Despite some information overload, this is an irresistible subject, and readers will find Tasker’s richly detailed account...

THE PLANET FACTORY

EXOPLANETS AND THE SEARCH FOR A SECOND EARTH

An astronomical journey that explores how our cosmos “is an unseen creature that we are struggling to understand through the small sections we have uncovered.”

Headlines greeted the 1995 discovery of the first planet circling another sunlike star. The number now approaches 4,000, and more continue to turn up. Astrophysicist Tasker (Solar System Science/Hokkaido Univ.) joins the steady stream of authors eager to tell the story. After reviewing the dazzling technology required to detect planets millions of times further out than Pluto, she explains that planets form along with their sun from a whirling disc of gas and dust. Gravity and heat from the young sun eliminate nearby gas, so inner planets are small and rocky. Further out, gas and unvaporized ice remain, resulting in giant planets with thick atmospheres. Our system—four small, rocky inner planets and four immense, gassy outer planets in symmetrical orbits—gave astronomers confidence in their explanations, until exoplanets destroyed it. The first discoveries were huge “hot Jupiters” so close to parent stars that they orbited in a few days. Equally confusing were “super-earths,” with wildly varying sizes, atmospheres, and orbits. Well-behaved systems like ours barely exist. Everyone yearns to find another planet suitable for life, which would be similar to ours and at a distance from its sun where the temperature allows liquid water to exist. Many are turning up, but Tasker, no Pollyanna, reminds readers that Venus, Mars, and the moon are also in our sun’s temperate zone, and scientists still debate why Earth seems unique. An active researcher, the author clearly knows nearly everything about extrasolar planets, so readers will encounter fascinating details but also learn perhaps more than they want to know about star behavior and planetary formation and evolution.

Despite some information overload, this is an irresistible subject, and readers will find Tasker’s richly detailed account entirely satisfactory—until events overtake it in a few years.

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4729-1772-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Bloomsbury Sigma

Review Posted Online: Sept. 3, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2017

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A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

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NO ONE IS TOO SMALL TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE

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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A quirky wonder of a book.

WHY FISH DON'T EXIST

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

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. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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