An engaged and engaging examination of “what current science allows us to say (or does not) about Sandy’s relation to...

STORM SURGE

HURRICANE SANDY, OUR CHANGING CLIMATE, AND EXTREME WEATHER OF THE PAST AND FUTURE

Sobel (Environmental Sciences and Applied Physics and Mathematics/Columbia Univ.) grapples with the “complex questions involving science, engineering, politics, and human psychology” that arose in Hurricane Sandy’s wake.

The author, who spends much of his time at Columbia studying climate and extreme weather, looks to Hurricane Sandy as a good example to help explain the scientific modeling that predicted the hurricane’s birth and path. Sandy was certainly an unusual event—in the past 150 years of keeping weather records, no hurricane has made the fast left turn she did—and Sobel wants readers to comprehend Sandy as both a specific phenomenon and within the global picture, to understand the nature of Sandy and the atmospheric forces at play, which means a considerable dip into physics, meteorology and climatology. That dip turns out to be gratifying, as the author provides a readable introduction to patterns in the global atmosphere, their changes and the influence they have on weather events. Once through this basic course, which includes forays into hurricane science, winter weather and the history of forecasting, readers will walk away with a handle on the dynamics of weather systems. Sobel uses music to help explain coherent patterns applicable to weather, and he delivers approachable discussions of the Fujiwhara effect (“Two giant entities in the atmosphere, dangerous and powerful but elemental...normally solitary, each doing its own thing, engage with each other”) and other phenomena. For tonal color, Sobel ends his examination of Sandy with a look at the Occupy movement and its role in recovery from the storm. He then shifts to a satisfying survey of updates and clarifications on the climate change front (including the vexing water-vapor issue) and the evolution of risk-management barriers and preventative measures.

An engaged and engaging examination of “what current science allows us to say (or does not) about Sandy’s relation to human-induced climate change.”

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2014

ISBN: 978-0062304766

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Harper Wave

Review Posted Online: Sept. 11, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2014

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A quirky wonder of a book.

WHY FISH DON'T EXIST

A STORY OF LOSS, LOVE, AND THE HIDDEN ORDER OF LIFE

A Peabody Award–winning NPR science reporter chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century scientist and how her quest led to significant revelations about the meaning of order, chaos, and her own existence.

Miller began doing research on David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) to understand how he had managed to carry on after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his work. A taxonomist who is credited with discovering “a full fifth of fish known to man in his day,” Jordan had amassed an unparalleled collection of ichthyological specimens. Gathering up all the fish he could save, Jordan sewed the nameplates that had been on the destroyed jars directly onto the fish. His perseverance intrigued the author, who also discusses the struggles she underwent after her affair with a woman ended a heterosexual relationship. Born into an upstate New York farm family, Jordan attended Cornell and then became an itinerant scholar and field researcher until he landed at Indiana University, where his first ichthyological collection was destroyed by lightning. In between this catastrophe and others involving family members’ deaths, he reconstructed his collection. Later, he was appointed as the founding president of Stanford, where he evolved into a Machiavellian figure who trampled on colleagues and sang the praises of eugenics. Miller concludes that Jordan displayed the characteristics of someone who relied on “positive illusions” to rebound from disaster and that his stand on eugenics came from a belief in “a divine hierarchy from bacteria to humans that point[ed]…toward better.” Considering recent research that negates biological hierarchies, the author then suggests that Jordan’s beloved taxonomic category—fish—does not exist. Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence.

A quirky wonder of a book.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6027-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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Unsentimental nature writing that sheds as much light on humans as on eels.

THE BOOK OF EELS

OUR ENDURING FASCINATION WITH THE MOST MYSTERIOUS CREATURE IN THE NATURAL WORLD

An account of the mysterious life of eels that also serves as a meditation on consciousness, faith, time, light and darkness, and life and death.

In addition to an intriguing natural history, Swedish journalist Svensson includes a highly personal account of his relationship with his father. The author alternates eel-focused chapters with those about his father, a man obsessed with fishing for this elusive creature. “I can’t recall us ever talking about anything other than eels and how to best catch them, down there by the stream,” he writes. “I can’t remember us speaking at all….Because we were in…a place whose nature was best enjoyed in silence.” Throughout, Svensson, whose beat is not biology but art and culture, fills his account with people: Aristotle, who thought eels emerged live from mud, “like a slithering, enigmatic miracle”; Freud, who as a teenage biologist spent months in Trieste, Italy, peering through a microscope searching vainly for eel testes; Johannes Schmidt, who for two decades tracked thousands of eels, looking for their breeding grounds. After recounting the details of the eel life cycle, the author turns to the eel in literature—e.g., in the Bible, Rachel Carson’s Under the Sea Wind, and Günter Grass’ The Tin Drum—and history. He notes that the Puritans would likely not have survived without eels, and he explores Sweden’s “eel coast” (what it once was and how it has changed), how eel fishing became embroiled in the Northern Irish conflict, and the importance of eel fishing to the Basque separatist movement. The apparent return to life of a dead eel leads Svensson to a consideration of faith and the inherent message of miracles. He warns that if we are to save this fascinating creature from extinction, we must continue to study it. His book is a highly readable place to begin learning.

Unsentimental nature writing that sheds as much light on humans as on eels.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-296881-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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