IN THE COMPANY OF LIGHT

An extravagantly lyrical indictment of our desecration of nature from the widely respected elder statesman of nature writers—aggrieved, contrarian, but ultimately self-absorbed. Readers of Hay's recent work (A Beginner's Faith in Things Unseen, 1995; The Bird of Light, 1991; etc.) will recognize familiar themes: humanity's shortcomings contrasted with nature's superior design; the foolishness of subduing and distancing the natural world. Summers in Maine and winters on Cape Cod provide the backdrop for appreciative observations of birds, butterflies, fish and the forests, fields, and marshes they inhabit. Hay has mastered the ecolyricist's requisite reverence for nature and facility for poetic description; his reveries on the sea's liberating effect or the spiritual inspiration gained from the company of barn swallows or the unexpected appearance of a kingfisher reverberate with a Whitmanesque celebration of self: ``The sea calls me out. . . . I would be carried on a wind which is free of possession. . . . I am interested in moving with the mind of birds.'' But combined with his obvious misanthropy in the face of mankind's disconnection from (or worse, hostility toward) nature, Hay's song of himself sounds an off-note between despair and self-involvement. He offers little in the way of actionable advice, opting instead for declarations that are portentous or self-evident. Much of what he says is sound (for example, he notes the absurdity of a planet that values the economic health of ``a bloated industrial society'' above clean air and water), but passion rather than fact propels his argument. The resulting sermon will undoubtedly draw plenty of amens from the choir, but it offers little saving grace for sinners. Moments of transcendent beauty, pretty writing, and a heart that's in the right place aren't enough to transcend Hay's self-conscious straining for a miracle around every corner.

Pub Date: March 2, 1998

ISBN: 0-8070-8538-3

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1998

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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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