More bad news about climate change but an excellent education on ice.



A vivid appeal to save our rapidly diminishing glaciers.

Outraged to learn that a mining company planned to dynamite three glaciers to reach the gold underneath, Taillant, founder of the Center for Human Rights and Environment, became a “cryoactivist,” a word that hadn’t been invented but that finds meaning in these pages. Though not a scientist, the author is “a career environmental policy expert,” and he is dedicated to the preservation of Earth’s glaciers, a critical factor in fighting against accelerating climate changes. Taillant begins with an avalanche of statistics. The most familiar—namely, that our planet is 2/3 water and 1/3 land—is misleading. The reality, notes the author, is that it is 71% water, 19% land, and 10% ice. A minuscule 2% of the water is fresh, and 75% of that is bound in polar icecaps or high in mountains where it forms a critical part of our ecosystem. Mostly, Taillant describes what glaciers do. They provide perhaps 85% of “the water humans need,” from drinking to agriculture. They keep us cool. Ice is white, so it reflects most of the sun’s rays. When it disappears, brown earth or blue ocean absorb these rays and grow warmer. Ocean levels will rise by 200 feet if all the ice melts. They’re predicted to rise two to seven feet during the 21st century, and Louisiana and south Florida are already visibly suffering the effects. In the final chapters, the author outlines possible solutions. Some engineers are creating “artificial glaciers” or reviving old ones. Laws to protect glaciers should be a no-brainer, but, except in Argentina, all have failed. Of course, the author insists, this must change. Slowing global warning by eliminating carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel burning is essential. It’s not likely to happen in the coming decades, but in the short term, we can easily eliminate superpollutants such as methane and refrigerants and see immediate improvements.

More bad news about climate change but an excellent education on ice.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-19-008032-7

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2021

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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. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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A solid foundational education in a handful of lively scientific topics.


Two science podcasters answer their mail.

In this illustrated follow-up to We Have No Idea: A Guide to the Unknown Universe (2017), Cham, a cartoonist and former research associate and instructor at Caltech, and Whiteson, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of California, Irvine, explain the basic science behind subjects that seem to preoccupy the listeners of their podcast, Daniel and Jorge Explain the Universe. Most of the questions involve physics or astrophysics and take the form of, is such-and-such possible?—e.g., teleportation, alien visitors, building a warp drive, entering a black hole). The authors emphasize that they are answering as scientists, not engineers. “A physicist will say something is possible if they don’t know of a law of physics that prevents it.” Thus, a spaceship traveling fast enough to reach the nearest star in a reasonable amount of time is not forbidden by the laws of physics, but building one is inconceivable. Similarly, wormholes and time travel are “not known to be impossible”—as are many other scenarios. Some distressing events are guaranteed. An asteroid will strike the Earth, the sun will explode, and the human race will become extinct, but studies reveal that none are immediate threats. Sadly, making Mars as habitable as Earth is possible but only with improbably futuristic technology. For those who suspect that we are living in a computer simulation, the authors describe what clues to look for. Readers may worry that the authors step beyond their expertise when they include chapters on the existence of an afterlife or the question of free will. Sticking closely to hard science, they deliver a lucid overview of brain function and the debate over the existence of alternate universes that is unlikely to provoke controversy. The authors’ work fits neatly into the recently burgeoning market of breezy pop-science books full of jokes, asides, and cartoons that serve as introductions to concepts that require much further study to fully understand.

A solid foundational education in a handful of lively scientific topics.

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-18931-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Sept. 7, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2021

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