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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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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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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