Book Review: Imperiled Life: Revolution Against Climate Catastrophe

Imperiled Life cover: the Statue of Liberty with waves above her waist

It seems my lot in life is to slog through badly written books. The Specter of Sex was informative, but a bit painful to wade through. Conscious Capitalism was truly horrendous, both in content and form, but I read through to the end for the greater good.

Javier Sethness-Castro’s Imperiled Life: Revolution Against Climate Catastrophe is a book I really wanted to like. I’ve been thinking for a while of posing the question “Can capitalism save us from climate catastrophe?” honestly, not as a leftist already knowing the answer. I’m inclined to believe the answer is no, but if it can, by all means, show me.

This book is definitely an attempt to preach to the choir, but color me an intrigued chorister. In addition, the author is a good speaker, and he and I have a mutual friend. So I was ready to enjoy this book.

The problem is that the book is absolutely awful. It’s basically a PhD thesis about the Frankfurt school smashed into mini-book form. It’s loaded down with references to and quotes from Adorno, Horkheimer, Adorno, Marx, Adorno, Kant, Adorno, Marcuse, Adorno, Hannah Arendt, Adorno, and others. We get it. You’re a fan of Adorno.

It’s not just that the book is filled with quotes and references. The author’s own prose is tough and chewy in that high-vocabulary leftist style. Take, for instance, the final paragraph of the book:

The prospect of an exit from social and environmental barbarism depends critically on the autonomous action of the subordinated. This social force has a responsibility to resist dominant socialization processes that would perpetuate existing relations in favor of realizing the imperative for social revolution – the only means by which humanity as a whole can come to be treated as an end in itself and by which climate catastrophe can be averted.

Now, I understand what he is saying here, but it takes quite a bit of processing to get through it. Can you imagine explaining this paragraph even to a college-educated person not familiar with leftist terms and tropes? Now imagine explaining it to a blue-collar worker who didn’t go to college. Now imagine explaining it to a barely literate or illiterate homeless person (you know, the “subordinated”). Yeah, exactly. How about rephrasing in a more snappy way, like so:

People, rise up!

Of course, the whole book shouldn’t be written in slogans, but if you can’t make the concluding paragraph of your book pop a little, there’s not much hope for you. And indeed, the rest of the book is as tedious as you would guess based on that last paragraph.

You might object that I’m not spending any time in this review to tackle Sethness-Castro’s arguments, the actual content of his book. You’re damn right I’m not. Let this be a lesson. If you want to communicate, especially if it’s about something really important, learn to communicate clearly and effectively. Do work on your end, as the writer, to make things easier for the reader to understand.

In case it’s not clear by now, I recommend that you do not waste any of your precious time on this planet by reading this book.

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