Book 21: “Madlands”, Anna Rose.

This was a very exciting book for me to read. Firstly, Anna sent me an advance proof digital copy. It was like I was an actual book reviewer. Secondly, Anna is a friend of mine and had published a book. This is exciting. Thirdly, I was conscious that this book could significantly influence the climate debate in Australia.

Around the time of Anna’s ABC Documentary debut, I realised that I probably ought to familiarise myself with the book. I bought a copy from the AYCC (as you should) and set about this aim.

After finishing the book I thought curiously about how to write about it. I’ve realised that I can’t review it as I would a different book, because it wasn’t written like a different book. As I see it, Madlands is a tactic – a tool used as part of a strategy – and I will evaluate it accordingly. In this sense, the two questions to consider are: would somebody who reads this book be more inclined to support climate action; and is this book engaging enough to make somebody begin and keep reading? The book needs to meet both criteria to be effective. Note that the use of a novel for such a purpose is not, pardon me, novel. Upton Sinclair’s largely-fictional The Jungle, for example, was written to promote Socialism to the general public; it ended up driving significant changes in the meat-packing industry. So I’m perfectly comfortable with a book that does as this one aims to do. But does it succeed?

In answer to question 1, I would say – yes. This book makes one inclined to support climate action. Of course, I’m not exactly a neutral sample. That said, I think Madlands gets it right. Climate science is explained coherently and exactly. Crucially, the historical foundations in the work of scientists such as Svante Arrhenius and that Tyndall fellow are covered. There are some neat graphs, but not too many. Common misconceptions and confusions are dealt with clarified.

Of course though, science isn’t enough to make one support climate action. What else is there that works?

Understand before I answer this that Madlands is a memoir-style account of the author’s popping around the world with climate delayer Nick Minchin as they each try to change the other’s mind on climate change. The whole experience takes some time, and it’s thus not surprising that a fair bit of introspection and growth take place – presumably for both Anna and Nick. However, the book isn’t by Mr. Minchin, so Rose has the privilege of controlling utterly how we see its characters. Rose, as it happens, comes across well. Minchin is treated very fairly by our author, but his opposition to accepting climate science, gently, as the book’s narrative unfolds, is cast as being ideological. While projecting respect for Minchin, Rose makes it clear that she thinks his refusal to accept climate science is based in contempt for government regulation itself. An interview with Naomi Oreskes, cut from the documentary, certainly does Minchin no favours in this regard. Rose achieves success on her first goal by (a) portraying the science, and (b) plausibly portraying those who reject the science as ideologically motivated.

Question 2 – is the book engaging enough. Answer 2 – possibly not. Speaking for myself, I was interested to hear from informed personalities and also enjoyed reading of Anna’s little goings-ons – the thoughts, emotions, and efforts to buy parkas. Upon reflection though, I was in a fair rush to read this (the second time) and perhaps was frustrated by the fact that the book is quite episodic – there are stages at which chapters (each of which tends to be about an encounter with a particular expert) blur together somewhat. In the documentary, they kept the audience’s attention by omitting several interviews. This probably wouldn’t have worked for the book. One option that strikes me, but may also have been unworkable, is a montage. After relating a few key meetings, Rose could then relate several in a quick motion. Certainly as a reader I encountered chapters about meetings that weren’t significant either in terms of climate science or character development; smashing a few such chapters together with a Rocky-style montage would have been just the trick.

As it happens though, I’m not the book’s target audience, and perhaps that audience would be engaged by elements that didn’t appeal to me as much. I think the narrative of a young, heroic woman battling her own Goliath, an old, myopic former senator, has a certain rich appeal. It’s certainly a book I can picture on a few bedheads around Australia.

Thus you should definitely read this book. If you don’t know about climate change, this is probably the best possible introduction, both to the science and the issues. Perhaps Madlands can be to climate change what Sophie’s World is to philosophy. If you know about climate change and don’t give two hoots, challenge yourself and see whether you still don’t give two hoots after reading. And if you know, and if you give two hoots, you really should have read this already.

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