Non-fiction reviews: One Blade of Grass and three other titles – The Sydney Morning Herald

Posted: February 14, 2020 at 12:41 pm

Yellow: A History of a ColorMichel PastoureauPrinceton University Press, $79

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Since surveys of basic colour preferences began in the 1880s, yellow has ranked last. This is not surprising given its long association in the West with cowardice and betrayal. Judas was often portrayed in paintings as wearing a yellow robe. The positive connotations of blonde are a rare exception to the colours bad rap. In classical antiquity, however, yellow bathed in the glow of golds prestige. But as the myths about gold reveal, the yellow metals status was ambiguous it symbolised power but also inspired greed, theft and destruction. As the pejorative associations of yellow gained ascendancy, the colour was pushed to the margins, reaching its lowest point with the yellow star imposed on the Jews by the Nazis. This lively, erudite history predicts that the colour is set for a comeback as underdogs such as the yellow vests make themselves seen and heard.

The NeuroGenerationTan LeAllen & Unwin, $32.99

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Tan Le had been working on brain-enhancement technology for more than a decade when she witnessed a Buddhist monk do the virtually impossible. The company she founded, which pioneered portable EEG brainwear, had helped a woman with locked-in syndrome use her thoughts to make a video game avatar fly, and a paralysed man drive a racing car with his mind. But this monk could control the fluctuations of electricity in different areas of his brain. His awe-inspiring demo revealed how much untapped power we hold. Les excitement about the future of neurotechnology is infectious, even if you find her enthusiasm for devices that could transform us into cyborgs a little confronting. Far from being gung-ho, however, she is well aware of the ethical pitfalls and is at pains to address the dangers such technology could pose.

Forgotten Corners: Essays in Search of an Islands SoulPete HayWalleah Press, $25

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We might smile if a writer were to go in search of Victorias or New South Wales soul, but find such a quest entirely acceptable when conducted by a Tasmanian. Perhaps only an island can be conceived of as possessing a singular, animating life force. The soul sought in these idiosyncratic essays, however, isnt an incorporeal entity separate from the body of the land but what Pete Hay describes as the islands biophysical qualities, from ancient geological processes to all the life forms that inhabit it. Most of these essays grapple in one way or another with how to comprehend Tasmanias wild places, whether through the lens of art, science or politics. And if this soul has an essence, it is to be found, Hay suggests, in the enchantment of its rainforests dripping with deep time.

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Non-fiction reviews: One Blade of Grass and three other titles - The Sydney Morning Herald

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