Maddox’s investigation lacks the dazzling heft of John McPhee’s Annals of the Former World (1998), but it makes for a gentle...

READING THE ROCKS

HOW VICTORIAN GEOLOGISTS DISCOVERED THE SECRET OF LIFE

The word “scientist” is Georgian, but the scientific habit of mind is Victorian—and quite British, as this popular history ably shows.

Award-winning biographer Maddox (Freud’s Wizard: Ernest Jones and the Transformation of Psychoanalysis, 2007, etc.) nicely blends literary and scientific biography in this study of 19th-century British geology and its practitioners, some of them poets as well as naturalists. Against the modern backdrop of evolution denial and the 6,000-year-old Earth, Maddox notes that the science had “been introduced at Oxford expressly in order to prepare the many students about to enter the Church to defend religion against science.” Indeed, she adds, some of the foremost early British geologists were clerics, not least among them Charles Darwin. The revolutionary central ideas about the Earth that Charles Lyell, James Hutton, Mary Anning, Louis Agassiz, and other early scientists formulated or added ammunition to were not just that Earth was unfathomably old, and far older than the biblical genealogy of Archbishop James Ussher—the one creationists now follow—could permit, but also that “all matter is atomic” and that all things evolve through processes of natural selection. Reading the rocks, as Maddox’s title would have it, reveals as much, but geology also gave material support and inspiration to scientists in other areas, including Darwin. Writing in accessible if sometimes overly dutiful prose, the author observes that the rise of these sciences helped bring the Romantic era to an end, for “no one cared about an individual perception but rather knowledge that could be exchanged as data and, as in scientific practice, duplicated and replicated.”

Maddox’s investigation lacks the dazzling heft of John McPhee’s Annals of the Former World (1998), but it makes for a gentle introduction to early modern natural history, one of the last eras in which a gentleman (or gentlewoman) scholar might ever hope to have a solid grasp of every branch of science.

Pub Date: Nov. 21, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-63286-912-8

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Aug. 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2017

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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NO ONE IS TOO SMALL TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE

A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

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