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4.9 out of 5 stars
4.9 out of 5 stars

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.
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on 21 February 2017
For me this was a book about the intersection of work and life and living. I travel a lot working as a consultant for major companies, which can be thrilling and enthralling but very often leave you feeling disconnected and challenged. This book is critical to understanding that disconnection and has really helped me both in work and at home to ground what I do in a helpful way. It reminds you to think carefully about values and what they mean for how at work and in life we make decisions, and it provides great ideas on how to keep grounded in a more volatile world. In many ways it is even more vital now than it was when it was first written.

Highly recommended!
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on 14 January 2010
Alastair McIntosh's book begins with a rich and detailed depiction of his childhood on the Isle of Lewis, with stories of hunting and fishing, local lairds and bards, Celtic legends and histories of both triumph and atrocity. Foremost among these are the clearances, which saw the Scottish highlands cleared of farmers and crofters and given over to a landowning nobility. Countless thousands moved to the cities or took passage to America, and hundreds of years later Scotland's feudal system remained. 80% of the land was owned by just 900 families.

A second strand running through this opening section is the creeping force of globalisation and its impact on Hebridean culture. The Islands had a `vernacular economy' based on reciprocity and sufficiency, and this was gradually replaced work and money. "We were classed as poor because nothing went through the cash economy" writes McIntosh, raising the question of what we value, what wealth really is. Instead of sharing and cooperation came wages and consumption, and with them a gradual erosion of identity, community, and responsibility. `Progress' came to the islands, but much was lost in the process.

Part two of the book explores responses to these powers through two case studies. The first is the Isle of Eigg Trust, a group who contested and finally bought back their island homeland from the international playboy lord, kicking off land reform in Scotland in the process. The second is the story of how Redland Aggregates was thwarted in its attempt to create the world's largest quarry out of the Isle of Harris' Mount Roineabhal. The public enquiry for the superquarry was the first to include theological arguments, and included the testimony of a native American chief on the sacredness of place and the duty of care for God's earth. Both are amazing stories and remarkable victories, full of hope and humanity, and well worth the reading.

It's worth mentioning that not everyone is going to get on with Soil and Soul. McIntosh can reference a Celtic faerie story, a Bible verse, a newspaper article and a psychology study all on the same page. Some mind find it unfocused, but I wouldn't have it any other way - the message of the book is inseparable from the style in which it is written. It is only in the wellspring of tradition that grounds us in a place, in the metaphor of poetry, in love for each other, for the earth and for God, that we find effective responses to the cold calculation of corporate power.
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on 2 September 2001
Alastair McIntosh's Soil and Soul leads me on from my first reading of Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed. The same thirst for justice, the same identification of the eloquent bard with the voiceless ones rekindles poetry and revolution in the readers heart and thunders forth "alarm! alarm!" as deep as any Biblical prophesy.
McIntosh is able to leave one foot firmly planted in the old ways of a native Celtic people and the other slap bang in the middle of scholarly argumentation thereby bridging the great divide between poetry and science. He helps us to come to terms with our broken hearts and understand the dysfunctional power behind the carnage.
Soil and Soul is a major work which stretches us from the psychohistory of colonisation as seen through the lens of Hebridean culture to inspiring, empowering and entertaining case histories of community empowerment and cultural healing in which the author has played a pioneering part: read it!

- John Seed (author of Thinking Like a Mountain).
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on 6 January 2002
This book is essential reading for all those who care about the way our society is developing. Alastair McIntosh shows by examples such as the Harris superquarry that the giant corporates can be taken on and defeated. He does this in such a way as to (re)awaken a genuine sense of reverence for the Earth in general and my own country Scotland in particular. I have read it once since I received it at Christmas and I will be reading it again very soon!
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on 24 November 2010
A wonderful book by a great writer, spiritual teacher, community worker, and human being. In it he brings together a deep and lived experience of healthy communities rooted in place and mutual support, a profound and engaged understanding of power and politics and how the misuse of power has shaped our landscapes and lives, and his sense of the human spirit and its determination to keep returning to connection, to love, and to life.
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on 20 May 2003
"Soil and Soul" is about how Scottish land was stolen from its residents, how the natural flow of capitalism exacerbated this process, and how a great victory was won recently in getting some control back to the Scots over their land.
But this book is not at all polemical. It mixes the author's reminiscences of growing up in the Hebrides and rubbing noses a bit with the overlords; Bardic background to establish the culture of Scotland the people's natural relationship with the land; a balanced ergonomic analysis without fingerpointing; and a deep religious understanding as well; to lay the background for the battles to give the isle of Eigg back to its inhabitants, and to prevent a beautiful mountain from being turned into an unsightly garbage pit (this battle is not yet over however).
The latter part of the book carefully explains how a combination of mysticism, religion and careful grassworks planning actually helped to stop the Isle of Eigg from being a plaything of the rich. AN UNLIKELY TERIFFIC READ!
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on 15 March 2010
A beautiful, beautiful book and Alastair himself seems a great character too, check out the interviews and articles on his website for more great work on community, belonging and religion etc
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on 2 August 2014
What an insight into change, from the development and work of self, the connections that occur in our lives, and the time, patience and discernment required to make peaceable change. A whole new perception of humanity on earth and what we do about it. It shows the worst of human nature and the best of the collective spirit.
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on 29 July 2013
I'm only half way through the book, reading it leisurely on holiday. It was recommended to me but I could not resist reviewing it now - half way through - as it is truly one of the best things I have ever read and its more important now - in the post banking crisis world - than ever before. We have all lost the sense of community and connection to the land. I am holidaying in Cyprus and as I drink the lemonade here (the old fashioned variety made with lemons and sugar) I am reminded (because of this book) of the lemonade made by my Cypriot Grandmother when I was a child from lemons that fell from her trees in her garden. I took it for granted back then but this book has suddenly made me remember things like that. Yes, there is magic in this book, for sure. Thank you Alastair.
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