Nearly a week ago, I spent the early evening at the Royal Institution, celebrating the launch of Matter. A few months ago, Matter created a minor sensation in journalism circles by raising many times it goal on Kickstarter to bring its vision of long-form science journalism for the digital age to life. I was a backer of Matter (but not a huge one – it was in the early stage of my freelance working, and I was being careful with my cash), and as a result got immediate access to the new book – the first product of Matter’s funded publishing operation – when it was launched early last week.
I’ve held off on writing about it because I wanted to see the actual result first, to read the matter, as it were, and be able to give you an honest appraisal of how it’s developing. I downloaded the first Matter ebook – Do No Harm – to my iPad, and read it on the train into London. And didn’t think about anything else until I’d devoured the whole thing.
It tells the story of Body Integrity Identity Disorder – an unusual condition where sufferers feel that one or more of their limbs are alien – something that shouldn’t be attached to their body. It also tells the story of one person’s journey to deal with this situation through amputation, meeting some of the significant people in the field as a result.
Make no mistake – this is journalism. It’s storytelling and research mixed together into a compelling experience. Author Anil Ananthaswamy intertwines the narrative of one sufferer of this disorder on his journey to resolution, with the meat of the current scientific and political thinking on the condition. It deserves the length – both the story and the science are compelling, and at any more parsimounous word count, one or the other would have been neglected. In a way, it reminded me of the very best of quality magazine journalism – happy to tell a human story, unafraid of examining something in depth and unflinching in the face of something people will find isturbing.
Was my Kickstarter investment in Matter worthwhile? Based on the quality of this release – yes. The test will be how well they can sustain this level of reporting in the coming months, but I’ll certainly be awaiting the second release eagerly.
You can buy Do No Harm from the Matter site for $0.99, or the book is available as a Kindle Single: *Do No Harm: The People Who Amputate Their Perfectly Healthy Limbs, And The Doctors Who Help Them *for about twice the price from Amazon.
Go on, treat yourself.