The canary-in-the-coal-mine image is a powerful one, and this book carries a potent message sure to resonate with...

IN SEARCH OF THE CANARY TREE

THE STORY OF A SCIENTIST, A CYPRESS, AND A CHANGING WORLD

Field research into why yellow-cedar trees are dying and how people dependent on it are coping with a changing environment.

In her debut, Oakes, a conservation scientist at the Wildlife Conservation Society, presents a “blend of ecology and social science,” looking for answers to scientific questions through meticulous, rigorous research on the Alexander Archipelago off the southeastern coast of Alaska. She also spent hours interviewing Alaskans coping with a rapidly shifting environment. Hardy, diligent, and empathetic, the author makes vividly clear the difficulties of conducting multiyear field research on a remote archipelago. The book, she writes, “chronicles my effort to answer what happens in the wake of yellow-cedar death, not only to uncover the future of these old-growth forests, but to share lessons that apply to people on other parts of the planet….If we start looking at the local picture and the ways in which we all depend on nature in various ways every day, solutions emerge. I witnessed this in Alaska.” For armchair readers, this provides an unforgettable picture of just how scientists work in the field. Readers looking for a thorough understanding of the decline of the yellow-cedar tree will not be disappointed. The data are here, collected and painstakingly recorded by intrepid young people living rough, sometimes in tents and sleeping bags, eating dehydrated food, and slogging through chilly bogs in rain and fog. In between, there are the author’s trips back to Stanford, where she was a graduate student and is now an adjunct professor. It’s clear that Oakes is deeply concerned about what climate change—of which the decline of the yellow-cedar is but one marker—will mean in her lifetime and in the more distant future. How will we continue to adapt in the face of frightening changes?

The canary-in-the-coal-mine image is a powerful one, and this book carries a potent message sure to resonate with conservationists.

Pub Date: Nov. 27, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5416-9712-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2018

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THE GREAT BRIDGE

THE EPIC STORY OF THE BUILDING OF THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE

It took 14 years to build and it cost 15 million dollars and the lives of 20 workmen. Like the Atlantic cable and the Suez Canal it was a gigantic embodiment in steel and concrete of the Age of Enterprise. McCullough's outsized biography of the bridge attempts to capture in one majestic sweep the full glory of the achievement but the story sags mightily in the middle. True, the Roeblings, father and son who served successively as Chief Engineer, are cast in a heroic mold. True, too, the vital statistics of the bridge are formidable. But despite diligent efforts by the author the details of the construction work — from sinking the caissons, to underground blasting, stringing of cables and pouring of cement — will crush the determination of all but the most indomitable reader. To make matters worse, McCullough dutifully struggles through the administrative history of the Brooklyn Bridge Company which financed and contracted for the project with the help of the Tweed Machine and various Brooklyn bosses who profited handsomely amid continuous allegations of kickbacks and mismanagement of funds. He succeeds in evoking the venality and crass materialism of the epoch but once again the details — like the 3,515 miles of steel wire in each cable — are tiresome and ultimately entangling. Workmanlike and thorough though it is, McCullough's history of the bridge has more bulk than stature.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1972

ISBN: 0743217373

Page Count: 652

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 12, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1972

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Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

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LAB GIRL

Award-winning scientist Jahren (Geology and Geophysics/Univ. of Hawaii) delivers a personal memoir and a paean to the natural world.

The author’s father was a physics and earth science teacher who encouraged her play in the laboratory, and her mother was a student of English literature who nurtured her love of reading. Both of these early influences engrossingly combine in this adroit story of a dedication to science. Jahren’s journey from struggling student to struggling scientist has the narrative tension of a novel and characters she imbues with real depth. The heroes in this tale are the plants that the author studies, and throughout, she employs her facility with words to engage her readers. We learn much along the way—e.g., how the willow tree clones itself, the courage of a seed’s first root, the symbiotic relationship between trees and fungi, and the airborne signals used by trees in their ongoing war against insects. Trees are of key interest to Jahren, and at times she waxes poetic: “Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.” The author draws many parallels between her subjects and herself. This is her story, after all, and we are engaged beyond expectation as she relates her struggle in building and running laboratory after laboratory at the universities that have employed her. Present throughout is her lab partner, a disaffected genius named Bill, whom she recruited when she was a graduate student at Berkeley and with whom she’s worked ever since. The author’s tenacity, hope, and gratitude are all evident as she and Bill chase the sweetness of discovery in the face of the harsh economic realities of the research scientist.

Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-87493-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

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