Water, water everywhere. Or not.

“Somehow, America’s green craze has missed the blue,” writes environmental journalist Barnett (Mirage: Florida and the Vanishing Water of the Eastern U.S., 2007). A good citizen of Sacramento wouldn’t dream of throwing a plastic bottle in the trash, and yet, California’s capital, which calls itself “Sustainable Sacramento,” uses 300 gallons of water per person per day, 8.5 times the consumption of watery Holland, and about four times the consumption of similarly dry Perth, Australia. Small wonder that reservoirs such as Lake Mead, on which Las Vegas depends, are rapidly being drawn down to the sand—though, admittedly, drought and climate change have as much to do with it as careless drinkers. The problem is endemic, writes the author. It’s not just the arid West that is suffering, since even moist places such as Florida are rapidly using up their groundwater supplies. As with so much else, it all comes down to human actions: Conserving water and changing how we manage it would do a great deal to relieve the ever-accelerating crisis. Yet “using water ethically” in this way, as she puts it, faces formidable challenges, among them the “water-industrial complex” and its powerful lobby, aimed at preserving the huge profits that come with the control of one of the few things that humans actually need to live. Other enemies of progress, writes Barnett, are the squabbles over water fought by “lawyers billing by the hour rather than by communities drawn together in a shared ethic”; agricultural subsidies seemingly designed to encourage major users of water to be profligate; and politicians who resist the notion that Americans should have to curb their appetites at all. The subject is ripe for moralizing, but Barnett generally keeps the conversation at a practical level, noting, helpfully, that no American set out deliberately to exhaust the nation’s water supply any more than the Soviets “set out to create the disaster of the Aral Sea.” Thorough and packed with data but a touch dry. General readers will find much of the same information in Brian Fagan’s more engaging book Elixir (2011).


Pub Date: Sept. 20, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0317-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Beacon

Review Posted Online: July 20, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2011

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Ackerman writes with a light but assured touch, her prose rich in fact but economical in delivering it. Fans of birds in all...


Science writer Ackerman (Ah-Choo!: The Uncommon Life of Your Common Cold, 2010, etc.) looks at the new science surrounding avian intelligence.

The takeaway: calling someone a birdbrain is a compliment. And in any event, as Ackerman observes early on, “intelligence is a slippery concept, even in our own species, tricky to define and tricky to measure.” Is a bird that uses a rock to break open a clamshell the mental equivalent of a tool-using primate? Perhaps that’s the wrong question, for birds are so unlike humans that “it’s difficult for us to fully appreciate their mental capabilities,” given that they’re really just small, feathered dinosaurs who inhabit a wholly different world from our once-arboreal and now terrestrial one. Crows and other corvids have gotten all the good publicity related to bird intelligence in recent years, but Ackerman, who does allow that some birds are brighter than others, points favorably to the much-despised pigeon as an animal that “can remember hundreds of different objects for long periods of time, discriminate between different painting styles, and figure out where it’s going, even when displaced from familiar territory by hundreds of miles.” Not bad for a critter best known for bespattering statues in public parks. Ackerman travels far afield to places such as Barbados and New Caledonia to study such matters as memory, communication, and decision-making, the last largely based on visual cues—though, as she notes, birds also draw ably on other senses, including smell, which in turn opens up insight onto “a weird evolutionary paradox that scientists have puzzled over for more than a decade”—a matter of the geometry of, yes, the bird brain.

Ackerman writes with a light but assured touch, her prose rich in fact but economical in delivering it. Fans of birds in all their diversity will want to read this one.

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59420-521-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

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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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