NIGHT COMES TO THE CRETACEOUS

DINOSAUR EXTINCTION AND THE TRANSFORMATION OF MODERN GEOLOGY

“What killed the dinosaurs? At last the great mystery has been solved.” Coming from an esteemed geologist, a former college president, and currently the director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, Powell’s claim cannot be dismissed as the ravings of a crank, but its certitude is, to say the least, unusual. Then the qualifier: “A theory is never proven,” which settles Powell square in the Popper/Kuhn nexus and gives him room to move. The answer to what killed the dinosaurs, Powell believes, has been found in the Alvarez Theory, elucidated by a Nobel Prize—winning physicist and his geologist son, which suggests a random catastrophe—a large meteorite striking the earth—raised clouds of dust, lowered temperatures and halted photosynthesis and devastated the food chain, thus spelling the great lizards’ doom. This is long at odds with the gradualist, deep-time approach governing much geologic thought, and provoked much scorn. Powell endeavors to make the Alvarez idea accessible, but he can’t help but wade through thickets of vertebrate paleontology and rare-metal chemistry, pick his way among impact markers like shatter cones and shocked quartz grains, painstakingly dissect the iridium anomaly found in Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary clays. Even so, Powell rarely loses his readers, and all but the most geochronologically, microisotopically, paleobotanically challenged will be able to follow his drift (and appreciate the fact that he gives rival theories their day in his people’s court, as well as admitting to the more outlandish conjectures of the pro-impact theorists). Although the evidence Powell submits on behalf of the impact theory is compelling, perhaps more so are his comments on the politics of scientific enquiry: the power plays and back stabbings, the ugly career-ending insults, the absurd effort involved in querying entrenched, if suspect, theories. Powell’s overriding notion is undebatable: Chance happenings surely help shape our world, and serendipity—in available tools, say, or disciplinary cross-fertilization—fuels scientific advancement. (photos, not seen)

Pub Date: July 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-7167-3117-7

Page Count: 325

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1998

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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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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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