A slim but certainly significant contribution to the climate crisis dialogue sure to provoke discussion and increased...

Fair warning on the perils of ignoring climate change.

In this erudite, cautionary treatise, novelist Ghosh (Flood of Fire, 2015, etc.) questions why, even in the face of mounting proof, much of the general public remains unfazed by increasing environmental disruption and disintegration. He recalls, as a child, hearing a tale from the mid-1850s about the “ecological refugees” from his Bangladesh homeland being displaced after the Padma River suddenly changed direction, wiping out villages and their inhabitants. As that story and those he shares in the book’s first section prove, the planet’s natural elements, which many of us take for granted, “can come to life with sudden and deadly violence.” Originally begun as a set of four lectures at the University of Chicago in 2015, the book lays out the reasons for and ramifications of climate crisis denialism through three distinct yet interrelated sections: stories related to “global warming’s resistance to the arts” coupled with the history and the serpentine politics surrounding our shared environmental responsibility. Interestingly, Ghosh shares tales of “people who are waylaid by unpredictable events” and then references literature’s oversight and casual disregard for unpredictable, “improbable” weather phenomena. As he writes, “to introduce such happenings into a novel is in fact to court eviction from the mansion in which serious fiction has long been in residence.” Just as eloquently, the author incorporates a historical discussion into his hypothesis, spotlighting Asia’s swiftly expanding industrialization as “conceptually critical to every aspect of global warming,” as well as the multifaceted aspects of capitalism, colonization, the “carbon-intensive economy,” and the corporatization of climate change. In direct, streamlined prose, Ghosh nimbly assesses the calculated placement of ecological blame, from politicians and world leaders to artists and writers, upon whose shoulders the “existential danger” of climate erosion potentially rests.

A slim but certainly significant contribution to the climate crisis dialogue sure to provoke discussion and increased awareness about our imperiled planet.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-226-32303-9

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Univ. of Chicago

Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016



A quirky wonder of a book.

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. 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020



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

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: Feb. 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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