Penn State

Amit Banerjee - Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Penn State Harrisburg

Book Title: The Mosquito Coast

Author: Paul Theroux

Book Description:

Mosquito Coast was one of first Paul Theroux books I read, but it has stayed with me ever since. The book is a critique of mindless consumerism disguised as adventure/travel story. Although written more than 30 years ago, the book is more relevant today than perhaps it was in its day. To quote the protagonist Allie Fox, "...we eat when we are not hungry, we drink when we are not thirsty, we buy what we don't need, and throw away things that are useful. We pretend we have got eight feet, and two stomachs and money to burn. That is not illogical - that is evil". We live in a world where the answer to a messy purse is a smartphone so that we would never have to "struggle" to find a credit card. Whereas a third of the world lives without access to clean drinking water and sanitation and in Allie's world, without access to ice. The simple life as advocated by Allie does not have to be the extreme which he puts his family through, but I believe if we recognize that mainstream consumerism is not a necessary evil for capitalism to work (an oft repeated cliched argument) but just an evil. I believe the book is a must read for students of engineering and design who are interested in the ethics and morality of product design and creation. I know I would much rather live in a world where the brightest engineers and designers work on providing solutions to actual problems rather than designing a pretty looking watch or phone.


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