OF THE MORNING

John Lister-Kaye

Canongate Books (2015) €22.50 HHHHH

John Lister-Kaye has made the Scottish Highlands his home and the focus of his naturalist work for three decades and, as such, is a well-informed observer of the changes that have been wrought in his landscape both naturally and by human behaviour. Whilst he is quick to refrain from blaming that whipping boy, 'climate change' for everything, he is also cognisant that in his words, our 'addiction to fossil fuels' is slowly rendering the planet uninhabitable for many creatures.

A lesser writer might take the opportunity to turn his authority into an opportunity to hector the living daylights out of the reader; rather, he gently and knowledgeably takes us through the span of a year, in all its changes, its gifts and challenges, and illuminates a way of living in nature that honours the world and everything in it.

Living in closer connection to the environment seems like a pipe dream, but Lister-Kaye insists that we are only a heartbeat away from making a positive impact on the world around us.

His writing is poetic and informative, rich with description but unsentimental.

THE WEALTH

CHEF

By Ann Wilson

Hay House (2015) €19.50 HHHII

I am all for making personal economics more transparent, less intimidating, and basically friendly. Wilson has created an approach to becoming wealthy that incorporates all of the above, with an enthusiasm that leaps off the page - sometimes to too great a degree.

With a varied, fascinating background and an admission that she wasn't the most perfect money-managing person in the world, Wilson immediately sets a tone that actually makes you feel like you can get your spending under control and begin to build you assets.

The metaphor that she uses is cooking and baking, providing various recipes for wealth-building, turning what could be sleep-inducing jargon into clever bits and pieces for your money-store cupboard.

I am an indifferent cook and I positively loathe baking, so the metaphor didn't resonate with me. It wore out its welcome fairly quickly.

The holistic essence of the book is its strongest point: that wealth comes in all forms, that you need to find out what that means for you, and that there is some very necessary emotional excavation that needs to be undertaken before you can even begin to understand your actions and reactions when it comes to money.

Here, Wilson's peppy voice carries the reader through some difficult work, straight to the other side - and with commitment and honesty, into a healthier, wealthier life.

HOW TO FLY A HORSE

Kevin Ashton

Cornerstone (2015) €29.50 HHIII

Most geniuses aren't geniuses, according to Ashton - or at least, not the sort of Eureka merchants that history would have us believe them to be.

Historical anecdotes and tales shows us the hard graft that went on behind some of the events in the pantheon of great achievements, and the argument that anything worth creating is worth sticking with is slightly implausible, and that scientific inquiry and artistic creativity are bedfellows.

Well, maybe, but the chances of any Joe Bloggs coming up with a groundbreaking theorem versus the same Bloggs making a piece of, say, successful naive outsider art are more heavily weighted towards the latter. The cheerleading tone might help some, and the anecdotes are interesting, but the overall thesis seems too simplistic.

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