The book is now available in the UK and the US! I have to say that the publishers, Reaktion Books (and the University of Chicago Press in the US), have done a beautiful job – they accepted all my illustrations and they are spread, largely in colour, through the text. On Amazon, there’s the “look inside” feature, so you can get a sense of what I mean. I only hope that the reader will feel that the words live up to the visuals. The quality of the printing does, however, make for a rather weighty tome…
Anyway, as a taster, here’s an extract from the preface, starting with a quote from that brilliant chronicler of the US south-western deserts (and, some would say, the original “eco-terrorist”), Edward Abbey:
But the desert is a vast world, an oceanic world, as deep in its way and complex and various as the sea. Language makes a mighty loose net with which to go fishing for simple facts, when facts are infinite . . . Since you cannot get the desert into a book any more than a fisherman can haul up the sea with his nets, I have tried to create a world of words in which the desert figures more as a medium than as material . . . evocation has been the goal.
I am no Edward Abbey, but this resonates. I am, after all, a geologist, and this book will contain plenty of material on the desert as a fundamental player in the workings of our planet. But my interest in the desert extends far beyond the science, and it is my hope that this book will also provide an evocation, a celebration, a consideration of our response to the desert, the idea of the desert. And not only ours, the outsiders, but the responses and ideas of our billion companions for whom the arid lands are home.
There is a Tuareg saying, ‘there are lands full of water for the well-being of the body, and lands full of sand for the well-being of the soul.’ The desert is a place of contrasts, of extremes, a place of staggering beauty and unimaginable violence, a place where the margins between success and failure, between life and death are slim, a place of timelessness and ephemerality, a place of good and evil. The desert is a place, in reality and in our minds, of tension, of conflict between civilization and the wilderness. Arid lands have always been – and continue to be – a challenge, both to those who would ‘conquer’ them and those who would make a living within them. Historically, culturally and politically, the desert has played a leading role in, and not simply provided the stage or the backdrop for, dramas of nations, species and individuals.