Ohlson ably delineates this promising situation: Vital soil may well help address climate change, but it absolutely will...

THE SOIL WILL SAVE US

HOW SCIENTISTS, FARMERS, AND FOODIES ARE HEALING THE SOIL TO SAVE THE PLANET

Ohlson (Stalking the Divine: Contemplating Faith with the Poor Clares, 2003, etc.) welcomes readers to the kingdom of soil and—if it is healthy—its trillions of life-sustaining microorganisms.

The author has a clear storytelling style, which comes in handy when drawing this head-turning portrait of lowly dirt. But dirt—or soil, if you prefer—takes on character in Ohlson’s hands, and readers will soon become invested in its well-being, for soil is a planetary balancer, and from its goodness comes the food we eat. The author examines soil’s role in countering our greenhouse-gas problem, noting how healthy soil sequesters carbon. Indeed, by the end of the story, it doesn’t seem far-fetched when a group of scientists tell her that “if only 11 percent of the world’s cropland—land that is typically not in use—improved its community of soil microorganisms as [the scientists] did in their test plots, the amount of carbon sequestered in the soil would offset all our current emissions of carbon dioxide.” But what is particularly captivating is the process whereby healthy soil goes about its work; when one understands the process, many puzzle pieces fall into place and readers can judge for themselves the various claims. The interplay between plants and soil—plants “leak” carbon and other nutrients into the soil and are fed by teams of creatures that eat and excrete minerals near the plants’ roots—is complex yet elegant and discernable. Along the way, the author touches on other subjects—genetically engineered crops, farming activities around the world, the use of leftover skim milk as a fertilizer, and the interdependence of urban planning and soil health—to provide background and local color.

Ohlson ably delineates this promising situation: Vital soil may well help address climate change, but it absolutely will provide for “more productive farms, cleaner waterways, and overall healthier landscapes.”

Pub Date: March 18, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-60961-554-3

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Rodale

Review Posted Online: Jan. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2014

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Whether you call this a personal story or nature writing, it’s poignant, thoughtful and moving—and likely to become a...

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H IS FOR HAWK

An inspired, beautiful and absorbing account of a woman battling grief—with a goshawk.

Following the sudden death of her father, Macdonald (History and Philosophy/Cambridge Univ.; Falcon, 2006, etc.) tried staving off deep depression with a unique form of personal therapy: the purchase and training of an English goshawk, which she named Mabel. Although a trained falconer, the author chose a raptor both unfamiliar and unpredictable, a creature of mad confidence that became a means of working against madness. “The hawk was everything I wanted to be: solitary, self-possessed, free from grief, and numb to the hurts of human life,” she writes. As a devotee of birds of prey since girlhood, Macdonald knew the legends and the literature, particularly the cautionary example of The Once and Future King author T.H. White, whose 1951 book The Goshawk details his own painful battle to master his title subject. Macdonald dramatically parallels her own story with White’s, achieving a remarkable imaginative sympathy with the writer, a lonely, tormented homosexual fighting his own sadomasochistic demons. Even as she was learning from White’s mistakes, she found herself very much in his shoes, watching her life fall apart as the painfully slow bonding process with Mabel took over. Just how much do animals and humans have in common? The more Macdonald got to know her, the more Mabel confounded her notions about what the species was supposed to represent. Is a hawk a symbol of might or independence, or is that just our attempt to remake the animal world in our own image? Writing with breathless urgency that only rarely skirts the melodramatic, Macdonald broadens her scope well beyond herself to focus on the antagonism between people and the environment.

Whether you call this a personal story or nature writing, it’s poignant, thoughtful and moving—and likely to become a classic in either genre.

Pub Date: March 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0802123411

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

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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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