The book comes full circle, right back to “What now,” and is best fit for those who delight in zero-sum policy wrangling.


A turgid but well-meant attempt to decentralize environmental standards, embellish grassroots activism, and tap industry goodwill to fashion a new blueprint for environmental action, from academics Sabel, Fung, and Karkkainen.

If the national government either overregulates or underregulates when it comes to the environment, and local groups lack scale or encourage a myopic parochialism, what, the authors ask, is an effective middle course? Their proposal: “Local units set their own environmental performance targets and devise means to achieve them. In return, they provide detailed reports on actual performance and possible improvements to overarching public authorities.” They suggest this “rolling-rule regime” will stimulate vast public participation in the process, provide a face-to-face forum for polluters and victims to hammer out solutions (“disciplined consideration of alternative policies leads protagonists to discover unanticipated solutions provisionally acceptable”), and have the immediacy of a perpetual feedback loop to tinker with the system as it needs adjustment to set new standards, targets, and pathways. Their format is call-and-response: Sabel, Fung, and Karkkanien present their idea, offer evidence, and then a panel of experts attempts to shred their grand proposal. The experts usually win here, although they are far from a cohesive group. The sharpest is DeWitt John, who sympathizes with civic environmentalism but worries about cross-border conflicts, and whether people have the time or money to invest: Mr. Practical. The dimmest bulb is Theodore Lowi, who squawks “Propaganda” like Chicken Little and then smacks his lips over Milton Friedman’s 30-year-old inanity: “How much pollution can we afford?” Most respondents simply point out that industry goodwill is not to be expected at this juncture, and why should government abrogate its responsibility to protect the health and safety of its citizens?

The book comes full circle, right back to “What now,” and is best fit for those who delight in zero-sum policy wrangling.

Pub Date: July 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-8070-0445-6

Page Count: 132

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2000

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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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A quirky wonder of a book.



A Peabody Award–winning NPR science reporter chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century scientist and how her quest led to significant revelations about the meaning of order, chaos, and her own existence.

Miller began doing research on David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) to understand how he had managed to carry on after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his work. A taxonomist who is credited with discovering “a full fifth of fish known to man in his day,” Jordan had amassed an unparalleled collection of ichthyological specimens. Gathering up all the fish he could save, Jordan sewed the nameplates that had been on the destroyed jars directly onto the fish. His perseverance intrigued the author, who also discusses the struggles she underwent after her affair with a woman ended a heterosexual relationship. Born into an upstate New York farm family, Jordan attended Cornell and then became an itinerant scholar and field researcher until he landed at Indiana University, where his first ichthyological collection was destroyed by lightning. In between this catastrophe and others involving family members’ deaths, he reconstructed his collection. Later, he was appointed as the founding president of Stanford, where he evolved into a Machiavellian figure who trampled on colleagues and sang the praises of eugenics. Miller concludes that Jordan displayed the characteristics of someone who relied on “positive illusions” to rebound from disaster and that his stand on eugenics came from a belief in “a divine hierarchy from bacteria to humans that point[ed]…toward better.” Considering recent research that negates biological hierarchies, the author then suggests that Jordan’s beloved taxonomic category—fish—does not exist. Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence.

A quirky wonder of a book.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6027-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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