The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves, by Stephen Grosz, Chatto & Windus, RRP£14.99, 240 pages
“Most of us have felt trapped by things we find ourselves thinking or doing … ensnared in some unhappiness or fear; imprisoned by our own history,” writes the psychoanalyst Stephen Grosz as he tries to make sense of our most baffling behaviour in this collection of case studies.
The Examined Life charts his work with patients as together they set out to understand the complex, hidden feelings behind everyday interactions. The stories take in both the commonplace and the extraordinary – from grappling with loneliness to overcoming pathological lying, with one patient faking his own death.
Grosz’s narrative is by turns edifying and moving, and on occasion earnest to a fault. But this is tempered by his engaging prose and moments of humour. Grosz, an FT columnist, offers astute insights into the perplexities of everyday life and what it means to lose and find ourselves.
Review by Trisha Andres
What Has Nature Ever Done For Us? How Money Really Does Grow On Trees, by Tony Juniper, Profile, RRP£9.99, 336 pages
Prince Charles fires this book’s opening salvo with a foreword that reads like a scolding. Thankfully, Juniper does not follow his lead. Instead, the British environmentalist spells out the case for viewing nature in terms of its financial value.
Put simply, nature is worth a lot. A cautious estimate from 1997 valued its total annual economic worth at nearly double that year’s global gross domestic product. This is no surprise when you consider that our “natural capital” performs essential services – and for free: soil and forests absorb carbon emissions; mangrove forests and oyster reefs defend against floods and storms; animals and vegetation supply sustenance.
Juniper uses fascinating examples to build his case. Understanding sustainability not just as protecting nature but as a necessary means of maintaining economic growth may provide a much-needed incentive as we enter what Juniper calls a “period of [man-made environmental] consequences”.
Review by Charlotte McCann
Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria, by Noo Saro-Wiwa, Granta, RRP£8.99, 320 pages
Raised in England, Noo Saro-Wiwa spent childhood summers in Nigeria but had nursed an “emotional fear” of it since Sani Abacha’s dictatorial regime executed her father, activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, in 1995. In Looking for Transwonderland, she explores it afresh, “part-returnee and part-tourist”, in a bid to neutralise that fear.
In Lagos she takes in a university dog show, an antique amusement park, depleted wildlife reserves and endless seamy, overpriced hotels. Northern, Muslim cultures feel austere compared to the brashness of the evangelical Christian south. Amid Nigeria’s vibrant diversity and social contradictions corruption remains constant – which gives a bittersweet edge to Saro-Wiwa’s tentative rapprochement.
This is a probing account of a geographic and a personal journey, both anchored in Nigeria’s dysfunctional politics. There are glimpses of optimism but the author’s reserved judgment is one of mild despair.
Review by James Urquhart