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Review

Book review: ‘Taming the Four Horsemen’ by Robin Hanbury-Tenison

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Radical solutions to defeat pandemics, war, famine and the death of the planet.

The four horsemen of the title of Robin Hanbury-Tenison’s latest are, of course, those from the Bible's Book of Revelation and represent the collapse of civilisation in the form of pandemics (it used to be pestilence), war, famine and death.

For 21st-century purposes, Hanbury-Tenison interprets these as the rise in global outbreaks of disease; the need to ease international tensions by promoting prosperity through the provision of economically-produced renewable energy; getting it to rain where it’s most needed, and taking a geoengineering approach to ocean contamination.

Put simply, ‘Taming the Four Horsemen: Radical Solutions to Defeat Pandemics, War, Famine and the Death of the Planet’ (Unbound, £9.99, ISBN 9781789651096) is an extended thought-piece on what countermeasures we can apply to these apocalyptic scenarios.

Put less simply, this is a book that distills the hard-won wisdom of an 83-year-old explorer, activist and campaigner that is seemingly more alive to technology’s potential to come to the rescue than many commentators half his age. While the author is persuasive on why civilisations have collapsed historically, he’s at his best when discussing our current global challenges; the application of free electricity; global clean-ups; microbe development, and weather manipulation.

When it comes to the weather, you can feel Hanbury-Tenison’s exasperation, as he leads into his section on sustainability, famine and deforestation with a sublime quotation from Mark Twain: "Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it". In terms of technology, Hanbury-Tenison doesn’t see why we can’t, but "the political implications are so scary. The only way to achieve sustainability may be to start managing the weather on a global scale. There is no doubt in my mind that this is already possible.”

It is this self-assurance of delivery that makes ‘Taming the Four Horsemen’ such a compelling read. Hanbury-Tenison effortlessly blends his command of history with an understanding of how today’s technology could be harnessed to alleviate global problems, to produce once of the clearest essays on holistic, global environmental rescue and protection to be published for many a moon.

Hanbury-Tenison is by no means the first essayist to adopt the Biblical framework of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse to organise his ideas and will almost certainly not be the last. However, one of the main strengths of 'Taming the Four Horsemen' is how the author uses this literary device to marshal his debate with real insight without it ever becoming contrived.

Another great strength is Hanbury-Tenison’s unerring ability to look his material straight in the eye and present it clearly and logically, without pandering to politically correct orthodoxy. All of which means that he’s controversial and entertaining, opinionated and reassuringly rational, the last of which is certain to irritate readers wishing to have trendy beliefs confirmed with recycled platitudes.

One matter is beyond doubt: you’ll come away from ‘Taming the Four Horsemen’ with a far clearer (if less comfortable) understanding of your own position on today’s global crises.

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