Important, high-quality popular science.

THE STAR BUILDERS

NUCLEAR FUSION AND THE RACE TO POWER THE PLANET

An expert account of the immense international research effort to develop practical nuclear fusion.

Physicist and science writer Turrell reminds readers that burning fossil fuels provides 86% of the world’s energy. Scientists warn that we must massively reduce this number in order to avoid climate catastrophe, but it’s still growing. The author and the researchers he has consulted have a low opinion of renewables such as solar, wind, and hydropower. They feel that atomic power is a good method despite its problems, including public relations problems and issues related to scale. One possible solution is controlled nuclear fusion. Fusion produces 10 million times the energy of coal. Turrell explains that the process of two hydrogen atoms slamming together to form a helium atom releases immense energy but also requires titanic pressure and heat. Scientists can achieve fusion in the lab, but this requires expending energy. It happens deep within the sun, so current research projects require confining hydrogen under immense pressure and at millions of degrees of temperature. Since no container could survive contact with such material, this must take place in midair. Traveling the world, Turrell describes wildly complex efforts to achieve this with combinations of magnetism, inertia, pressure, and lasers. These efforts sometimes work, but only for short periods. No project has yet produced more energy than it consumes, but scientists are optimistic. One famous quip notes, “Fusion is the energy of the future…and always will be.” A diligent journalist, Turrell does not overhype his subject, delivering a painless education with asides on the history of the universe, the life cycle of stars, and the dismal consequences if we don’t stop burning fossil fuels. According to the author and countless scientists, this can only happen if nuclear fusion succeeds. “The ingredients of even the most basic form of fusion…could last us around 33 million years,” he writes.

Important, high-quality popular science.

Pub Date: Aug. 3, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982130-66-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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  • New York Times Bestseller

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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