John Pilger's books of the year

Find out which books make up the NS columnist's "moral and intellectual survival kit".

We've asked friends and contributors of the New Statesman to tell us their favourite books of 2010. You can read the full list here, but we'll also be publishing selected entries on Cultural Capital over the next few days. To begin with, here is John Pilger's pick:

In another year distinguished by the silence of fiction writers about rapacious wars and a society at home assaulted by extremists in power in Westminster - a silence exemplified by the Man Booker Prize short-list and its compromise winner - three books are a blessed relief. The first is Secret Affairs: Britain's Collusion with Radical Islam by the historian Mark Curtis (Serpent's Tail). Excavating long forgotten official files, Curtis illuminates the darkest corners of Britain's critical role in the rise of islamicism as a means of blocking Arab nationalism and guarding western "interests". He explains much about the current colonial adventures. In Newspeak in the 21st Century (Pluto) by David Edwards and David Cromwell, the editors of the website Medialens.org brilliantly decode the propaganda that so often passes for news and give us with an A to Z of how corporate journalism demonises "our" enemies, from Venezuela to Iran. My other choice for finding out how power works is Noam Chomsky's latest bonfire of the illusions and falsehoods that masquerade as public policy. This is Hope and Prospects (Haymarket Books). All three books provide a moral and intellectual survival kit in these extraordinary times.

Daniel Trilling is the Editor of New Humanist magazine. He was formerly an Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

Iain Cameron
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Meet Scotland's 300-year-old snow patch, the Sphinx

Snow patch watchers expect it to melt away by the weekend. 

This weekend, Scotland's most resilient snow patch, dubbed Sphinx, is expected to melt away. The news has been met with a surprising outpouring of emotion and nationwide coverage. Even The Financial Times covered the story with the headline "The end is nigh for Britain's last snow". The story has also gone international, featuring in radio reports as far away as New Zealand.

So what is it about Sphinx that has captured the public’s imagination?  Some have suggested it could be symbolic. The Sphinx represents how we all feel, helpless and doomed to a fate determined by leaders like Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un. 

Regular contributors to the Facebook page “Snow Patches in Scotland”  have their own, more prosaic theories. One tells me that the British are “generally a bit obsessed with weather and climate”, while another says snow-patches are "more interesting than anything Trump/May/Boris or Vladimir have to say”.

Those more interested in patches of snow than the existential consequences of international relations could be dismissed as having seriously skewed priorities, but there's more to the story of Sphinx than lies on the surface. 

For a start it's thought to be 300 years old, covering a small square of the Cairngorms for centuries with just six brief interruptions. Last time the Sphinx disappeared was 11 years ago. Though it may melt away this weekend, it is expected to be back by winter. 

Iain Cameron, the man who set up the Facebook page "Snow Patches in Scotland" and someone who has recorded and measured snow patches since he was a young boy, says that Sphinx has shrunk to the size of a large dinner table and he expects it will have melted entirely by this Saturday.

It came close to disappearing in 2011 as well, he adds. In October of that year, Sphinx at around its current size and only a heavy snowstorm revived it.

"They tend to keep the same shape and form every year," Cameron tells me. "It might sound weird to say, but it’s like seeing an elderly relative or an old friend. You’re slightly disappointed if it’s not in as good a condition."

But why has Sphinx survived for so long? The patch of land that Sphinx lies above faces towards the North East, meaning it is sheltered from the elements by large natural formations called Corries and avoids the bulk of what sunlight northern Scotland has to offer. 

It also sits on a bid of soil rather than boulder-fields, unlike the snow patches on Britain's highest mountain Ben Nevis. Boulder-fields allow air through them, but the soil does not, meaning the Sphinx melts only from the top.

Cameron is hesistant to attribute the increased rate of Sphinx's melting to climate change. He says meterologists can decide the causes based on the data which he and his fellow anoraks (as he calls them) collect. 

That data shows that over the past 11 years since Sphinx last melted it has changed size each year, not following any discernable pattern. “There is no rhyme or reason because of the vagaries of the Scottish climate," says Cameron.

One thing that has changed is Sphinx's title is no longer quite so secure. There is another snow patch in near Ben Nevis vying for the position of the last in Scotland. Cameron says that it is 50:50 as to which one will go first.