Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet: Ghosts and Monsters of the Anthropocene

Calling a book "mandatory reading" usually feels hyperbolic, but it's justified in the case of Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet, a collection of essays about humanity, the natural world and what's next for us all. Written by academics, intellectuals and luminaries of literature, the pieces explore natural and man-made disasters, the deep reverberations of nuclear power, and how the human body should not be considered a single organism, but an ecosystem.

If that list of subjects sounds heavy, it is. Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet gets as deep as it can go, from questions surrounding the time/space continuum to how human activity is killing species at a catastrophic rate. But the point is not to shame or depress the reader. Editors Anna Tsing, Heather Swanson, Elaine Gan and Nils Bubandt (academics who originally brought the essayists together for a series of conferences) want to spur action. They hope that by reorienting how the reader considers herself--down to the very strands of her DNA--she may be willing to help change the fate of the planet. It's a lot of ask of one book, which is why it's quite stunning that Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet delivers so admirably.

Readers will explore the guts of the Chernobyl reactor, interact with an Indonesian mud volcano whose origins are still not fully explained, and watch ants of the American Southwest form new colonies. Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet is a trip, but one with a noble aim: changing how we all think about the world. --Noah Cruickshank, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.

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