Promising prescriptions to five of India’s baneful environmental cases—right thinking and accusatory in all the right places.




Journalist Subramanian examines a handful of environmental woes besetting India, along with hopeful remedies.

This is investigative journalism as story: fact-filled but optimistic, rueful and inviting. The author writes with warm intelligence, and she challenges readers. She sounds five particular environmental issues—though, inevitably, they also reach into cultural and economic concerns—each a grave, ruinous path. She categorizes the five issues as elements: earth (agriculture, toxicity), water (purity), fire (pollution, disease), air (extinction, chemistry), and ether (reproductive health, sexual predation). She devotes a chapter to each, providing an overview of the problem: how the green revolution has bottomed out, soil has been destroyed by herbicides and fungicides, farmers are indentured servants to fertilizer (which has become “like crack for crops”), and how seed industries are now patented and pricey. The author also looks at industrial, residential, and sacrificial effluents that have contaminated the water supply; the destruction of wetlands; the overuse of groundwater; cookstove pollution; deforestation; chronic respiratory and heart diseases; the looming extinction of vultures (uncharismatic, yes, but “a natural and efficient disposal system”); the explosion of vicious, carrion-eating dogs; and the unwanted children and sexual violence that have become increasingly commonplace. In each chapter, as well, Subramanian offers specific antidotes as anecdotes, narrating in a measured, conversational, welcoming voice. She examines the increase in soil complexity through tilth development; the return of natural predators for pests; the brilliance and effectiveness of small-scale irrigation, a return toward the great Indian waterworks; efficient cookstoves; the banning of toxic chemicals; and grass-roots reproductive education and “criminalizing sexual harassment, voyeurism, and stalking—acts still widely dismissed as ‘Eve-teasing’ in India.” Each of the stories is comprehensive while nimble, as well as provocative.

Promising prescriptions to five of India’s baneful environmental cases—right thinking and accusatory in all the right places.

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-61039-530-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.


An engaging, casual history of librarians and libraries and a famous one that burned down.

In her latest, New Yorker staff writer Orlean (Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, 2011, etc.) seeks to “tell about a place I love that doesn’t belong to me but feels like it is mine.” It’s the story of the Los Angeles Public Library, poet Charles Bukowski’s “wondrous place,” and what happened to it on April 29, 1986: It burned down. The fire raged “for more than seven hours and reached temperatures of 2000 degrees…more than one million books were burned or damaged.” Though nobody was killed, 22 people were injured, and it took more than 3 million gallons of water to put it out. One of the firefighters on the scene said, “We thought we were looking at the bowels of hell….It was surreal.” Besides telling the story of the historic library and its destruction, the author recounts the intense arson investigation and provides an in-depth biography of the troubled young man who was arrested for starting it, actor Harry Peak. Orlean reminds us that library fires have been around since the Library of Alexandria; during World War II, “the Nazis alone destroyed an estimated hundred million books.” She continues, “destroying a culture’s books is sentencing it to something worse than death: It is sentencing it to seem as if it never happened.” The author also examines the library’s important role in the city since 1872 and the construction of the historic Goodhue Building in 1926. Orlean visited the current library and talked to many of the librarians, learning about their jobs and responsibilities, how libraries were a “solace in the Depression,” and the ongoing problems librarians face dealing with the homeless. The author speculates about Peak’s guilt but remains “confounded.” Maybe it was just an accident after all.

Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4018-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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