I admit that I was excited when the University of Pittsburgh Press announced this beast. An 811-page environmental history that argues that our current predicament is not a one-way ticket to sudden collapse but rather death by a thousand cuts? I am game, but perhaps I am just strange that way. In The Vortex, professor of environmental humanities Frank Uekötter fully leans into the messy nature of history by imagining it as a vortex with all its twists, turns, and crosscurrents. Eschewing linear narrative in favour of forty judiciously chosen examples of historical events or developments, this is an ambitious, slightly intimidating, but ultimately edifying book. One potential problem though: The Vortex follows just one month after Bloomsbury released their environmental history blockbuster The Earth Transformed. Since this might fly under people’s radar, I decided to read them back to back. This, then, is the second of a two-part review of two brand-new behemoths that discuss the impact that humans and the environment have had on each other.
If you visited the London Natural History Museum sometime before 2015 you will have been greeted by the skeleton of a sauropod dinosaur: a plaster cast of Diplodocus affectionately nicknamed Dippy. Dippy has left the building but is not the only such cast in existence. Historian Ilja Nieuwland here traces the little-known history of the philanthropic campaign that saw Scottish-born business magnate Andrew Carnegie donate plaster casts to museums around the world. Drawing on a wealth of archival material, he examines Carnegie’s reasons and the response of the recipients and the general audience, adding a valuable and surprisingly interesting chapter to the history of palaeontology as a discipline.