All The Trouble in the World by P. J. O'Rourke Picador $255 THE Somalis have a joke. God was bored so He created the universe. But He was still bored, so He created Somalia. He hasn't stopped laughing since. This goes some way towards showing what P. J. O'Rourke wants to show; that the world's troubles - famine, pestilence, destruction and death - are not sent down by God for the sheer hell of it, as it were. They have causes. Famine in Somalia has a cause and the cause is not lack of food. It is people. The Somalis are, and apparently always have been, divided into clan families. Each clan hates each other and each clan has sub-clans who also hate each other. Even the Encyclopaedia Britannica - and this from the 1911 edition - opines: 'The Somali are a fighting race and all go armed.' The six clans, writes O'Rourke - he has not lost his eye for wicked one-liners - are further divided by degrees of idleness. There is plenty of food in Somalia, as there is in Bangladesh, another country labelled by outsiders as a land of incompetence with a propensity for gargantuan natural disasters. It's just that in Somalia no one can get their hands on much of it because of the fighting. In Bangladesh no one can get their hands on it because there are too many Bangladeshis. But then Fremont, California, has the same population density as Bangladesh and no one worries about Fremont. For overpopulation is only a worry when the people being born are not Marky Marks and Claudia Schiffers, but below-the-poverty-line Asians. This is the 'just enough of me, way too much of you' syndrome. The point O'Rourke is making is that in the modern world we do not have famine, plague and war caused by a population crisis; we just have famine, plague and war. In Bangladesh starvation is caused by archaic economic practices, dunderhead political institutions and the fact that no one wants to buy jute any more (the country still has a minister for jute), the price of which has fallen below the cost of producing it. Next O'Rourke turns his attention to the outdoors. Why are we so concerned about it? Pilgrim leader William Bradford was not so enamoured when he arrived in the New World. He wrote: 'What could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wild beasts and wild men?' There are many things that are bad for mankind in the long run - pollution, the failing ozone layer, chemicals that come from cans of shaving foam - but to quote John Maynard Keynes: 'In the long run we're all dead.' But to do some good briefly is better than doing no good ever. Or is it? O'Rourke is not coming up with answers in this book, but he is doing something that needs to be done; showing that there is another side to the coin. For too long the trendies - Al Gore comes in for particular criticism - have had the stage. Gore is concerned about chemicals that have powerful effects on the world around us. Yet how wary was he of the antibiotics and antiseptics that saved his son's life when he nearly died? O'Rourke is easy to dislike, but difficult not to admire. In All The Trouble in the World he has his own agenda - anti-Democrat, especially anti-Gore and vehemently anti-the uninformed. It would be a less interesting book without his buoyant polemics. The earnest intellectuals do less good with all their weighty tomes than O'Rourke does with 300-odd pages of malevolent satire. O'Rourke has a favourite book, called 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth. He calls it a kind of Thomas the Tank Engine for the environment. A sub-script in the book says: 'The average annual energy bill for America's hot tubs is US$200 million.' But have you tried taking a bath on a compost heap?