IMPACT!

THE THREAT OF COMETS AND ASTEROIDS

Verschuur, an astronomer (Hidden Attraction, 1993), offers a detailed and alarming account of the meteors and comets that have struck the Earth in the past, with devastating consequences, and reminds us that such disasters are likely to reoccur. He begins his account in 1980 with the discovery of an anomalous concentration of the element iridium at the geological boundary between the Cretaceous and Tertiary eras—the point at which the dinosaurs became extinct. Rare on Earth, iridium is far more common in comets and meteors; this discovery led to the theory that a massive comet striking the earth with the impact of 20 million hydrogen bombs led to the death of the dinosaurs. At first reluctant to accept the concept, many geologists were eventually brought around by the discovery of a massive impact crater near Yucat†n. Verschuur then examines both the geological and astronomical evidence for frequent large impacts: the presence of other craters on Earth (145 had been identified by 1995), the prevalence of craters on other bodies of the solar system, the large number of astronomical bodies in near-Earth orbits, historical accounts of comet or meteor impacts. Verschuur places great emphasis on the possibility of a large, devastating strike in the near future. He also gives particular attention to the consequences of an ocean impact (in fact, the most likely scenario), with huge tsunamis crashing hundreds of miles inland. And he considers courses of action we might take, emphasizing a program to detect (and possibly deflect) the menaces from space. Verschuur argues that we should seriously entertain the prospect of moving some of Earth's population off the planet, to allow the human race to survive an unpreventable large strike. Occasionally overblown, often jumpy in its organization, this is nonetheless a strong treatment of one of the key scientific discoveries of our time. (40 halftones, 3 linecuts, not seen)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-19-510105-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1996

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A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

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NO ONE IS TOO SMALL TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE

A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

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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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