I am not in the habit of writing book reviews, especially for books that have been out for almost two years. But I found this book so compelling, that I feel it is important to share my enthusiasm for this contribution with others.
I like listening to audio books while I drive around doing errands, or waiting for planes, or other mundane tasks. Because of this I am a great fan of Amazon’s Audible service. You can get great discounted deals on audio books to keep your ears full of both learning and entertainment. One day I was reviewing a special sheet and I came across this book. The first thing that caught my eye was, it was both written and narrated by Prince Charles of England. I was interested in his point of view. Not only is he well placed to get a full world view of things, I knew he had been working with natural concepts, like converting his 1000-acre farm to organic practices in the 1980’s. He also supports Herbal Medicine and Holistic lifestyles. I never suspected I was going to find such a gold mine of information, passion and possible solutions as he outlines here.
This book is written in the first person, but I am sure his two co-authors (Tony Juniper and Ian Kelly) had a great deal to do with the research. It has the feel of an intimate conversation with an intelligent, well placed person on subjects that have become dear to me. I originally listened to the book, and enjoyed that format, as I found it more personal. Then I checked out the hardcopy of the book and realized it is, plainly and simply, a beautiful book with lots of great pictures as well as information. You can choose the format you like best. I ended up getting the audiobook first, then the kindle, and now I am going out to buy the hardback coffee table edition.
This book at first seems to wander around a bit, albeit with a solid Golden Thread, so it is hard to give a brief summary. The main theme is that we have lost our sense of connectedness to Nature, which has formed the structure of most cultures and religions up to modern times. While we have achieved great scientific discoveries and accumulated vast bodies of knowledge, we have done it at the cost of manipulating Nature and exploiting Earth, possibly to a point of no return for our species.
Prince Charles states that Harmony is really just another word for coherence, so his basic thesis is that we have lost coherence with Nature, Earth and our own direction in the pursuit of a mechanized way of thinking. The Prince relates to our relationship with and interdependence on all living things. No one part of Nature “can grow well and true without it relating to – and being in accordance with – the well-being of the whole”. This book, both fervent and restrained in tone, illustrates the connection and interdependence among our economic, ecological, and social well-being. He goes on with a passionate emphasis that the need for community is more important than financial wealth, “the local wealth that holds community together and enriches people’s lives through mutual support, love, loyalty and identity. The value of this kind of community capital cannot be overstated”. He implores the readers to join together in a return to Nature, as the guide to the way we live, govern, design and grow.
He is not one that says we should sacrifice economic growth to go back to Nature. He says that if we do not live with the Harmony of nature, we are economically doomed. He points out that a country’s GNP, in and of itself, is not a good measurement of that country’s success. He suggests a better marker could be like that used in Bhutan (a remote mountain in the Himalayas), which measures progress by GNH – Gross National Happiness. One of the problems with GNP is that it is not sustainable. He points to an interesting article by Robert Costanza et al. in the scientific Journal Nature back in 1997, which shows that the minimum value of work the ecosystem does for us (free of charge) is 33 trillion dollars a year, three times the world GNP. These are things like bees pollinating plants, water sheds cleansing water, and good soil management which reduces the need for fertilizer. This means if we tried to replace these things (which of course we could not) the components would add up to at least 3 times our worldwide GNP. Most government and most people put no value on this at all. This is like a businessman not paying any attention to 75% or more of their production (benefits and losses) and only accounting for less than 25%. The Prince goes on to show that with current levels of ecosystem destruction, we are presently incurring 2 – 4.5 trillion dollar losses every single year. To put that in perspective, that is twice as much as the loss incurred in the economical downturn over the last 5 years. This economical downturn was big headlines in all newspapers, but hardly any mention was made of the ecological/financial debt we are handing over to our children. If we added these economic figures into our GNP, we might run companies, governments and countries a completely different way
Harmony shows that wisdom is not simply the accumulation of knowledge, but the understanding of relationships, making this a truly wise book. It shows how all the areas the Prince has addressed in the past – architecture and planning, agriculture, education, the arts, healthcare, society and economy – have all suffered as a result of our disconnection from Nature.
“We need to escape the straightjacket of the Modernist world view,” he writes, “so that we can reconnect our collective outlook to those universal principles that underpin the health of the natural world and keep life’s myriad diversity within the limits of Nature’s capacity.” We must shake off scientific materialism – a reductive philosophy that has become entrenched in modern culture.
The Prince encourages the reader to “immerse themselves in Nature’s grammar and geometry, how it controls life on Earth, and how humanity has expressed it in so many great works of art and architecture.”
In essence, Harmony is a call for a Global Sustainability Revolution. The central message of the book is clear, as a rousing alarm call to organize ourselves collectively into more durable ways of living. We have damaged this planet and the life it supports, and are continuing to do so. Our greatest imperative is to pause and reflect, with depth and humility, on the entrenched assumptions that have propelled us along this perilous path.
I suggest this is a great book (or audiobook) to add to anyone’s library. It could very well be one of the most important books written by a person in authority in many hundreds of years.