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Books in brief

Aid on the Edge of Chaos: Rethinking International Cooperation in a Complex World

Oxford University Press (2013)

Many see international development aid as in thrall to linear, mechanized thinking, and champion approaches in which local people solve their own challenges with intelligently tailored backing. Complex adaptive systems thinking, argues Ben Ramalingam, offers a scientific model for that path. Awareness of real-world dynamics would, he avers, promote fine targeting of aid efforts and foster a new aid paradigm: an “open innovation network, catalysing and leveraging change in countries around the world”.

Owning the Earth: The Transforming History of Land Ownership

Bloomsbury (2013)

Historian Andro Linklater hinges his layered chronicle of the past five centuries on land ownership, a growing concern on a crowded Earth. Arguing that land claims work only when yoked to public interest, he shows they were also rare up to 1800: before then, much of Europe was jointly 'owned' by peasants and royalty, for instance. The tide had begun to turn centuries before, however, when English freeholders gained unprecedented power. A brilliant treatise on the social and political shifts in our journey from indigenous 'commons' to the subprime-mortgage catastrophe of 2007 and beyond.

Pure and Modern Milk: An Environmental History since 1900

Oxford University Press (2013)

From cream and cheese to milk bottled, dried and lurking in everything from cake to glue, 'dairy' is ubiquitous. Yet getting the highly perishable, machine-pumped product of lactating cows to consumers has been a hugely complex technological, cultural and political saga. Kendra Smith-Howard deftly traces that trajectory in the United States since 1900. Initially rife with bacteria such as Salmonella typhi, milk became today's 'natural' staple through scientific manipulations — in bovine breeding, bacteriology, processing technology, and refrigerated bulk storage and transport.

In Meat We Trust: An Unexpected History of Carnivore America

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2013)

In 2011, Maureen Ogle informs us, the United States produced 42 billion kilograms of pork, poultry and beef. The downsides are considerable: US livestock production and the meat industry have drawn fire for everything from pollution to overuse of pharmaceuticals. Ogle delivers a well-researched history of the US meat habit in the past 200 years. Although she decries twenty-first-century feedlots and “manure lagoons”, Ogle argues that the culprits are not solely industrial agriculture and government laxity: US consumers' sense of entitlement to cheap meat is the real issue.

The Ecological Hoofprint: The Global Burden of Industrial Livestock

Zed Books (2013)

This cogent analysis of rising global meat consumption puts the blame firmly on industrial livestock production — a meat 'monoculture' that has quadrupled in the past 50 years. Agrarian political economist Tony Weis calculates that the cost to the environment and animal welfare is unsustainable, and the effect on social equity negative: livestock consume a third of all grain, while one person in seven remains malnourished or hungry.

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Kiser, B. Books in brief. Nature 503, 195 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1038/503195a

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