Experiences such as these rambles, investigations, and broodings are what make up a life, estimable and visited by a...

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BLUE MOUNTAINS FAR AWAY

JOURNEYS INTO THE AMERICAN WILDERNESS

Elegantly distilled experiences in wild places—mostly desert, though Rome figures here, as does Kamchatka and the Burren and other places—that have moved McNamee’s soul.

McNamee (a reviewer for Kirkus and ed., The Mountain World, see below) makes a strong case for stopping to smell the roses—“to distinguish the differences between look-alike plants, to separate out the churring of myriad insects and the whirring of birds”—which often as not means (as Gary Snyder suggests) that we really do not know a place until we can name 100 of its plants and animals. The sublime, in particular, has been intimated to McNamee in the wildest of outposts—places noble and terrifying, “unearthly and expanding,” places like the shoreline of Iceland or the mountain peaks of Colorado. It is in such places, McNamee suggests, that he comes closest to real mysticism, for it is only in these venues that he can appreciate the impulse of religion. In such places, natural phenomena become the object of a fascination that surely gripped our forebears, where lightning and wind and flowing water are elemental and humbling. McNamee doesn’t aspire to reveal an essence, for he is smart enough to appreciate that people will find their own essences if they look closely enough, drink deeply enough, find some vulnerability and promise in their own landscapes. Rarely does McNamee stumble on this multi-part walkabout, although he can let his didacticism get in the way (“creating an upward-downward (anabatic-katabatic) wind flow”) and he sometimes goes preachy: “These mountains are my garden. . . . I mean not ownership but responsibility.” None of this is more than a passing irritation, however, a mosquito in the tent on an otherwise majestic camping trip.

Experiences such as these rambles, investigations, and broodings are what make up a life, estimable and visited by a curiosity that keeps it fresh and in wonder.

Pub Date: June 1, 2000

ISBN: 1-58574-014-4

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Lyons Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2000

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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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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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