POWERING THE DREAM

THE HISTORY AND PROMISE OF GREEN TECHNOLOGY

Eye-opening micro-histories about American energy past, with an eye to the future, from Atlantic senior editor and technology writer Madrigal.

The author presents a host of good ideas and missed chances in the history of energy production, many of which were in the realm of renewal/sustainable. Madrigal seeks to understand why certain choices were made. For example, at the turn of the 20th century, electric and gasoline-powered automobiles were vying for market dominance. Gasoline won out because it fit snugly with the public attitude for autonomy, set in gear by the massive popularity of the bicycle, which “laid the cultural, infrastructural, and legal groundwork for the privately owned, gasoline-powered vehicle’s dominance.” It got people wanting to travel where they pleased on their own schedule, and the network of bike-repair shops became auto-repair shops. Madrigal covers a dozen other energy schemes with the thoroughness of a convert to each—why the wave motor, windmills, compressed-air systems and solar homes burned brightly for only a short while, but also (and this is critical) why they are now ripe for rediscovery. The author provides vest-pocket biographies of energy mavens, including Palmer Putnam and his giant windmill and physicists like Arthur Rosenfeld, who “broke the psychological link that generations had made between increased levels of fossil-fuel use and economic growth.” Madrigal also offers a digestible course on the economics of renewable energy, and he raises the red flag of such environmentalists as Kim Delfino of the Defenders of Wildlife: “California is starting to see a new kind of ‘gold rush,’ but this time it is going to be our wind, sunlight and public lands public lands that are up for grabs”—another government-to-corporate giveaway. A well-told cautionary tale about the need for widespread renewable-energy production.

 

Pub Date: April 22, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-306-81885-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Da Capo

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2011

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An authoritative, engaging study of plant life, accessible to younger readers as well as adults.

THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY OF PLANTS

A neurobiologist reveals the interconnectedness of the natural world through stories of plant migration.

In this slim but well-packed book, Mancuso (Plant Science/Univ. of Florence; The Revolutionary Genius of Plants: A New Understanding of Plant Intelligence and Behavior, 2018, etc.) presents an illuminating and surprisingly lively study of plant life. He smoothly balances expansive historical exploration with recent scientific research through stories of how various plant species are capable of migrating to locations throughout the world by means of air, water, and even via animals. They often continue to thrive in spite of dire obstacles and environments. One example is the response of plants following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Three decades later, the abandoned “Exclusion Zone” is now entirely covered by an enormous assortment of thriving plants. Mancuso also tracks the journeys of several species that might be regarded as invasive. “Why…do we insist on labeling as ‘invasive’ all those plants that, with great success, have managed to occupy new territories?” asks the author. “On a closer look, the invasive plants of today are the native flora of the future, just as the invasive species of the past are a fundamental part of our ecosystem today.” Throughout, Mancuso persuasively articulates why an understanding and appreciation of how nature is interconnected is vital to the future of our planet. “In nature everything is connected,” he writes. “This simple law that humans don’t seem to understand has a corollary: the extinction of a species, besides being a calamity in and of itself, has unforeseeable consequences for the system to which the species belongs.” The book is not without flaws. The loosely imagined watercolor renderings are vague and fail to effectively complement Mancuso’s richly descriptive prose or satisfy readers’ curiosity. Even without actual photos and maps, it would have been beneficial to readers to include more finely detailed plant and map renderings.

An authoritative, engaging study of plant life, accessible to younger readers as well as adults.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-63542-991-6

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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