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ANGRY WEATHER

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

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

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 25, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020

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THE BACKYARD BIRD CHRONICLES

An ebullient nature lover’s paean to birds.

A charming bird journey with the bestselling author.

In his introduction to Tan’s “nature journal,” David Allen Sibley, the acclaimed ornithologist, nails the spirit of this book: a “collection of delightfully quirky, thoughtful, and personal observations of birds in sketches and words.” For years, Tan has looked out on her California backyard “paradise”—oaks, periwinkle vines, birch, Japanese maple, fuchsia shrubs—observing more than 60 species of birds, and she fashions her findings into delightful and approachable journal excerpts, accompanied by her gorgeous color sketches. As the entries—“a record of my life”—move along, the author becomes more adept at identifying and capturing them with words and pencils. Her first entry is September 16, 2017: Shortly after putting up hummingbird feeders, one of the tiny, delicate creatures landed on her hand and fed. “We have a relationship,” she writes. “I am in love.” By August 2018, her backyard “has become a menagerie of fledglings…all learning to fly.” Day by day, she has continued to learn more about the birds, their activities, and how she should relate to them; she also admits mistakes when they occur. In December 2018, she was excited to observe a Townsend’s Warbler—“Omigod! It’s looking at me. Displeased expression.” Battling pesky squirrels, Tan deployed Hot Pepper Suet to keep them away, and she deterred crows by hanging a fake one upside down. The author also declared war on outdoor cats when she learned they kill more than 1 billion birds per year. In May 2019, she notes that she spends $250 per month on beetle larvae. In June 2019, she confesses “spending more hours a day staring at birds than writing. How can I not?” Her last entry, on December 15, 2022, celebrates when an eating bird pauses, “looks and acknowledges I am there.”

An ebullient nature lover’s paean to birds.

Pub Date: April 23, 2024

ISBN: 9780593536131

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 19, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2024

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ELON MUSK

Alternately admiring and critical, unvarnished, and a closely detailed account of a troubled innovator.

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A warts-and-all portrait of the famed techno-entrepreneur—and the warts are nearly beyond counting.

To call Elon Musk (b. 1971) “mercurial” is to undervalue the term; to call him a genius is incorrect. Instead, Musk has a gift for leveraging the genius of others in order to make things work. When they don’t, writes eminent biographer Isaacson, it’s because the notoriously headstrong Musk is so sure of himself that he charges ahead against the advice of others: “He does not like to share power.” In this sharp-edged biography, the author likens Musk to an earlier biographical subject, Steve Jobs. Given Musk’s recent political turn, born of the me-first libertarianism of the very rich, however, Henry Ford also comes to mind. What emerges clearly is that Musk, who may or may not have Asperger’s syndrome (“Empathy did not come naturally”), has nurtured several obsessions for years, apart from a passion for the letter X as both a brand and personal name. He firmly believes that “all requirements should be treated as recommendations”; that it is his destiny to make humankind a multi-planetary civilization through innovations in space travel; that government is generally an impediment and that “the thought police are gaining power”; and that “a maniacal sense of urgency” should guide his businesses. That need for speed has led to undeniable successes in beating schedules and competitors, but it has also wrought disaster: One of the most telling anecdotes in the book concerns Musk’s “demon mode” order to relocate thousands of Twitter servers from Sacramento to Portland at breakneck speed, which trashed big parts of the system for months. To judge by Isaacson’s account, that may have been by design, for Musk’s idea of creative destruction seems to mean mostly chaos.

Alternately admiring and critical, unvarnished, and a closely detailed account of a troubled innovator.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2023

ISBN: 9781982181284

Page Count: 688

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2023

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