FANFARE FOR EARTH

THE ORIGIN OF OUR PLANET AND LIFE

Those who see geology as the dullest of sciences overlook the likes of McSween, who shows his style in this sprightly treatment of the origin of Earth. McSween (Geological Sciences/Univ. of Tennessee; Stardust to Planets, 1993) begins with a collection of creation stories from many cultures, to illustrate thinking on the subject before the Greeks began to look at the world in a new way. He then zeroes in on the foundations of modern geology in Victorian times, when the dimensions of the problem of Earth's origins became clear. Geologists and biologists needed huge stretches of time for rocks to be laid down and life to evolve; but physicists knew of no sufficiently long-lived energy source to power the sun—a problem that was only solved with the discovery of radioactivity. This leads to a discussion of the creation of the chemical elements, first in the Big Bang, then in successive generations of stars, until enough heavy elements have collected to allow the formation of planets. Astronomy reveals the sources of the different ingredients of Earth, from the nickel-iron core to air and water, in the primordial nebulae that collapsed to form the Sun and planets. The structure of Earth, with its molten center and thin skin of eternally drifting continents and liquid water, is unique in the solar system. Whether this uniqueness accounts for the presence of life is anyone's guess; McSween points out that many of the chemicals that life utilizes exist in interplanetary space. Finally, we get a quick but elegant summary of evolution. McSween effectively incorporates the history of scientific ideas into his narrative, adding quotes from poets and philosophers as well as scientists to illustrate his points. While nothing in science is ever the last word, this finely argued and well-written volume can be expected to stand as an excellent summary of what science knows about the Earth on the threshold of the 21st century.

Pub Date: March 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-312-14601-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1997

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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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