FRESH WATER

A crystal-clear introduction to the physics, character, and exquisite grace of fresh water, from naturalist Pielou (After the Ice Age, not reviewed). Fresh water—without which there would be no human life—is a paltry 2.6 percent of Earth’s total water, and then only 30 percent of that is in cycle, shapeshifting through rain and snow to stream and aquifer, evaporating, falling, flowing. Pielou endeavors to bring the natural history of fresh water to life, and she does so admirably. Her book takes its broad circularity from the water cycle, starting with how groundwater gets underground, what it is doing down there, how it surfaces (including her nifty conceit that we are all walking on water). She moves on to stream morphology and how rivers shape the land and why they course rather than sink; the where and why of lakes and their watery architecture; and the hydrological, ecological, and biological wonder worlds of wetlands’string bogs, ribbed fens, wet meadows, prairie sloughs (“as always with wetlands, there’s no shortage of names”). She explores the mechanics of ice and the dynamics of autumn freeze and spring breakup; the circumstantial advantages—and disadvantages—of reservoirs, dams, and diversion projects. Thence she returns to the atmosphere—vapor, clouds, fog—both closing and restarting the cycle. There is a satisfyingly vast amount of detail in these pages, and Pielou never shies from scientific and technical explanations, but she knows how to coax the art out of —potential evapotranspiration = precipitation + withdrawal + deficit— with a poet’s economy of means, carefully sprinkling hydrology’s word-songs for effect. There is also much here for gardeners, who will appreciate an understanding of wilting points and moisture budgets. Pielou writes with clarity and a feel for words, and her affection for the subject at hand is immediately and infectiously communicated to readers. (81 b&w illustrations)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-226-66815-0

Page Count: 267

Publisher: Univ. of Chicago

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1998

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The book is not entirely negative; final chapters indicate roads of reversal, before it is too late!

SILENT SPRING

It should come as no surprise that the gifted author of The Sea Around Us and its successors can take another branch of science—that phase of biology indicated by the term ecology—and bring it so sharply into focus that any intelligent layman can understand what she is talking about.

Understand, yes, and shudder, for she has drawn a living portrait of what is happening to this balance nature has decreed in the science of life—and what man is doing (and has done) to destroy it and create a science of death. Death to our birds, to fish, to wild creatures of the woods—and, to a degree as yet undetermined, to man himself. World War II hastened the program by releasing lethal chemicals for destruction of insects that threatened man’s health and comfort, vegetation that needed quick disposal. The war against insects had been under way before, but the methods were relatively harmless to other than the insects under attack; the products non-chemical, sometimes even introduction of other insects, enemies of the ones under attack. But with chemicals—increasingly stronger, more potent, more varied, more dangerous—new chain reactions have set in. And ironically, the insects are winning the war, setting up immunities, and re-emerging, their natural enemies destroyed. The peril does not stop here. Waters, even to the underground water tables, are contaminated; soils are poisoned. The birds consume the poisons in their insect and earthworm diet; the cattle, in their fodder; the fish, in the waters and the food those waters provide. And humans? They drink the milk, eat the vegetables, the fish, the poultry. There is enough evidence to point to the far-reaching effects; but this is only the beginning,—in cancer, in liver disorders, in radiation perils…This is the horrifying story. It needed to be told—and by a scientist with a rare gift of communication and an overwhelming sense of responsibility. Already the articles taken from the book for publication in The New Yorker are being widely discussed. Book-of-the-Month distribution in October will spread the message yet more widely.

The book is not entirely negative; final chapters indicate roads of reversal, before it is too late!  

Pub Date: Sept. 27, 1962

ISBN: 061825305X

Page Count: 378

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1962

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Not light reading but essential for policymakers—and highly recommended for the 40 million people who rely on the Great...

THE DEATH AND LIFE OF THE GREAT LAKES

An alarming account of the “slow-motion catastrophe” facing the world’s largest freshwater system.

Based on 13 years of reporting for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, this exhaustively detailed examination of the Great Lakes reveals the extent to which this 94,000-square-mile natural resource has been exploited for two centuries. The main culprits have been “over-fishing, over-polluting, and over-prioritizing navigation,” writes Egan, winner of the J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award. Combining scientific details, the stories of researchers investigating ecological crises, and interviews with people who live and work along the lakes, the author crafts an absorbing narrative of science and human folly. The St. Lawrence Seaway, a system of locks, canals, and channels leading to the Atlantic Ocean, which allows “noxious species” from foreign ports to enter the lakes through ballast water dumped by freighters, has been a central player. Biologically contaminated ballast water is “the worst kind of pollution,” writes Egan. “It breeds.” As a result, mussels and other invasive species have been devastating the ecosystem and traveling across the country to wreak harm in the West. At the same time, farm-fertilizer runoff has helped create “massive seasonal toxic algae blooms that are turning [Lake] Erie’s water into something that seems impossible for a sea of its size: poison.” The blooms contain “the seeds of a natural and public health disaster.” While lengthy and often highly technical, Egan’s sections on frustrating attempts to engineer the lakes by introducing predator fish species underscore the complexity of the challenge. The author also covers the threats posed by climate change and attempts by outsiders to divert lake waters for profit. He notes that the political will is lacking to reduce farm runoffs. The lakes could “heal on their own,” if protected from new invasions and if the fish and mussels already present “find a new ecological balance.”

Not light reading but essential for policymakers—and highly recommended for the 40 million people who rely on the Great Lakes for drinking water.

Pub Date: March 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-393-24643-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Jan. 4, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2017

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