An astute, provocative contribution to information science and futurology.



We are awash in an ocean of data and are fast drowning.

Scharf, the director of the Columbia Astrobiology Center, opens with a luminous example: the world-changing work of Shakespeare. On the plus side, Shakespeare enriched literature, creating timeless works that are part of the “extended mind” of the species. On the negative side, Shakespeare’s work has required substantial expenditures of energy. “When I crunch the numbers…it is possible that altogether the simple act of human arms raising and lowering copies of Shakespeare’s writings has expended over 4 trillion joules of energy,” writes Scharf, reckoning that if we were coal-fired beings, it would take countless tons to fuel the simple business of picking Shakespeare from the shelf. More energy still is expended in brainpower as neurons fire to comprehend Shakespeare’s language. The energy gambit becomes more material as Scharf arrives at a staggering point: We are so dependent on data and the computer power needed to process it that by the year 2040, those computers will require more electricity than can be produced worldwide. Frustrated by this upper limit, what are we to do? The author probes deeper still, noting how the “dataome” we have created, the informational equivalent of an ecological biome, is changing us even as we change it. In a deep-diving but accessible text that ambles from Sumerian cuneiform to the thought that a planet-saving strategy might be to forgo all those cute GIFs and “hang in there, Kitty” posts on social media, Scharf revises Marshall McLuhan’s thought that the media are extensions of humankind to suggest that we meet information somewhere in the middle, perhaps evading the strictures of Darwinian selection. “We don’t really know if the existing paradigms of terrestrial biology can, or should, describe all of this,” writes Scharf, a thought that ought to keep us awake at night.

An astute, provocative contribution to information science and futurology.

Pub Date: June 15, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-08724-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2021

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A straightforward, carefully detailed presentation of how ``fruit comes from flowers,'' from winter's snow-covered buds through pollination and growth to ripening and harvest. Like the text, the illustrations are admirably clear and attractive, including the larger-than-life depiction of the parts of the flower at different stages. An excellent contribution to the solidly useful ``Let's-Read-and-Find-Out-Science'' series. (Nonfiction/Picture book. 4-9)

Pub Date: Jan. 30, 1992

ISBN: 0-06-020055-3

Page Count: 32

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1991

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A welcome reference, entertaining and information-packed, for any outdoors-inclined reader.


The bad news: On any given outdoor expedition, you are your own worst enemy. The good news: If you are prepared, which this book helps you achieve, you might just live through it.

As MeatEater host and experienced outdoorsman Rinella notes, there are countless dangers attendant in going into mountains, woods, or deserts; he quotes journalist Wes Siler: “People have always managed to find stupid ways to die.” Avoiding stupid mistakes is the overarching point of Rinella’s latest book, full of provocative and helpful advice. One stupid way to die is not to have the proper equipment. There’s a complication built into the question, given that when humping gear into the outdoors, weight is always an issue. The author’s answer? “Build your gear list by prioritizing safety.” That entails having some means of communication, water, food, and shelter foremost and then adding on “extra shit.” As to that, he notes gravely, “a National Park Service geologist recently estimated that as much as 215,000 pounds of feces has been tossed haphazardly into crevasses along the climbing route on Denali National Park’s Kahiltna Glacier, where climbers melt snow for drinking water.” Ingesting fecal matter is a quick route to sickness, and Rinella adds, there are plenty of outdoorspeople who have no idea of how to keep their bodily wastes from ruining the scenery or poisoning the water supply. Throughout, the author provides precise information about wilderness first aid, ranging from irrigating wounds to applying arterial pressure to keeping someone experiencing a heart attack (a common event outdoors, given that so many people overexert without previous conditioning) alive. Some takeaways: Keep your crotch dry, don’t pitch a tent under a dead tree limb, walk side-hill across mountains, and “do not enter a marsh or swamp in flip-flops, and think twice before entering in strap-on sandals such as Tevas or Chacos.”

A welcome reference, entertaining and information-packed, for any outdoors-inclined reader.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-12969-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2020

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