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New Internationalist, 'No-Nonsense Guides to Peace, Green Action and Political Animals'

New Internationalist Publications, 2005; £7 each

The New Internationalist's mini books are packed with quotes, cartoons, photographs and nuggets of information, which makes them ideal for dipping into. These three titles pursue pacifist, environmental and animal rights agendas as one would expect from this magazine group, run by a co-op. The New Internationalist was originally sponsored by Oxfam, Christian Aid and the Cadbury and Rowntree Trusts, and still focuses on poverty and inequality.

Although most of the quotes support an activist agenda, thought-provoking opposing voices are aired. In Green Action there is a memo from the World Bank chief executive suggesting more toxic waste should be dumped in Africa because it already has a high mortality rate. In Peace there is a quote from a US PR man, saying “the military is a role model for the business world.” On the whole, however, the quotes are of the friendly and inspiring sort, like the current Dalai Lama's “If you think you are too small to make a difference to the world, try sleeping with a mosquito.” The photos are perhaps the most delightful part of the books but not all of them have captions, which is frustrating.

Political Animals is full of wit, linking the human world with that of animals. Balancing the funny bon mots is a serious set of extinction files about species on the brink, such as the Beluga Whale, Mountain Gorilla, Przewalski's Horse and the Chinese Alligator. There is also information about animals we have already lost forever and about the exploitation that is involved in factory meat.

Peace contains the message that we must find peace within ourselves if we are to have a peaceful world. There are brief fact-files comparing the price of bombers with schooling and showing that the money the US spent on war with Iraq could have been used to meet all of the Millennium Development Goals. The voices range from folk star Joan Baez, to Alexander Aris, delivering the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech for his mother, Burmese democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi. Howard Zinn's reflection on his own involvement with war provides a powerful argument against those who say war can be justified because without it we could have been ruled by the Nazis. He writes, “thus a war that apparently begins with a `good cause' - stopping aggression - creates more victims than before, and brings out more brutality than before, on both sides.”

In Green Action, a picture of the ozone layer and words from an Aboriginal elder about nuclear testing really bring home the destruction of our planet. As mentioned in the foreword, the book acknowledges extraordinary people who are trying to save the environment rather than choosing the most famous, white names. When the famous white names do appear, they are not accepted uncritically. James Lovelock's thesis that opposition to nuclear energy is irrational is juxtaposed with a picture of a Chernobyl victim. There are no easy answers in any of these books, but plenty of interesting ideas.

Topics: War and peace | Green