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The Once and Future World: Nature As It Was, As It Is, As It Could Be

by J.B. MacKinnon

J.B. MacKinnon is the co-author of the best-selling 100-Mile Diet, a book that drew much attention to the locavore movement. MacKinnon brings the same energy, intelligence, and insight to his new book. Recently shortlisted for the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Non-fiction, The Once and Future World is a riveting account of nature past, present, and future. The book is impressively researched, passionately argued, and beautifully written.

With great clarity and precision, MacKinnon explains that we live in a “10 per cent world,” in which only that fraction of the Earth’s true wilderness remains. MacKinnon’s “miserable calculus” is alarming. To add to the despair, he argues that, because of “environmental amnesia,” many of us are oblivious to the decline in our natural environment. What we consider “normal” is always (and quickly) changing. Children raised in Detroit, for instance, will insist that pollution is not a problem; they no longer expect clean water, clean air, or wild animals. “Memory,” in other words, “conspires against nature.”

Despair seems to be the only appropriate response to the state of the planet as described in this book. MacKinnon’s greatest success, however, is in not succumbing to this pessimism. He employs his own awareness of the natural world to argue for the importance of the “rewild” movement, the goal of which is “to give nature fuller expression in a world in which it is muted.”

The book’s scope is massive. Cultural references range from St. Augustine to Arcade Fire; the list of species considered includes the dodo, giant skink, flying fox, cops owl, fur seal, prairie chicken, basking shark, and bison – and that is on just one page. Ideally, MacKinnon’s passion will draw readers to rewilding in the same way his 100-Mile Diet brought them to local eating. The Once and Future World confirms MacKinnon as one of the most important ecological writers of our time.