The review is quite long, clocking in at nearly 8,000 words, and even that is a condensed version of my submitted draft. In addition to the review, I will present here one of the trimmings that got left on the cutting-room floor. It concerns Hancock’s interest in the agricultural techniques of pre-Columbian residents of the Amazon rainforest:
Hancock is quite taken by the existence of terra preta, an artificial soil made from compost, charcoal (derived from slash-and-char forest management), and pottery fragments. The peoples of the Amazon developed it, probably through accidental accumulations of trash, to make agriculture possible in the basin’s relatively infertile soil, but Hancock believes that it “feels like the work of scientists” according to an obscure master plan, and he blasts archaeologists for imagining that the Amazonians lived “amid a shitscape” of their own waste (168). As a British subject, he surely knows about the fetid conditions of London and the river of sewage that was the Thames down to the creation of the sewer system after the Great Stink of 1858, and yet he finds it insulting to suggest that other peoples similarly lived under less than ideal conditions of sanitation. “I’d say it’s an unlikely story!” he writes. Medieval Englishmen used to literally dump their excrement out the window onto the street below, sometimes hitting passersby on the head.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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