The Birth of the Anthropocene comes out on Tuesday. You can read the first 17 pages on Google Books. If you’re tempted, and you’re in North America, you can buy it direct from the publisher for $30. Here in the UK,
it looks as if prices start at just under £17 at the usual place the Book Depository has it at £16.56 inc. postage, with quicker delivery than Amazon proper, as of this writing. Enjoy!
Graham Harman says at the start of Prince of Networks that he “normally avoids ‘acknowledgments’ sections in books from fear of making his readers feel bored or excluded.” I think that attitude has a lot to be said for it. Even so, I’ve written an acknowledgements section on both of the occasions when I’ve had a chance to do so. But I kept both of them brief.
The internet, though, gives you room to stretch. So this seems like a good chance to say, a bit more fulsomely than on the first page of the book itself: thank you very much indeed to the many people who’ve helped to bring The Birth of the Anthropocene into the world.
In particular, I’d like to thank the University of California Press, who’ve been a joy to work with the entire way though. When I first approached them I was thinking of them especially as the publishers of David Christian’s Maps of Time and Daniel Lord Smail’s On Deep History and the Brain, so it’s a real pleasure to have DLS quoted on the back of the book. They had no particular reason to be receptive to a proposal for a book about why geological time matters to green politics, which must have seemed like an odd thing for a junior lecturer in an English department to be writing about. So I’m very grateful to Kate Marshall, who took an interest in my initial proposal and passed it on to Niels Hooper; to Niels himself, who’s stewarded the whole project ever since with as much professionalism, insight, and enthusiasm as anyone could wish for; and to Bradley Depew, who held everything together and gave me good advice each time I needed it.
Niels had my draft manuscript read by four reviewers, all of them scholars whose work had already helped me a lot. Two of my ecologically-minded departmental colleagues and friends, Alaric Hall and David Higgins, read the manuscript as well. I spent last summer revising the book with all of their responses at my elbow, and I’m properly, gratefully indebted to all six of them. Then the book was read again for the Press’s editorial committee by the one reviewer who remains anonymous to me, a geoscientist who made some significant corrections and raised polymathically varied quibbles about all manner of historical details that I’d touched on in passing. Thanks to all.
I’d also like to repeat here my thanks to five other Leeds colleagues who helped me out at times when it mattered: Alan Haywood, Jim Mussell, Stefan Skrimshire, Graeme Swindles, and my late and much-missed friend Anthony Carrigan, whose insistence on putting questions of social justice front and centre was often in my mind throughout the process of writing the book.
And many thanks to Jan Zalasiewicz, whose work—The Earth After Us and a whole string of articles on the Anthropocene—lies at the heart of the book, alongside that of his colleagues in the Anthropocene Working Group. Jan and Alan Haywood are the only two AWG members I’ve met in person, and Jan knew nothing about me when he gave up most of an afternoon to talk to me about the Anthropocene two years ago. Since then, he too has read the whole book, and helped me to improve it. I still don’t really know his views on the uses to which I’ve put his ideas, though. He just tolerantly corrected the mistakes I’d made about geology.
(The usual disclaimer applies with more than usual force now I’ve said all that. I take full responsibility for all the errors that remain in the book. And to be honest, I’ve no doubt that several do. No-one could be a specialist in all of the fields that are mixed up in the idea of the Anthropocene, and I’m barely a specialist in any of them. So I’ll gladly take heed of any mistakes that are pointed out to me, and compile a list of them in a future post.)
Over the end of last year and the start of this one, the publishing process was supervised meticulously by Dore Brown as the project editor. My copyeditor was Bonita Hurd, who gave the manuscript the most rigorous word-by-word vetting that anything I’ve written has ever received. It was Bonita who converted my British English to the press’s American English. I love what sounds to me like the hard-boiled glamour (glamor?) of the way the book now says “two hundred forty billion tons” and suchlike.
I’ve already written here about the significance of the image on the cover of the book. I was very lucky to have UC Press’s art director, Lia Tjandra, design the cover. Whatever you make of the inside of the book, the outside is a stunner. The two paleomaps that it contains are by the “creative cartographer” Jamie Whyte. I pestered quite a few mapmakers about the commission, because I had a fairly definite sense of how I wanted the maps to look, and no real idea how to achieve that. But it all clicked when I discovered Jamie’s work. You can see the maps he drew for the book on his website, including a close-up detail that shows the superabundance of loving care that he put into them.
I’ve been turning round the ideas that became The Birth of the Anthropocene for at least seven or eight years (more on that in another post, perhaps), but I don’t think I could have written it, and I certainly couldn’t have written it yet, if my School and Faculty hadn’t awarded me leave from teaching for the whole of 2014. They did so as part of a remarkably generous and enlightened study leave programme. That programme seems to me an example of the very best that universities and funding bodies can do for academics: short-ish application forms, no diktats about what the outcomes had to be, just a willingness to grant some time and space to think and write, trusting that something worthwhile might come of it.
The other institution I’d like to thank is the University of British Columbia. Stephen Guy-Bray, then head of the English department, let me join UBC as a visiting lecturer in September and October 2014. I went to Vancouver partly because I have family on Vancouver Island that I hadn’t seen since I was a child, but I don’t think I could have chosen a better place for the most intensive writing phase of the book than Point Grey. The histories of expropriation that the book tries to connect to the idea of the Anthropocene are in some ways easier to remember on the west coast of Canada than in Leeds. But then there’s also the stillness of the campus rose garden, right on the shore of the Pacific… I’ll always be grateful to Alex Dick and his family, who had me to stay when I arrived there, let me feel uncomplicatedly welcome, took me up into the mountains, and in general made my whole time in Canada right. (I’d met Alex precisely once before I turned up in BC as his house guest.)
Lastly: to Julia Banister, my deepest and most loving thanks. She’s never made the slightest attempt to disguise her scepticism about what she insists on calling my dinosaur project. Even so, she helped me enormously to improve its structure and clarify its argument. But her main contributions to the writing of the book have been of a different kind, and I owe her the world for them.