THE UNNATURAL WORLD

THE RACE TO REMAKE CIVILIZATION IN EARTH'S NEWEST AGE

In this well-written, significant book, Biello insists that humans, the world's most successful invasive species, have the...

In his first book, Scientific American editor Biello argues that it is not a lack of money or technology that prevents our addressing environmental and societal ills but rather a lack of motivation.

The author, who hosts the ongoing PBS documentary Beyond the Light Switch, believes we are writing a new chapter in the history of the Earth, much of it composed in ignorance. We are terraforming our own world without conscious design, exerting global influence without the exercise of global responsibility. The linchpin of his book is the Anthropocene, the idea of a geologic epoch in which humankind represents the world-changing force of nature for the first time. Biello's stance and sympathies are quite clear, but he thankfully avoids polemics. His approach is unusually balanced; he is keen to show that every coin has a second face, not least the face of hope vs. despair. As the author notes, we must mature as a species, ditch short-term thinking, and recognize that we are now influencing outcomes in ways we can't foresee. It is our fate—not just the planet's—that hangs in the balance. Biello advocates a fundamentally new perspective on where we live and how, assuring that we have the tools to address almost any challenge, if not yet the will. His book is also an expansive ecological “history” of past, present, and future. Exceptionally well-researched if occasionally repetitive, the book is crammed with astonishing facts and fascinating speculations. Biello examines the inefficiencies of our neo-fossil age, the nature and origins of the city, wildness (as opposed to “wilderness”), humanity's role in the pace of extinctions, the appalling lack of electricity and clean water in much of the world, a new space race, waste as the foundation of modern society, and varied concepts of geoengineering.

In this well-written, significant book, Biello insists that humans, the world's most successful invasive species, have the ability to engage in planetary protection and human survival, but it will require wisdom, innovation, and restraint.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4390-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2016

WHY FISH DON'T EXIST

A STORY OF LOSS, LOVE, AND THE HIDDEN ORDER OF LIFE

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. 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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SEVEN BRIEF LESSONS ON PHYSICS

An intriguing meditation on the nature of the universe and our attempts to understand it that should appeal to both...

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Italian theoretical physicist Rovelli (General Relativity: The Most Beautiful of Theories, 2015, etc.) shares his thoughts on the broader scientific and philosophical implications of the great revolution that has taken place over the past century.

These seven lessons, which first appeared as articles in the Sunday supplement of the Italian newspaper Sole 24 Ore, are addressed to readers with little knowledge of physics. In less than 100 pages, the author, who teaches physics in both France and the United States, cogently covers the great accomplishments of the past and the open questions still baffling physicists today. In the first lesson, he focuses on Einstein's theory of general relativity. He describes Einstein's recognition that gravity "is not diffused through space [but] is that space itself" as "a stroke of pure genius." In the second lesson, Rovelli deals with the puzzling features of quantum physics that challenge our picture of reality. In the remaining sections, the author introduces the constant fluctuations of atoms, the granular nature of space, and more. "It is hardly surprising that there are more things in heaven and earth, dear reader, than have been dreamed of in our philosophy—or in our physics,” he writes. Rovelli also discusses the issues raised in loop quantum gravity, a theory that he co-developed. These issues lead to his extraordinary claim that the passage of time is not fundamental but rather derived from the granular nature of space. The author suggests that there have been two separate pathways throughout human history: mythology and the accumulation of knowledge through observation. He believes that scientists today share the same curiosity about nature exhibited by early man.

An intriguing meditation on the nature of the universe and our attempts to understand it that should appeal to both scientists and general readers.

Pub Date: March 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-18441-3

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 7, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

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