A well-documented, upbeat alternative to doom-and-gloom prognostications.

ADVENTURES IN THE ANTHROPOCENE

A JOURNEY TO THE HEART OF THE PLANET WE MADE

Science journalist Vince chronicles a two-year journey around the globe to evaluate warnings that we face an ecological tipping point.

“Deserts are spreading…forests are dying and being logged….Wildlife is being hunted and dying because of habitat loss,” writes the author, who also notes that we currently use 30 percent more natural resources per year “than the planet can replenish.” Geologists are calling this the Anthropocene epoch due to “the changes humans are making to the biosphere.” As the author acknowledges, we are the first species “to knowingly reshape the living Earth's biology and chemistry. We have become the masters of our planet and integral to the destiny of life on Earth.” Despite this dim picture, the author found grounds for optimism on her travels. Vince takes the hopeful view that we will act in a timely fashion to “preserve nature or master its tricks artificially.” In China and India, she chronicles government efforts to address atmospheric pollution and looming water shortages. Her main interest, however, is the inventiveness of people at the local level dealing with these problems. Vince believes that they are ushering in “an extraordinary new human age…creating artificial glaciers to irrigate their crops, building artificial coral reefs to shore up islands, and artificial trees to clean the air.” The author was most impressed by the cumulative effect of small changes in heretofore-inaccessible mountain regions that now generate electricity using microhydropower; these areas have also gained access to the Internet and improved sanitation. She discusses the work of “[h]ydrologists in Peru [who are] building tunnels to drain an Andean glacial lake” as a way to control disastrous flooding. On a smaller scale in the Indian village of Ladakh, a local engineer is leading a project to convert mountain wastewater into a series of man-made miniglaciers connected to irrigation canals. Everywhere she traveled, Vince continued to see great promise in human creativity.

A well-documented, upbeat alternative to doom-and-gloom prognostications.

Pub Date: Nov. 11, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-57131-357-7

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Milkweed

Review Posted Online: Sept. 10, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2014

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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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Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

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LAB GIRL

Award-winning scientist Jahren (Geology and Geophysics/Univ. of Hawaii) delivers a personal memoir and a paean to the natural world.

The author’s father was a physics and earth science teacher who encouraged her play in the laboratory, and her mother was a student of English literature who nurtured her love of reading. Both of these early influences engrossingly combine in this adroit story of a dedication to science. Jahren’s journey from struggling student to struggling scientist has the narrative tension of a novel and characters she imbues with real depth. The heroes in this tale are the plants that the author studies, and throughout, she employs her facility with words to engage her readers. We learn much along the way—e.g., how the willow tree clones itself, the courage of a seed’s first root, the symbiotic relationship between trees and fungi, and the airborne signals used by trees in their ongoing war against insects. Trees are of key interest to Jahren, and at times she waxes poetic: “Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.” The author draws many parallels between her subjects and herself. This is her story, after all, and we are engaged beyond expectation as she relates her struggle in building and running laboratory after laboratory at the universities that have employed her. Present throughout is her lab partner, a disaffected genius named Bill, whom she recruited when she was a graduate student at Berkeley and with whom she’s worked ever since. The author’s tenacity, hope, and gratitude are all evident as she and Bill chase the sweetness of discovery in the face of the harsh economic realities of the research scientist.

Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-87493-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

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