Our Book of the Month choice for July

The SSL ‘Book of the Month’ feature highlights a book in our collection that has been chosen by one of our Subject Consultants. This may be a recent addition to our stock or an existing item that we would like to share with you.


July’s book of the month was selected by Andy Kernot, Subject Consultant for Geography, Social Policy & Intervention, Public Policy, and Internet Studies




The Big Rachet: How humanity thrives in the face of natural crisis: a biography of ingenious species

DeFries, Ruth

Basic Books, 2014

Available in hard copy in the SSL


Why was it chosen?

Our species long lived on the edge of starvation. Now we produce enough food for all 7 billion of us to eat nearly 3,000 calories every day. This is such an astonishing thing in the history of life as to verge on the miraculous. The Big Ratchet is the story of how it happened, of the ratchets — the technologies and innovations, big and small — that propelled our species from hunters and gatherers on the savannahs of Africa to shoppers in the aisles of the supermarket.

Book Overview

The Big Ratchet itself came in the twentieth century, when a range of technologies — from fossil fuels to scientific plant breeding to nitrogen fertilizers — combined to nearly quadruple our population in a century, and to grow our food supply even faster. To some, these technologies are a sign of our greatness; to others, of our hubris. MacArthur fellow and Columbia University professor Ruth DeFries argues that the debate is the wrong one to have. Limits do exist, but every limit that has confronted us, we have surpassed. That cycle of crisis and growth is the story of our history; indeed, it is the essence of The Big Ratchet. Understanding it will reveal not just how we reached this point in our history, but how we might survive it.


“The Big Ratchet” is a well-researched and highly readable account of how we came to be a ‘world dominating urban species’, and the opportunities and threats we will face in feeding a world of 9 billion people with only a small minority living in rural areas. For those who have deep concerns about our ability to meet future food needs, this book provides at least some reassurance that we have done it before.”
Nature Geoscience

“A page turner and an eye opener, clearly written and well told. If you are alive today, especially if you live in a city, this is the story of how you got here and why you eat what you eat. Defries deftly guides us through our species’ unending quest to squeeze more food out of the earth, introducing us along the way to buffalo bone pickers, ancient plant breeders, guano wars, the extinction of the Rocky Mountain Locust, medieval human poop tradesmen, Arctic “doomsday” seed vaults and the Nobel Prizes awarded to the inventors of DDT and trans fats. A fascinating history of human innovation.”
Science News

How can I access it?

This title is available in hard copy at the SSL at shelfmark GF75.DEF 2014. If you’ve booked a study space in the library you can find it on our shelves, alternatively, if you can borrow books from our library, place a Click & Collect request for it.

Image of an open book with the pages curled to form a love heartWhat would your SSL Book of the Month be? Do you have a favourite book in our collection? If so, we would love to know what it is. Add a comment below or email us.

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