Illuminating preparatory reading for the August eclipse.



A theoretical physicist shares his “lifelong fascination with eclipses.”

Many readers will share Close’s (Physics/Oxford Univ.; Half-Life: The Divided Life of Bruno Pontecorvo, Physicist or Spy, 2015 etc.) conviction that the solar eclipse is “the most beautiful natural phenomenon” one can see. The author witnessed his first eclipse in 1954 at the age of 8. Still captivated by their allure—he has become a dedicated eclipse-watcher, traveling to remote spots around the world in pursuit of the experience—the author artfully weaves together his own experiences and an explanation of the phenomenon. He begins with a “cosmic coincidence.” Although our sun is “400 times broader than the moon,” because it is "400 times further away,” they can appear to be the same size. This allows the moon to block out the sun from our view during a total eclipse, a phenomenon that occurs every 18 months somewhere on Earth. The next event will take place on Aug. 21, 2017, when “up to 200 million people will gather in a narrow belt across the USA, from Oregon to South Carolina, to witness the most watched total solar eclipse in history.” Remarkably, although Greek astronomers did not understand the phenomenon, they were able to predict the occurrence of solar eclipses with an accuracy of about a month, and Shakespeare noted their occurrence in King Lear. Eclipse-watching has its disappointments, writes Close—e.g., in 1999, when the time and viewing opportunity had been precisely calculated but his view was completely obscured “by layers of impenetrable dark clouds.” More recently, a 5,000-mile trip to Zambia proved to be successful, and he describes the thrill of observing “a disc of pure blackness beg[in] to slide across the face of the Sun.” The author intends to share the upcoming August eclipse with his grandchildren, and he provides detailed instructions on how readers can see it for themselves.

Illuminating preparatory reading for the August eclipse.

Pub Date: May 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-19-879549-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2017

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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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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. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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