Meticulous almost to a fault, but flashing with human interest and keen environmental insight: an illuminating march through...

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LEADVILLE

THE STRUGGLE TO REVIVE AN AMERICAN TOWN

Magazine journalist Klucas debuts with a patiently detailed unfolding of the environmental missteps that have marked the entire history of Leadville, Colorado.

The town sits atop an impressive array of mineral deposits: silver and gold, copper and manganese, molybdenite, and, of course, lead. This variety, explains Klucas, allowed Leadville to survive when other one-horse mining burgs went bust. During its heyday, the town hosted Oscar Wilde and Sarah Bernhardt at the opera, made a multimillionaire of Meyer Guggenheim, and generated enormous quantities of waste. Even during lean times, Leadville was a community tightly knit by friendship, camaraderie, and pride in its mining tradition. But tunnels often burped a gush of suspended metals into the Arkansas River, creating Technicolor hues. One spectacular belch coincided with the rise of environmental concern across the country, bringing the EPA, the CDC, and other federal agencies to Leadville’s door and earning it a reputation as the Rockies’ Poison Central. At this moment, the story gets really interesting, and the author’s clarifying touch pays off. The defenders of the environment came on like gangbusters, alienating the citizenry to such an extent that they found the EPA more toxic than the tailings. Klucas shows that all concerned parties acted in their own worst interests: the regulators creating a stultifying bureaucracy, the mine operators treating the problem as a legal rather than an engineering issue, the Colorado attorney general filing an absurd class-action lawsuit. “Any law that invites this much litigation is poorly drafted,” one judge commented, referring to the Superfund’s severe liability provisions and general clumsiness. “Why should you pass a law that is so complicated that everyone spends more on lawyers than they do on the technical side solving the problem?” Character sketches provide a refreshing break from all the legal squabbling and stalling; Klucas makes even the drab players as bright as the river.

Meticulous almost to a fault, but flashing with human interest and keen environmental insight: an illuminating march through environmental politics at a turning point in green awareness.

Pub Date: Nov. 22, 2004

ISBN: 1-55963-385-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Shearwater/Island Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2004

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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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Whether you call this a personal story or nature writing, it’s poignant, thoughtful and moving—and likely to become a...

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H IS FOR HAWK

An inspired, beautiful and absorbing account of a woman battling grief—with a goshawk.

Following the sudden death of her father, Macdonald (History and Philosophy/Cambridge Univ.; Falcon, 2006, etc.) tried staving off deep depression with a unique form of personal therapy: the purchase and training of an English goshawk, which she named Mabel. Although a trained falconer, the author chose a raptor both unfamiliar and unpredictable, a creature of mad confidence that became a means of working against madness. “The hawk was everything I wanted to be: solitary, self-possessed, free from grief, and numb to the hurts of human life,” she writes. As a devotee of birds of prey since girlhood, Macdonald knew the legends and the literature, particularly the cautionary example of The Once and Future King author T.H. White, whose 1951 book The Goshawk details his own painful battle to master his title subject. Macdonald dramatically parallels her own story with White’s, achieving a remarkable imaginative sympathy with the writer, a lonely, tormented homosexual fighting his own sadomasochistic demons. Even as she was learning from White’s mistakes, she found herself very much in his shoes, watching her life fall apart as the painfully slow bonding process with Mabel took over. Just how much do animals and humans have in common? The more Macdonald got to know her, the more Mabel confounded her notions about what the species was supposed to represent. Is a hawk a symbol of might or independence, or is that just our attempt to remake the animal world in our own image? Writing with breathless urgency that only rarely skirts the melodramatic, Macdonald broadens her scope well beyond herself to focus on the antagonism between people and the environment.

Whether you call this a personal story or nature writing, it’s poignant, thoughtful and moving—and likely to become a classic in either genre.

Pub Date: March 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0802123411

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

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