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There is enough here for everyone
on 1 August 2003
`Soil and Soul` is a story of one thing and many things; the Earth and its people. Alastair McIntosh provides us with an object lesson and demonstration inhow the welfare of the later is indivisibe from that of the former. He demonstrates this interconectivity by telling the story of how crofters, on the Hebridean island of Eigg, reclaimed their custodianship of the land from the Laird and thus ended nearly 1000 years of injustice and feudal land tenure. He also tells the story, as yet unresolved, of the worlds largest aggregates consortiums attempts to gain licence to hollow out a superquarry on the Isle of Harris which would result, as one local put it, turn Harris into `..the gravel pit of Europe`.
`Soil and soul` is, though, more than the lineal accounting of eco campaigning and legal battles from an author who was intimately involved with both issues. Much of the book is given over to matters of history, theology, feminism and ecology. McIntosh begins with the tale of how Kings and corporations, power and wealth, have, over the centuries, in the Scottish Highlands obscenely stolen, terrorised and bullied it indigenous people. Inherent in this process, he posits,was the wilful destruction of native spirituality and self sufficiency all in the pursuit of power and worship of Mamon. In one sense then it is the history, writ small, of much of the history of the world.
If you blanch at the invocation of Mamon then perhaps this book isn`t for you. McIntosh doesn`t pull his theological punches. His spiritual outlook is deeply rooted in pagan christianity and its deep reverence of the `Mother Earth` and an imminent god. Passages from the Bible are often quoted. Do not, though, be put off by his pertinant meanderings into eco-feminism or liberation theology. He is never pompous or pious but he does, on occasion, vere towards the precious but this simply underlines his integrity and honesty. He is also prone to drift into the kind of academic-speak that, this fellow of the Centre for Human Ecology, might use with his undergraduates. But this is a small price to pay for the overall cogency of his beliefs, the subjects of which, in less rigourous hands, may be made to appear as just so much nouveaux-hippy wishful thinking. McIntosh doesn`t let this happen for a minute.
This book contains much to energise and sustain anyone who is perhaps only beginning to question our relationship with the land we live on and with. As a young man I read William Morris` `News From Nowhere` which as the years roled on revealed itself to be the book most influential on my sensibilities. I have no doubt that this book will have a similar revelatory impact upon some unsuspecting 17 year old who is yet to read it.
Before I had finished my copy I had sent another copy to a friend. Even if you do not wear a chunky jumper or knit your own yoghurt there is much here to be divined in this excellent book.