As Owen amply proves, “water issues are never only about water.”




Travels along the endangered Colorado River and its tributaries reveal the challenges of providing water to 36 million people throughout the West.

New Yorker staff writer Owen (The Conundrum: How Scientific Innovation, Increased Efficiency, and Good Intentions Can Make Our Energy and Climate Problems Worse, 2012, etc.) elaborates on the critique he presented in his previous book, this time focusing on one crucial natural resource: water. Devising a sustainable water policy, he argues convincingly, is complicated and sometimes counterintuitive. “Many of the technological wonders that we think of as solutions to our gathering environmental problems actually exacerbate other environmental problems,” he asserts. Wind turbines, electric car batteries, and computer chips, for example, depend on the extraction of rare elements from places “where labor and land are cheap, and where regulatory oversight is minimal.” This extraction damages land, ecosystems, rivers, and, not least, miners’ lives. Foremost among the many problems inherent in water use from the Colorado is salt. Because salt does not settle out the way silt does, it remains in recycled water, making that water unsuitable for drinking and agriculture. In high enough concentrations, plants cannot grow in topsoil saturated with salt: the salt flats of Utah stand as an example. If lawns and golf courses use salt-laden water, they can add tons of salt to every acre of soil. Following the river’s winding route, Owen interviewed environmental experts, farmers, RV drivers, and politicians, investigating water policy, laws, and conservation strategies. In California, he visited the agricultural Imperial Valley, irrigated by “a valley-sized plumbing system,” and the Salton Sea, “created by an act of engineering imbecility” that involved diverting the Colorado River. The largest lake in California is now desolate, saltier than the Pacific Ocean and unable to sustain the fish and birds that once thrived in it. The author chides off-the-grid environmentalists who are willfully blind to the energies they use to sustain their lives and makes a case for city life as environmentally responsible.

As Owen amply proves, “water issues are never only about water.”

Pub Date: April 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-59463-377-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Jan. 31, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...


Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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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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