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. 3, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

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


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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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. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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