Abbey and Bowden did it better, but many of Berger’s essays in this loose-knit collection are pleasures to read.



A collection of essays set in the deserts of the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico.

When he hits the mark, there are few living writers more at home in desert country than Berger (The End of the Sherry, 2014, etc.), at least since the passing of Edward Abbey and Charles Bowden. Hit the mark he does here, and often, as with a longish early essay on the memories shaped by arriving in Phoenix at the age of 8, at the very beginning of the postwar boom, and experiencing over the years the profound changes that have taken place there—changes that have played out in the big picture but also in the vegetation around his family home, marked by the arrival of Audubon’s warblers in the metropolis, pecking away at the bottom of drained irrigation canals. The author’s affectionate portrait of one of the strangely brilliant hermits that the desert seems to breed—this one a fellow who somehow had divined the presence of mountains on Venus before NASA got there—is a hallmark of generously diplomatic writing. Sure, the guy was a little sundazed, but he was on to something, too: “Slight, bespectacled, pencil and Kleenex stuck in his pocket, jeans rolled over his boots, he looked like a professor gone to seed.” At times, however, Berger strives a little too hard for literary effect, as when he writes of an unfortunately pruned desert willow, “it looked like an angst-ridden prop from Waiting for Godot,” and when he opines that Spanish is “a language raucous as the desert birds,” which takes some of the fine polish off an otherwise unobjectionable piece in which Edna St. Vincent Millay and Willa Cather figure. Throughout, however, one gets the sense that Berger would be a welcome presence at a desert campfire, spinning sometimes-improbable but well-formed tales.

Abbey and Bowden did it better, but many of Berger’s essays in this loose-knit collection are pleasures to read.

Pub Date: March 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-374-22057-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2018

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

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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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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: March 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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