The question of sea-level rise in Tangier's waters has captured much of America's attention in the last few years. Back in 2015, the science journal Nature ran a study warning of Tangier's demise at the hands of sea-level rise due to climate change. The dire findings caught the attention of climate scientists and, of course, the island's residents themselves, most of whom were skeptical. But it wasn't until last June, when Donald Trump came calling, that Tangier's plight crept into popular consciousness. After his advisers showed him a CNN report about the disappearing island and its pro-Trump inhabitants, the president phoned Eskridge and personally urged him to drop any concerns about sea-level rise. And suddenly everyone, it seemed, had an opinion on what was happening on this previously obscure island, rendering Tangier a poster child for both sides in the national conversation on climate change.
The story of Tangier has largely been limited to the inevitability of an island going down—the science behind it, the politics around it. And without new infrastructure, fast, Tangier is indeed going down. What's been left out, however, is why its people are willing to go down with it—and why they've risked it all on Trump to keep them afloat.
There was widespread reaction when the Philosopher’s Stone in the title of the first Harry Potter book became the Sorcerer’s Stone after its US publisher, Scholastic, decided that children might confuse wizards for Plato.
But hordes of books have had their titles changed in America. Disproportionately, they are mysteries. Twenty-five Agatha Christie titles have been “localised” but unfortunately, their new names do not add to their allure. Instead, they merely baffle Brits who, when buying Murder in Three Acts or Poirot Loses a Client on vacation, discover they are Three Act Tragedy or Dumb Witness in disguise.
Naturally, book titles change from country to country. Altering the first Potter adventure to Harry Potter a l’Ecole des Sorciers in French is far less baffling than what was done to its American counterpart. Some localisation is to be expected: if you’re translating the text, why not change the title to match? But, with the UK and US sharing a language, why change titles?
“Palaces for the People” reads more like a succession of case studies than a comprehensive account of what social infrastructure is, so those looking for a theoretical framework may be disappointed. But anyone interested in cities will find this book an engaging survey that trains you to view any shared physical system as, among other things, a kind of social network. After finishing it, I started asking how ordinary features of my city, from streetlights to flowerpots, might affect the greater well-being of residents. Physically robust infrastructure is not enough if it fails to foster a healthy community; ultimately, all infrastructure is social.
With his sharp humour and gift for character, Mr Shteyngart makes the implausible seem credible. He migh even make you want to take a Greyhound.