By the seat of his pants

March 27, 2014

Omar Malik writes a good knock-about review of Matthias Beck and Beth Kewell’s Risk: A Study of its Origins, History and Politics (Books, 13 March), but he clearly read a different text from the one I’ve got. The book is erudite, analytical and thought-provoking. The authors have a unique but accessible style that incidentally contains a plethora of useful footnotes. I wish there were more books like this. I need both empirical and theoretical work to make sense of risk.

The book is well organised and discusses the history and political economy of risk and important decision-analytic methods and systems theory linked to geopolitical questions. There’s an excellent contribution on risk and the tensions between rich/powerful nations and poor/powerless nations and the tensions between the causers of pollution or environmental degradation and the potential or actual sufferers of such ill-effects. All solid stuff – and far more important to mention in a review than the odd preoccupation with demasculinisation that the reviewer has.

The reviewer, in contrast, perhaps reflecting his past life in the sky as an RAF pilot, was flying by the seat of his pants and offered up a stream of amusing asides and contradictions. He wished that the book’s insights were “better grounded”. So there are insights – many of them – but pilots need to be grounded sometimes. He laments the emphasis on theory but starts by talking about utilitarianism: an oxymoronic link if ever there was one. And Henry Kissinger, the reviewer seems to suggest, was not an ideologue, which tends to ignore the vast historiography and revelations for the period in question.

Andrew Watterson
Occupational and Environmental Health Research Group
University of Stirling

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