A solid popular examination of our most vital natural resource.

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WATER 4.0

THE PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE OF THE WORLD'S MOST VITAL RESOURCE

A lucid primer on water technology.

Civilizations appeared without many things, including iron, the wheel, domestic animals or writing, but water was critical. Providing it has always taxed human ingenuity, writes Sedlak (Civil and Environmental Engineering/Univ. of California) in this chronicle of “the essential ingredient of life.” Dividing its history into stages, the author begins 2,500 years ago with Water 1.0. Growing cities, with Rome being the supreme example, built complex pipes and channels to bring in water and carry away sewage—usually not very far. This remained the norm until 19th-century scientists understood that sewage spread disease, especially cholera and typhoid. This led to Water 2.0: treating drinking water, usually with filtration and/or chlorine. Clean drinking water is still considered man’s greatest public health achievement. Sewage continued to pour into rivers and harbors, but it wasn’t until the 20th century that the smell, visible filth and outrage from downstream cities led to Water 3.0: a vast infrastructure of sewage treatment plants. In the second half of the book, Sedlak discusses Water 4.0: technology in the works to deal with (and pay for) water shortages, which are already upon us. Conservation is only modestly effective. Desalinization remains expensive; drinking treated sewage produces horror from laymen and their representatives, but effluent already makes up a large percentage of our rivers and tap water. One possible solution is to abandon centralized systems to treat and recycle wastewater in our homes and neighborhoods. Our electrical and communication infrastructure is relatively cheap and often in the news. Water infrastructure is expensive and lacks enthusiasts, but in Sedlak’s hands, it isn’t boring.

A solid popular examination of our most vital natural resource.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-300-17649-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2013

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

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

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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Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

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LAB GIRL

Award-winning scientist Jahren (Geology and Geophysics/Univ. of Hawaii) delivers a personal memoir and a paean to the natural world.

The author’s father was a physics and earth science teacher who encouraged her play in the laboratory, and her mother was a student of English literature who nurtured her love of reading. Both of these early influences engrossingly combine in this adroit story of a dedication to science. Jahren’s journey from struggling student to struggling scientist has the narrative tension of a novel and characters she imbues with real depth. The heroes in this tale are the plants that the author studies, and throughout, she employs her facility with words to engage her readers. We learn much along the way—e.g., how the willow tree clones itself, the courage of a seed’s first root, the symbiotic relationship between trees and fungi, and the airborne signals used by trees in their ongoing war against insects. Trees are of key interest to Jahren, and at times she waxes poetic: “Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.” The author draws many parallels between her subjects and herself. This is her story, after all, and we are engaged beyond expectation as she relates her struggle in building and running laboratory after laboratory at the universities that have employed her. Present throughout is her lab partner, a disaffected genius named Bill, whom she recruited when she was a graduate student at Berkeley and with whom she’s worked ever since. The author’s tenacity, hope, and gratitude are all evident as she and Bill chase the sweetness of discovery in the face of the harsh economic realities of the research scientist.

Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-87493-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

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