May 27, 2020

The Torchlight List: Around the World in 111 Books

BY JOHN LANG AND WILL PICKERING

The Torchlight List: Around the World in 200 Books

In 2010, my enigmatic former political philosophy lecturer (and University of Otago legend) published a book that produced magic. 

Called The Torchlight List, it was Emeritus Professor Jim Flynn’s audacious attempt to tackle the precipitous decline in book readership among his students. He couldn’t just stand idle as the Twitterverse, Facebook and later Instagram began to impoverish the context in which our generation processed the world and its history. For him, as for Carl Sagan, ‘books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic’.

Jim Flynn

Somewhat surprisingly, the Wizard of Otago couldn’t just cast a spell. But he could try his luck at encouraging us to join him in the ‘magic realm’. And it worked a treat — well, at least it did for me. His Torchlight List quickly became less a prescription of what I should read, and much more an inspiration to read.

In true Flynn style, he resisted using The Torchlight List as an outlet to pontificate or dwell on the ills of the world. Instead, he had only one goal in mind: to bring a book to life — any one of the 200 — so someone would close his with the intention of opening another. For me, that another became Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by author and polymath Jared Diamond.

So, the above is my tribute to Flynn’s epic little book, and it appears to have landed better than expected. When I emailed him the graphic, he said it looked ‘fine’.

Climate Trees and the Climate Trunk

The above graphic also doubles as practice.

In a few months — possibly years the way things are going — I’m planning to create 10-12 ‘Climate Trees’ to inspire more people to learn something about climate change. Be it the history, science, politics, economics or the psychology of the problem. Eventually, the hope is that the trees will end up forming part of a much larger climate communication project I’m working on, called The Climate Trunk.

One of the rationales behind the Climate Trunk will be to try my luck at inspiring you to understand climate change a little better. Then you’ll enhance your ability to do the single most important thing any one individual can do about it.

To talk about it.