PRINT December 2016

Books: Best of 2016

Liz Larner


Since Joan Didion’s Where I Was From (2003) and Richard Rayner’s The Associates: Four Capitalists Who Created California (2008), I’d been wanting to read a book about the development of ideas on nature in America. I found it in Jedediah Purdy’s deeply considered and finely laid out After Nature: A Politics for the Anthropocene (Harvard University Press, 2015). To begin reading it is to open and decipher a compressed and encrypted file on a history of ideas about what nature means at the heart of the Anthropocene. Purdy draws on law, letters, philosophy, science, social science, politics, and aesthetics; from Locke, Rousseau, and Burke, through Jefferson, all the way to the recent past of the ecological age’s beginnings, the urgent catastrophe of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962), and our contemporary moment, after “crisis had become the normal state of affairs,” closing with ideas about nature and the posthuman from Rosi Braidotti, among others. Somewhere in between, Purdy manages to give a history of private property—how “each version of nature has its economy.” If the ominous political near past and the planet’s environmental emergency feel present on every page, so, too, does a sense of the role we each have in shaping the future.

Liz Larner is an artist based in Los Angeles.