Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Q and A with Lester Brown civilizational decline and collapse

On February 14, environmentalist Lester Brown, the founder of the Worldwatch Institue and the Earth Policy Institute, returned to The Bookworm to discuss his latest book World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse.

In the book, Brown warns that the world is facing issues of near-overwhelming complexity and unprecedented urgency and outlines his plan to think globally and develop policies to counteract environmental decline and economic collapse. Join us as Brown discusses the question of can we change direction before we go over the edge?

Pick up a copy of World on the Edge at The Bookworm bookshop.

Mengfei Chen:The world in 2012 is facing a lot of issues. Which is the one keeps you up at night? Why? 

Lester Brown: The issue that keeps me up at night is looming food shortages. Even while world demand for grain, driven by population growth, rising affluence, and the growing use of grain to produce fuel for cars, is generating record growth, farmers are faced with new constraints on efforts to expand production. These include spreading water shortages, rising temperatures, and a shrinking backlog of unused agricultural technologies. In more agriculturally advanced countries, such as Japan with rice or France with wheat, grain yield per hectare has plateaued for more than a decade now. Farmers in these countries would like to raise the crop yields, but scientists do not have anything more to offer.

MC: What is a “food bubble?” What leads to one and have there been any recent examples? What happens when one bursts?

LB: The food bubble with which I am most concerned is the one based on overpumping. As we attempt to keep expanding food production through the use of irrigation, we eventually find ourselves overpumping aquifers. Food production continues to climb, but eventually when the aquifer is depleted the rate of pumping is necessarily reduced to the rate of recharge of the aquifer. When this reduction in pumping comes, the bubble bursts and production shrinks.

The most dramatic example of a bursting bubble is in Saudi Arabia. The Saudis were self-sufficient in wheat for more than 20 years, relying exclusively on irrigation water from a fossil aquifer, i.e. one that does not recharge naturally. In early 2008, the Saudis announced that the aquifer was largely depleted and they would be phasing out grain production. As a result, their wheat production at nearly 3 million tons a year has dropped to 1.1 million tons and will soon disappear altogether. Because this involves a fossil aquifer (instead of the more common renewable aquifer), it is a particularly dramatic example of what happens when a water-based food bubble bursts.

MC: Should those living in developed countries be worried?

LB: Yes. Those of us living in developed countries need to be worried. We need to be worried because our food prices will also be rising along with those in the rest of the world. Beyond this, rising food prices can create political instability in many countries. That instability can affect us all wherever we live. For example, political instability in oil exporting countries such as Nigeria or Iraq can drive up world oil prices, affecting either directly or indirectly the cost of almost everything we consume.

MC: In WOE, you suggest Plan B — a four-prong strategy for preventing the “ultimate recession” aka the collapse of civilization as we now it: massive cut in global carbon emissions, stabilization of the world population, the abatement of poverty, restoration of natural landscapes. If you could add a fifth prong what would it be?

LB: If I were to pick a fifth prong for Plan B, it would be public education on global environmental issues, including climate change. There is a desperate need for a better understanding of what is happening in the world and what the consequences will be if we continue with business as usual.

MC: What are the biggest obstacles to implementing Plan B?

LB: The biggest obstacle to implementing Plan B is a failure to understand the consequences of failing to do so. The alternative to Plan B, or something very similar to it, is civilizational decline and collapse.

MC: What gives you hope?

LB: The thing that gives me the most hope in the world today is the Beyond Coal campaign launched in the United States by the Sierra Club with the support of many other groups. At present in the United States we have 492 coal-fired power plants. Of these 73 are already slated to close. The goal of this campaign is to close every coal-fired power plant in the United States.

MC:If you were a betting man, what are the odds you’d give that the world will act in time?

LB: For what? If the question is can we act in time to prevent climate change, the answer is no. We are already slated to experience some climate change regardless of how quickly we respond. Is it too late to save civilization from all the environmental stresses that are building? I hope not, but there is not much time left. Time is our scarcest commodity.

Lev Grossman’s The Magicians coming to tv

Lev Grossman’s The Magicians is one of our favorite novels from the past few years. Fox has bought the rights and is currently developing the novel and its sequels into a tv series. Often described as ‘a grown-up Harry Potter,” The Magicians follows its young protagonists from Brooklyn to an elite university of magic to the gritty post-collegiate years in New York and then to a pseudo-Narnia. A fast and fun read, Grossman’s novel ties together the worlds of magic, drugs, sex, teenage angst and mythical creatures.

While you may need to wait for the tv adaptation, you can continue the story of The Magicians with Grossman’s sequel, The Magician King.



The Beijinger Online Bookclub

We’ve recently partnered up with our pals at the Beijinger for a new online bookclub.

From the Beijinger:

OK, so we dig Chinese films. Chinese art is pretty cool these days, too, and we know Beijingers are all over local indie bands and hot Chinese designers. But what about literature? Are we stuck with the classics about weak, ailing women and misbehaving monkeys? Or sensationalist crap gunning for the “Banned in China!” sticker? Isn’t there more for those of us who want a rich literary look at this nation’s modern milieu?

The answer: Yes, a thousand times yes! (Maybe more like three times.) The current list of good, relevant contemporary works translated into English is small, but it’s expanding. Join our new Online Book Club as we stand at the digging of a new wellspring of wordsmithery, buckets in hand.

The first bookclub selection is The Magician of 1919 by Li Er – just in time for his booklaunch here at The Bookworm on Tuesday, September 27th.

How it works:

Sign up to the online bookclub here or email to [email protected] with your name and phone number.

Stop by The Bookworm to purchase the book and receive a 10% discount.

Read some of upcoming author Q&As and guided reading questions – and then start commenting in the online forum.

Fall Reading

With the first chill of autumn in the air, we are looking forward to curling up with a great book and a hot cuppa this fall. Here are some of the books on our Fall Reading Lists.



Ragnarok by A.S. Byatt

“Norse Myth written by A.S. Byatt? I’m intrigued.”

Into the Silence by Wade Davis

“It’s about all my heros but set in the history of the Great Wars.”

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

“I really enjoyed Middlesex so have been looking forward to his latest.”



The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

“Did you know that in the Victorian era flowers held certain meanings and a bouquette could be loaded with a secret code? In Diffenbagh’s debut novel, a Lisbeth Salander-esque protagonist used the Victorian language of flowers to interact with people in her troubled life in modern-day San Francisco.”

River of Smoke by Amitav Ghosh

“I’ve been looking forward to the second installment of Ghosh’s Ibis Trilogy ever since reading Sea of Poppies. This novel, set in the Indian Ocean on the onset of the Opium Wars, continues the epic as all our beloved characters are about to set sail into impending adventure or disaster. My only complaint to Mr. Ghosh? Write faster, please. I can’t wait this long between books!”

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

Another much buzzed about debut novel. Baseball, broken marriages and complicated relationships. Plus, any book that gets the seal of approval from both Jonathan Franzen and Téa Obreht is worth a read.”


1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True by Richard Dawkins

“I certainly need some science in my system once in awhile.”

Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller

“A memoir of her life and her parents’ life in Africa.”


The Bookworm Download Map

Building 4, Nan Sanlitun Road,

Chaoyang District, Beijing

100027, P.R China

Tel: (010) 6586 9507

Email: [email protected]


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