Occasionally long-winded but readable and engaging—not to mention eye-opening, as the author delivers a firm warning to...

QUAKELAND

ON THE ROAD TO AMERICA'S NEXT DEVASTATING EARTHQUAKE

A wide-ranging account of earthquakes, the least understood of natural disasters, with vivid stories of the havoc they create and a warning about what will someday happen in the United States.

Journalist Miles (Superstorm: Nine Days Inside Hurricane Sandy, 2014), a writer-in-residence at Green Mountain College, took an extended road trip across the country to report on the myriad risks of seismic disasters. Along the way, she picked the brains of cooperative engineers and scientists and chatted with miners and emergency managers, people with whom she established immediate rapport. A daring investigator, she descended into deep mines, gained entry to nuclear power plants (some of which are built on fault lines), and ventured into the interiors of high dams, observing, asking questions, and conjuring some scary conclusions—e.g., earthquakes happen, our infrastructure is in a sorry state, and many localities have no seismic codes to regulate construction. Miles lightens this grim picture with her conversational writing style. She shares her thoughts, emotions, and experiences, even the most commonplace ones, effectively taking readers along on her cross-country wanderings. In the Midwest, where fracking is common and quakes are frequent, her conversations with people waiting for the big one while living regularly with toppled chimneys and broken china are spot-on. While she describes past earthquakes in other countries, the author focuses mostly on the prospects of a major quake in this country and what can be done to prepare for it. After looking at struggles to develop technology that can predict earthquakes, Miles reports on the success of early warning systems, which can make a major difference in survival rates, and she sets forth a scenario in which a few seconds of warning and some preparedness measures can ameliorate the devastation of a major quake.

Occasionally long-winded but readable and engaging—not to mention eye-opening, as the author delivers a firm warning to policymakers as well as individual citizens.

Pub Date: Aug. 29, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-525-95518-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: May 31, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2017

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Unsentimental nature writing that sheds as much light on humans as on eels.

THE BOOK OF EELS

OUR ENDURING FASCINATION WITH THE MOST MYSTERIOUS CREATURE IN THE NATURAL WORLD

An account of the mysterious life of eels that also serves as a meditation on consciousness, faith, time, light and darkness, and life and death.

In addition to an intriguing natural history, Swedish journalist Svensson includes a highly personal account of his relationship with his father. The author alternates eel-focused chapters with those about his father, a man obsessed with fishing for this elusive creature. “I can’t recall us ever talking about anything other than eels and how to best catch them, down there by the stream,” he writes. “I can’t remember us speaking at all….Because we were in…a place whose nature was best enjoyed in silence.” Throughout, Svensson, whose beat is not biology but art and culture, fills his account with people: Aristotle, who thought eels emerged live from mud, “like a slithering, enigmatic miracle”; Freud, who as a teenage biologist spent months in Trieste, Italy, peering through a microscope searching vainly for eel testes; Johannes Schmidt, who for two decades tracked thousands of eels, looking for their breeding grounds. After recounting the details of the eel life cycle, the author turns to the eel in literature—e.g., in the Bible, Rachel Carson’s Under the Sea Wind, and Günter Grass’ The Tin Drum—and history. He notes that the Puritans would likely not have survived without eels, and he explores Sweden’s “eel coast” (what it once was and how it has changed), how eel fishing became embroiled in the Northern Irish conflict, and the importance of eel fishing to the Basque separatist movement. The apparent return to life of a dead eel leads Svensson to a consideration of faith and the inherent message of miracles. He warns that if we are to save this fascinating creature from extinction, we must continue to study it. His book is a highly readable place to begin learning.

Unsentimental nature writing that sheds as much light on humans as on eels.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-296881-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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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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