Reading Environments & ‘The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable’ by Amitav Ghosh

‘Texture of Crude oil spill on sand beach’ by Narongsak Nagadhana. Image sourced via Shutterstock, stock photo ID: 153770348

On Tuesday 13 March, we will launch our Environmental Humanities reading discussion group called Reading Environments: A Humanities Salon.

Each month, the reading discussion group will converse over literature and literary adaptations from the interdisciplinary field of the Environmental Humanities. The readings will include environmental topics found in philosophy, art, literature, history, and so forth.

This month’s reading is The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable by Amitav Ghosh (2016). The non-fiction work questions the systemic insanity exhibited by the inability of human beings to grasp the scale of climate change.

Ghosh is an acclaimed fiction author, whose writings have addressed the impacts of climate change. Through this non-fiction work, Ghosh suggests that fiction writing on the climate crisis serves as the perfect medium for communicating climate change.

We look forward to the interesting conversations to come out of the first group meeting.


Are we deranged? The acclaimed Indian novelist Amitav Ghosh argues that future generations may well think so. How else to explain our imaginative failure in the face of global warming? In his first major book of nonfiction since In an Antique Land, Ghosh examines our inability—at the level of literature, history, and politics—to grasp the scale and violence of climate change.

The extreme nature of today’s climate events, Ghosh asserts, make them peculiarly resistant to contemporary modes of thinking and imagining. This is particularly true of serious literary fiction: hundred-year storms and freakish tornadoes simply feel too improbable for the novel; they are automatically consigned to other genres. In the writing of history, too, the climate crisis has sometimes led to gross simplifications; Ghosh shows that the history of the carbon economy is a tangled global story with many contradictory and counterintuitive elements.

Ghosh ends by suggesting that politics, much like literature, has become a matter of personal moral reckoning rather than an arena of collective action. But to limit fiction and politics to individual moral adventure comes at a great cost. The climate crisis asks us to imagine other forms of human existence—a task to which fiction, Ghosh argues, is the best suited of all cultural forms. His book serves as a great writer’s summons to confront the most urgent task of our time.

To find out more about The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable, click here.

Are you interested in joining the reading group?

The series of gatherings are open to staff and students from across the University of Sydney. For more information contact: