FLOODS, FAMINES, AND EMPERORS

EL NIÑO AND THE FATE OF CIVILIZATIONS

Fagan (Time Detectives, 1995, etc.) draws on his archaeology background to intriguingly explore the correlation between unusual climatic shifts and unusual historical events. El Ni§o is a blooming of warm Pacific water, pushing eastward along the tropics, bucking the northeast trade winds. For years it was thought to be a localized anomaly particular to the northern Peruvian coast. Now it is appreciated as a colossal climatic happening that interacts with other climatic systems as part of a global weather machine. Fagan traces El Ni§o from its first reckonings to the large-scale weather predictions made today when satellites detect its upwelling appearance. He then goes on to speculate on how El Ni§o’s hell spawn—catastrophic extended drought and biblical storms—may have contributed to the demise of ancient civilizations. Drawing examples from pharaonic Egypt, early Mesopotamia, the Anasazi of North America, the Moche world of northern Peru, and the flamboyant classic Mayans, Fagan describes how these peoples responded to the curveballs (50-year droughts that robbed their artful irrigation works of water, rain that washed away their guano, currents that stole their anchovies) thrown at them by El Ni§o. Some moved; some muddled through, diminished; some had the flexibility to find ways to make the land more productive; others collapsed, their already stressed environment caving in before the climatic assault that additionally undermined the peoples’ faith in their divinities and in the omnipotence of their rulers. Lastly, Fagan points to El Ni§o’s savagings today of people who are the least equipped to face it: the delta dwellers in their ramshackle huts, the farmers and others at the mercy of landowners and political bosses who thrive on the manipulation of relief aid. It is to Fagan’s credit that he doesn’t attribute to El Ni§o sole responsibility for the march of history but rather neatly fits its cruel weather into the matrix of circumstances that pushed great civilizations to—and some over—the brink. (20 maps and drawings, not seen) (Radio satellite tour)

Pub Date: March 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-465-01120-9

Page Count: 300

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1999

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Dramatic, immersive, and wanting—much like desire itself.

THREE WOMEN

Based on eight years of reporting and thousands of hours of interaction, a journalist chronicles the inner worlds of three women’s erotic desires.

In her dramatic debut about “what longing in America looks like,” Taddeo, who has contributed to Esquire, Elle, and other publications, follows the sex lives of three American women. On the surface, each woman’s story could be a soap opera. There’s Maggie, a teenager engaged in a secret relationship with her high school teacher; Lina, a housewife consumed by a torrid affair with an old flame; and Sloane, a wealthy restaurateur encouraged by her husband to sleep with other people while he watches. Instead of sensationalizing, the author illuminates Maggie’s, Lina’s, and Sloane’s erotic experiences in the context of their human complexities and personal histories, revealing deeper wounds and emotional yearnings. Lina’s infidelity was driven by a decade of her husband’s romantic and sexual refusal despite marriage counseling and Lina's pleading. Sloane’s Fifty Shades of Grey–like lifestyle seems far less exotic when readers learn that she has felt pressured to perform for her husband's pleasure. Taddeo’s coverage is at its most nuanced when she chronicles Maggie’s decision to go to the authorities a few years after her traumatic tryst. Recounting the subsequent trial against Maggie’s abuser, the author honors the triumph of Maggie’s courageous vulnerability as well as the devastating ramifications of her community’s disbelief. Unfortunately, this book on “female desire” conspicuously omits any meaningful discussion of social identities beyond gender and class; only in the epilogue does Taddeo mention race and its impacts on women's experiences with sex and longing. Such oversight brings a palpable white gaze to the narrative. Compounded by the author’s occasionally lackluster prose, the book’s flaws compete with its meaningful contribution to #MeToo–era reporting.

Dramatic, immersive, and wanting—much like desire itself.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4516-4229-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS

Maya Angelou is a natural writer with an inordinate sense of life and she has written an exceptional autobiographical narrative which retrieves her first sixteen years from "the general darkness just beyond the great blinkers of childhood."

Her story is told in scenes, ineluctably moving scenes, from the time when she and her brother were sent by her fancy living parents to Stamps, Arkansas, and a grandmother who had the local Store. Displaced they were and "If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat." But alternating with all the pain and terror (her rape at the age of eight when in St. Louis With her mother) and humiliation (a brief spell in the kitchen of a white woman who refused to remember her name) and fear (of a lynching—and the time they buried afflicted Uncle Willie under a blanket of vegetables) as well as all the unanswered and unanswerable questions, there are affirmative memories and moments: her charming brother Bailey; her own "unshakable God"; a revival meeting in a tent; her 8th grade graduation; and at the end, when she's sixteen, the birth of a baby. Times When as she says "It seemed that the peace of a day's ending was an assurance that the covenant God made with children, Negroes and the crippled was still in effect."

However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1969

ISBN: 0375507892

Page Count: 235

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1969

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