It’s been a long time since I read anything as exciting and illuminating as Ben Ehrenreich’s superb new book, Desert Notebooks: A Road Map for the End of Time (Counterpoint, Berkeley, 2020). Very few writers have addressed the current planetary crisis as powerfully and insightfully.

Ehrenreich’s book is extraordinary as much for the rigor of its thinking as for the manner of its writing; its form both narrates and performs the crisis, while also exploring its antecedents. It is, among other things, a remarkable venture in intellectual history, especially in its juxtaposition of the pre-Columbian mythologies of the Americas with the post-Enlightenment mythologies of progress that remade the continents.

“Before it was anything else,” writes Ehrenreich, “the doctrine of progress was a theory of white supremacy… a cocksure expression of what even then was a highly parochial and amnesiac variety of chauvinism, a way of celebrating European dominance by anchoring it in time, and rendering Europe, and specifically Bourbon France, the very apotheosis of human achievement.”(211)

Desert Notebooks is also an extended meditation on the very nature of writing and thought, words and images, and their relationship with a world in torment. This is a powerful, urgently necessary examination of the civilizational roots of the planetary crisis.

One thought on “Ben Ehrenreich’s ‘Desert Notebooks’”
  1. Thank you for Gun Island. You story informed my explanation of human migration in terms of climate change. It is not immigration but out migration. Black lives matter, but the issue is white supremacy. Humans move from degraded environments that no longer provide sustainable lives. I look forward to reading Desert Notebooks. Wyncia Clute

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