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Tuesday, April 20, 2021

A Studious Book as Bold as the World It Examines

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Drawing on her 20 years at Princeton, Deborah Stone’s terrific new book charts an ambitious journey around the world: seven years living in China, five years in China’s far eastern region, five in Nepal, five more in Botswana, and a final year in Uganda. Stone’s goal is to learn about African societies and how they have adapted to the ever-changing challenges of climate change.

Stone is a University of Utah anthropologist, but she also has a doctorate in economics from Oxford. This book is a mix of science, history, and memoir; it tries to explain with a mix of moral and practical sense why, say, countries like China have invested in modernization and its accompanying industries, while poorer nations in the Middle East have languished on the list of countries in the world’s main economies.

The beauty of the book lies in the sheer range of its subjects: Stone begins in Beijing at the cultural center of a once-feisty revolutionary nation and ends in remote Kweengehe, Botswana, where Stone, a fan of the local flag, has immigrated to live among the mighty apes. Throughout the book, Stone, a sharp-eyed observer, conveys in vivid detail a sense of a culture, an environment, and a world in which change is constant and unpredictable.

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