Less a polemic than a moving, melancholy, environment-focused memoir.

RUNNING OUT

IN SEARCH OF WATER ON THE HIGH PLAINS

The author returns to his ancestral home in western Kansas to discover that the Dust Bowl of the 1930s is returning.

Bessire, a professor of anthropology at the University of Oklahoma, reminds readers that the High Plains supported only marginal dry farming until after World War II, when the newly discovered Ogallala Aquifer, which extends from South Dakota to Texas, produced an irrigation bonanza that now supports one-sixth of the world’s grain production. Like fish, forests, and buffalo, it seemed inexhaustible—until it wasn’t. Massive withdrawal is shrinking the Ogallala, and many wells are running dry. Because it might hamper economic growth, conservation is often dismissed as unfeasible. Farmers and ranchers receive strict water quotas, but the amount guarantees withdrawals vastly exceed what is needed to replenish. Polls show that the majority of farmers want to save the aquifer and hope the government will take necessary action. One barrier is the “midlevel bureaucracy.” Only landowners vote on water policy, so wealthy, anti-conservation “water miners” dominate local boards. As a result, “regional water governance is a form of pay-to-play democracy reserved for the already privileged.” Traveling the country with his father, Bessire relearned the land’s unedifying distant history (Native genocide) and recent history: takeover by large agribusinesses with towns dominated by slaughterhouses, hog barns, feedlots, and dairies employing low-paid migrant labor. The author vividly describes dry riverbeds, abandoned fields, and, most poignantly, working farmers and ranchers, few of whom are prospering. Most work under contract to industrial agribusinesses. Bessire chronicles his interviews with a few villains and a few idealists but mostly with hardworking, good-humored, often cynical men (and a few women) doing their best in an environment often beyond their control. The author eschews the traditional how-to-fix-it conclusion. Readers may perk up when he describes impressive technical advances in saving water only to learn that they’re mostly devoted to extending the life of depleted wells.

Less a polemic than a moving, melancholy, environment-focused memoir.

Pub Date: May 18, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-691-21264-7

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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A solid work of investigation that, while treading well-covered ground, offers plenty of surprises.

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PERIL

An account of the last gasps of the Trump administration, completing a trilogy begun with Fear (2018) and Rage (2020).

One of Woodward and fellow Washington Post reporter Costa’s most memorable revelations comes right away: Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, calling his counterpart in Beijing to assure him that even after Jan. 6 and what Milley saw as an unmistakable attempt at a coup d’état, he would keep Trump from picking a war with China. This depiction has earned much attention on the talking-heads news channels, but more significant is its follow-up: Milley did so because he was concerned that Trump “might still be looking for what Milley called a ‘Reichstag moment.’ ” Milley emerges as a stalwart protector of the Constitution who constantly courted Trump’s ire and yet somehow survived without being fired. No less concerned about Trump’s erratic behavior was Paul Ryan, the former Speaker of the House, who studied the psychiatric literature for a big takeaway: “Do not humiliate Trump in public. Humiliating a narcissist risked real danger, a frantic lashing out if he felt threatened or criticized.” Losing the 2020 election was one such humiliation, and Woodward and Costa closely track the trajectory of Trump’s reaction, from depression to howling rage to the stubborn belief that the election was rigged. There are a few other modest revelations in the book, including the fact that Trump loyalist William Barr warned him that the electorate didn’t like him. “They just think you’re a fucking asshole,” Barr told his boss. That was true enough, and the civil war that the authors recount among various offices in the White House and government reveals that Trump’s people were only ever tentatively his. All the same, the authors note, having drawn on scores of “deep background” interviews, Trump still has his base, still intends vengeance by way of a comeback, and still constitutes the peril of their title.

A solid work of investigation that, while treading well-covered ground, offers plenty of surprises.

Pub Date: Sept. 21, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982182-91-5

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2021

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An oft-ignored but fully convincing argument that “we cannot prevent the next pandemic without creating a healthy world.”

THE CONTAGION NEXT TIME

The Covid-19 pandemic is not a one-off catastrophe. An epidemiologist presents a cogent argument for a fundamental refocusing of resources on “the foundational forces that shape health.”

In this passionate and instructive book, Galea, dean of the Boston University School of Public Health, writes that Covid emerged because we have long neglected basic preventative measures. “We invest vast amounts of money in healthcare,” he writes, “but comparatively little in health.” Readers looking to learn how governments (mainly the U.S.) mishandled the pandemic have a flood of books to choose from, but Galea has bigger issues to raise. Better medical care will not stop the next epidemic, he warns. We must structure a world “that is resilient to contagions.” He begins by describing the current state of world health, where progress has been spectacular. Global life expectancy has more than doubled since 1900. Malnutrition, poverty, and child mortality have dropped. However, as the author stresses repeatedly, medical progress contributed far less to the current situation than better food, clean water, hygiene, education, and prosperity. That’s the good news. More problematic is that money is a powerful determinant of health; those who have it live longer. Galea begins the bad news by pointing out the misleading statistic that Covid-19 kills less than 1% of those infected; that applies to young people in good health. For those over 60, it kills 6%, for diabetics, over 7%, and those with heart disease, over 10%. It also kills more Blacks than Whites, more poor than middle-class people, and more people without health insurance. The author is clearly not just interested in Covid. He attacks racism, sexism, and poverty in equal measure, making a plea for compassion toward stigmatized conditions such as obesity and addiction. He consistently urges the U.S. government, which has spared no expense and effort to defeat the pandemic, to do the same for social injustice.

An oft-ignored but fully convincing argument that “we cannot prevent the next pandemic without creating a healthy world.”

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-19-757642-7

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2021

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