Saturday, 13 April 2013

FLOOD, by John Withington

Flood: Nature and Culture
John Withington (Autumn 2013)


From the ancient story of Noah’s deluge to the China floods of 1931 that killed more than 3 million people, from the broken levees in New Orleans to submerged streets and homes all over Britain, floods have many causes: rain, melting ice, storms, tsunamis and the failures of dams and dikes. They have been used as deliberate acts of war causing thousands of casualties and have often been seen as punishments visited by vengeful gods. Flooding kills more people than any other type of natural disaster. This cultural and natural history of floods tells of the deadliest floods the world has seen while also exploring the role of the deluge in religion, mythology, literature and art.

Flood describes how aspects of floods – the power of nature, human drama, altered landscapes – have fascinated artists, novelists and film-makers. It examines the ancient, catastrophic deluge that appears in many religions and cultures, and considers how the flood has become a key icon in world literatures and a favourite component of disaster movies. John Withington also relates how some of the most ambitious structures ever built by humans have been designed to protect us against these merciless encroaching waters, and discusses the increasing danger floods pose in a future beset by the effects of climate change. Filled with illustrations, Flood offers a fascinating overview of our relationship with one of humanity’s oldest and deadliest foes.

John Withington is an award-winning television, radio and newspaper journalist based in London. He is one of Britain’s leading disaster historians and the author of books such as A Disastrous History of the World (2008), London’s Disasters (2010) and Britain’s 20 Worst Military Disasters (2011).

DESERT by Roslynn D. Haynes

Desert: Nature and Culture
Roslynn D. Haynes (Autumn 2013)


Desert takes a fresh look at one of the most significant natural aspects of our planet as both a geographical feature and a cultural entity. It examines and often overturns our common notions about deserts, from the fear of desolation and death of thirst on the one hand, to the attraction of the exotic, adventure and freedom on the other.

There is an immense geographical diversity of deserts from the Sahara to Antarctica, and plants and animals have adapted to these hostile environments in  intriguing and often bizarre ways. Diverse races have also inhabited deserts and evolved unique lifestyles and cultures in response to their environments. The book also asks why all three of the world’s great monotheistic  religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, originated in the deserts of the Middle East, and traces the continuing connections between the minimal materialism of desert existence and the pursuit of a spiritual dimension.

Deserts have also long exerted an allure on the West, leading to the impetus for exploration, the fascination with travellers’ tales and the fashion for Orientalism in art, architecture and dress. Desert also reviews the significance of desolate landscapes in literature and film and looks at artists’ responses to the desert, from seeing it as empty space, devoid of interest or perspective, to devising new visual techniques through which to ‘see’ it. 

Roslynn D. Haynes is an Honorary Associate Professor in the School of Arts and Media at the University of New South Wales and a Visiting Fellow in the School of English, Journalism and European Languages at the University of Tasmania, Australia.