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Will the Greenhouse Effect offset the Milankovitch cooling Model? Readers who've followed Gribbin's climatological predictions from Forecasting, Famines and Freezes (1976) to What's Wrong with the Weather? (1979) and The Death of the Sun (1980) will find here much that's familiar—but also additional, contradictory factors to consider and new theories to evaluate. They'll again find, too, problems that defy analysis. In the book's first half, Gribbin discusses weather history, patterns, and predictions—taking into account such esoterica as negative feedback from the oceans, Hoyle's meteoric impact theory of the Ice Ages, solar flux and isolation, the geometry of the earth-sun system, atmospheric bomb testing, nitrous oxides, ozone, and man-made dust. Wisely, he avoids committing himself to any single theory, or set of theories, with one significant exception: the Milankovitch Model of Ice Age cycles—which shows that the weather of the last 50 years has been unusually warm and stable, and predicts another Ice Age in 4,000 years or less. The book's second half focuses, as guardedly, on the Greenhouse Effect. ("There may not be much of a problem there at all"—yet "there is still ample cause for concern.") In one camp are the computer-folk who build three-dimensional "General Circulation Models" that indicate dangerous warming trends (some 2.4° by 2025) from anthropogenic carbon dioxide; in the other camp, the empiricists who extrapolate from historical and other data and who predict minor warming (0.25 to 0.3°C). All these predictions, Gribbin notes, are hamstrung by our general ignorance (e.g., something is soaking up half the carbon dioxide man produces, but we have no idea what it is). And a prime factor in these calculations—fossil fuel consumption through 2025—is hotly debated by energy experts. As for the implications, the rich North would suffer from warming; the poor Third World would first undergo famine, then benefit; sea levels would rise; crop yields in the grain belt would drop; the cost of CO controls would be prohibitive. In the short run, however, colder, fluctuating weather will be the norm (MM over GE). The long-range outlook is anybody's guess. Dense in spots—but an invigorating exercise overall.

Pub Date: Sept. 27, 1982

ISBN: 0440024986

Page Count: 328

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 17, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1982

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Yes: it's high time for a de-romanticized, de-mythified, close-up retelling of the U.S. Space Program's launching—the inside story of those first seven astronauts.

But no: jazzy, jivey, exclamation-pointed, italicized Tom Wolfe "Mr. Overkill" hasn't really got the fight stuff for the job. Admittedly, he covers all the ground. He begins with the competitive, macho world of test pilots from which the astronauts came (thus being grossly overqualified to just sit in a controlled capsule); he follows the choosing of the Seven, the preparations for space flight, the flights themselves, the feelings of the wives; and he presents the breathless press coverage, the sudden celebrity, the glorification. He even throws in some of the technology. But instead of replacing the heroic standard version with the ring of truth, Wolfe merely offers an alternative myth: a surreal, satiric, often cartoony Wolfe-arama that, especially since there isn't a bit of documentation along the way, has one constantly wondering if anything really happened the way Wolfe tells it. His astronauts (referred to as "the brethren" or "The True Brothers") are obsessed with having the "right stuff" that certain blend of guts and smarts that spells pilot success. The Press is a ravenous fool, always referred to as "the eternal Victorian Gent": when Walter Cronkite's voice breaks while reporting a possible astronaut death, "There was the Press the Genteel Gent, coming up with the appropriate emotion. . . live. . . with no prompting whatsoever!" And, most off-puttingly, Wolfe presumes to enter the minds of one and all: he's with near-drowing Gus Grissom ("Cox. . . That face up there!—it's Cox. . . Cox knew how to get people out of here! . . . Cox! . . ."); he's with Betty Grissom angry about not staying at Holiday Inn ("Now. . . they truly owed her"); and, in a crude hatchet-job, he's with John Glenn furious at Al Shepard's being chosen for the first flight, pontificating to the others about their licentious behavior, or holding onto his self-image during his flight ("Oh, yes! I've been here before! And I am immune! I don't get into corners I can't get out of! . . . The Presbyterian Pilot was not about to foul up. His pipeline to dear Lord could not be clearer"). Certainly there's much here that Wolfe is quite right about, much that people will be interested in hearing: the P-R whitewash of Grissom's foul-up, the Life magazine excesses, the inter-astronaut tensions. And, for those who want to give Wolfe the benefit of the doubt throughout, there are emotional reconstructions that are juicily shrill.

But most readers outside the slick urban Wolfe orbit will find credibility fatally undermined by the self-indulgent digressions, the stylistic excesses, and the broadly satiric, anti-All-American stance; and, though The Right Stuff has enough energy, sass, and dirt to attract an audience, it mostly suggests that until Wolfe can put his subject first and his preening writing-persona second, he probably won't be a convincing chronicler of anything much weightier than radical chic.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 1979

ISBN: 0312427565

Page Count: 370

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1979

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A quirky wonder of a book.

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. 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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