GREENHOUSE

THE 200-YEAR STORY OF GLOBAL WARMING

At least half this book is fascinating history of technology—the birth and growth of the Industrial Revolution; the second half describes what that portends in terms of global warming. Christianson is a historian (Indiana State Univ.) who has written biographies of Newton, Hubble, and Loren Eiseley, and clearly has a scholar’s eye for depth and detail. His story begins with the mathematician Fourier, whose studies of heat diffusion led to the idea that gases in the earth’s atmosphere trapped sunlight and re-radiated it back to the earth as heat. Next are 19th- century tales of the soot and blackening of the skies over English cities as coal replaced wood in homes and factories—and mutant moths with black wings replaced their spotted forebears on blackened tree trunks. Coal mining, iron and steel works, the coming of the railroads, the discovery of oil, the automobile age. . . . Each new development is neatly captured in fine style, with sketches of colorful personalities. The sky begins to fall in the second half, where Christianson lays out chapter and verse on the increasing load of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the chlorofluorocarbon-ozone hole story, deforestation and droughts, rain forest loss, the evidence from ice core bores, and more. International agreements to control emissions and pollution are fought out between the have and have-not nations, resulting in only modest gains and the dim prospect that countries like China and India will not comply. On the other hand, Christianson and others acknowledge that climate and weather are notoriously complex to model, so maybe we don’t have all the answers yet. That said, the book ends on an ominous note: recent studies indicate that “the average global temperature has increased by 1.8 degrees over the past five centuries. And about 80 percent of the warming has occurred since 1750.” One can only conclude that Christianson’s case for global warming should be read as global warning. (30 illustrations)

Pub Date: May 15, 1999

ISBN: 0-8027-1346-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Walker

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1999

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An authoritative, engaging study of plant life, accessible to younger readers as well as adults.

THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY OF PLANTS

A neurobiologist reveals the interconnectedness of the natural world through stories of plant migration.

In this slim but well-packed book, Mancuso (Plant Science/Univ. of Florence; The Revolutionary Genius of Plants: A New Understanding of Plant Intelligence and Behavior, 2018, etc.) presents an illuminating and surprisingly lively study of plant life. He smoothly balances expansive historical exploration with recent scientific research through stories of how various plant species are capable of migrating to locations throughout the world by means of air, water, and even via animals. They often continue to thrive in spite of dire obstacles and environments. One example is the response of plants following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Three decades later, the abandoned “Exclusion Zone” is now entirely covered by an enormous assortment of thriving plants. Mancuso also tracks the journeys of several species that might be regarded as invasive. “Why…do we insist on labeling as ‘invasive’ all those plants that, with great success, have managed to occupy new territories?” asks the author. “On a closer look, the invasive plants of today are the native flora of the future, just as the invasive species of the past are a fundamental part of our ecosystem today.” Throughout, Mancuso persuasively articulates why an understanding and appreciation of how nature is interconnected is vital to the future of our planet. “In nature everything is connected,” he writes. “This simple law that humans don’t seem to understand has a corollary: the extinction of a species, besides being a calamity in and of itself, has unforeseeable consequences for the system to which the species belongs.” The book is not without flaws. The loosely imagined watercolor renderings are vague and fail to effectively complement Mancuso’s richly descriptive prose or satisfy readers’ curiosity. Even without actual photos and maps, it would have been beneficial to readers to include more finely detailed plant and map renderings.

An authoritative, engaging study of plant life, accessible to younger readers as well as adults.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-63542-991-6

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 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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