Those who doubt the severity of climate change will persist, but for the fact-minded, Otto’s arguments are incontrovertible.

ANGRY WEATHER

HEAT WAVES, FLOODS, STORMS, AND THE NEW SCIENCE OF CLIMATE CHANGE

Because of human actions, the climate is changing—and not for the better. So argues Otto, whose work is at the forefront of climate science.

Whatever else we might know, or think we know, about the climate, “every weather event takes place under different environmental conditions than those of 250 years ago,” writes Otto, director of Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute. Unpacking that, the 250-year cutoff roughly coincides with King George III’s awarding of a patent to James Watt for the steam engine, which would soon give birth to the Industrial Revolution—and with it the greenhouse gases that are steadily warming the atmosphere. Commanding a vast body of data, Otto observes that the “seven hottest years [in recorded history] have all taken place within the last decade.” Because we are in the middle of this change, we suffer from observational bias: We know it’s hot, but we keep at our normal affairs. Meanwhile, this rising heat has different effects in different places. More heat means more atmospheric moisture but also quicker evaporation, so that some places will be flooded and others will suffer from drought. The big-picture effects are predictable, writes the author, but we must look beyond those “large-scale averages” to consider the effects of climate change on a storm-by-storm, drought-by-drought basis. Throughout the narrative, Otto intersperses glimpses of that big picture with a major case study: Hurricane Harvey, which in 2017 did nearly as much damage as Hurricane Katrina a dozen years earlier, dropping 41 inches of rain in just three days. Along the way, the author considers the concurrent effects of leaders of government and industry who have stymied research. She has an answer: “If governments don’t do their job and don’t do enough to put a stop to climate change, then courts can remind them of their purpose.”

Those who doubt the severity of climate change will persist, but for the fact-minded, Otto’s arguments are incontrovertible.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-77164-614-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Greystone Books

Review Posted Online: June 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020

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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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A solid foundational education in a handful of lively scientific topics.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE UNIVERSE

Two science podcasters answer their mail.

In this illustrated follow-up to We Have No Idea: A Guide to the Unknown Universe (2017), Cham, a cartoonist and former research associate and instructor at Caltech, and Whiteson, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of California, Irvine, explain the basic science behind subjects that seem to preoccupy the listeners of their podcast, Daniel and Jorge Explain the Universe. Most of the questions involve physics or astrophysics and take the form of, is such-and-such possible?—e.g., teleportation, alien visitors, building a warp drive, entering a black hole). The authors emphasize that they are answering as scientists, not engineers. “A physicist will say something is possible if they don’t know of a law of physics that prevents it.” Thus, a spaceship traveling fast enough to reach the nearest star in a reasonable amount of time is not forbidden by the laws of physics, but building one is inconceivable. Similarly, wormholes and time travel are “not known to be impossible”—as are many other scenarios. Some distressing events are guaranteed. An asteroid will strike the Earth, the sun will explode, and the human race will become extinct, but studies reveal that none are immediate threats. Sadly, making Mars as habitable as Earth is possible but only with improbably futuristic technology. For those who suspect that we are living in a computer simulation, the authors describe what clues to look for. Readers may worry that the authors step beyond their expertise when they include chapters on the existence of an afterlife or the question of free will. Sticking closely to hard science, they deliver a lucid overview of brain function and the debate over the existence of alternate universes that is unlikely to provoke controversy. The authors’ work fits neatly into the recently burgeoning market of breezy pop-science books full of jokes, asides, and cartoons that serve as introductions to concepts that require much further study to fully understand.

A solid foundational education in a handful of lively scientific topics.

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-18931-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Sept. 7, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2021

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