GoatMan: How I Took a Holiday from Being Human

By Thomas Thwaites

Princeton Architectural Press

★★★

News from the animal kingdom and a report by Thomas Thwaites from the frontline of Goatland. There, our intrepid correspondent satisfies his curiosity sufficiently to enable him to answer the question: what would it be like to be a goat? Thwaites, a designer known for creating a toaster from the crumbs up (as described in 2011’s The Toaster Project), found he had room in his life for another quirk. So he set out to create a goat exo­skeleton, plus a prosthetic stomach to aid grass digestion, after taking advice from ethologists, neuroscientists and goatherds. And then he headed to the Alps to join a herd. Thwaites relates that it’s hard work being a goat, what with all that mountaineering, plus remembering not to challenge the boss goat by climbing higher than him. Thwaites origin­ally proposed stepping outside the human psyche by adopting the traits of an elephant but, despite being granted funding by an arts organisation, settled on the less-challenging goat mode. His Goatland dispatches are largely amusing and he points out the project is not a ruse to allow him to justify interspecies “canoodling”. Also note: Thwaites did not publish this book on April 1.

East West Street

By Philippe Sands

(Alfred A. Knopf)

★★★★

The oblique reference to Charles Darwin in this volume’s subtitle – “On the origins of ‘genocide’ and ‘crimes against humanity’” – may be unintentional, but it serves to show what a bad lot humans are. The concepts of genocide and crimes against humanity, now sadly familiar thanks to the nightly news, took root in international law during the Nuremberg trials of 1945-49, held to bring Nazi war criminals to justice. This is human-rights lawyer Philippe Sands’ engrossing story of how these concepts became enshrined in global principle and of the two outstanding legal minds, Hersch Lauterpacht and Raphael Lemkin, who put them there.

But it is also a revealing family memoir untangling the chain of events that led to Sands’ forebears leaving Eastern Europe for Paris in the 1930s. This makes the book read like a thriller in parts, not least when Sands turns sleuth, picking over old photographs for evidence or visiting the sites of long-gone synagogues or railway stations.

All this is not to say the legal history is desiccated: were it not for the zeal of Lauterpacht and Lemkin, the evildoers of Rwanda and Kosovo would still be getting away with it.