Worthy of shelving alongside the best of modern firefighting books—and of the broadest audience, especially in territories...

MEGAFIRE

THE RACE TO EXTINGUISH A DEADLY EPIDEMIC OF FLAME

How we have mismanaged fire over the last century—and the costs we’re paying.

Around the world, writes award-winning journalist and photographer Kodas (Environmental Journalism/Univ. of Colorado; High Crimes: The Fate of Everest in an Age of Greed, 2008, etc.), “megafires” are billowing each fire season, thanks to a perfect storm of related causes: climate change is making forests drier, beetles and other pests are making kindling of vast stretches of woodland, and “booming development…[has] filled forests with human-produced sparks and heat,” to name just a few. Those vast fires flourish because of a miscalculated fire regimen—first trying to “extinguish every wildfire in the country,” thereby allowing a vast inventory of flammable materials to build up, then introducing controlled burns that too often get out of control. In this country, the result is the projected annual burning, by midcentury, of an area the size of Maine. Trained as a forest firefighter, Kodas notes that he “didn’t anticipate that schooling would be as much in economics and politics as it was in fuels and fire weather,” since both politics and economics dominate decisions about fires and their aftermath. A case in point that he covers in depth is the Yarnell Hill Fire of 2013, in which 19 Arizona firefighters died; that story has been well-treated elsewhere, but Kodas brings new insight to the events and especially the legal wrangles that followed the blaze. More are likely to die, civilians and firefighters alike. The costs, as the author chronicles, are not just in terms of human lives, but also billions of dollars in property damage and economic loss—to say nothing of the costs states and municipalities must now shoulder as the federal government backs away from paying for firefighting. As Kodas dourly notes, Congress continues to block more funding even as the death count climbs.

Worthy of shelving alongside the best of modern firefighting books—and of the broadest audience, especially in territories where fires are likely to rage.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-547-79208-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: June 6, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2017

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A quirky wonder of a book.

WHY FISH DON'T EXIST

A STORY OF LOSS, LOVE, AND THE HIDDEN ORDER OF LIFE

A Peabody Award–winning NPR science reporter chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century scientist and how her quest led to significant revelations about the meaning of order, chaos, and her own existence.

Miller began doing research on David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) to understand how he had managed to carry on after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his work. A taxonomist who is credited with discovering “a full fifth of fish known to man in his day,” Jordan had amassed an unparalleled collection of ichthyological specimens. Gathering up all the fish he could save, Jordan sewed the nameplates that had been on the destroyed jars directly onto the fish. His perseverance intrigued the author, who also discusses the struggles she underwent after her affair with a woman ended a heterosexual relationship. Born into an upstate New York farm family, Jordan attended Cornell and then became an itinerant scholar and field researcher until he landed at Indiana University, where his first ichthyological collection was destroyed by lightning. In between this catastrophe and others involving family members’ deaths, he reconstructed his collection. Later, he was appointed as the founding president of Stanford, where he evolved into a Machiavellian figure who trampled on colleagues and sang the praises of eugenics. Miller concludes that Jordan displayed the characteristics of someone who relied on “positive illusions” to rebound from disaster and that his stand on eugenics came from a belief in “a divine hierarchy from bacteria to humans that point[ed]…toward better.” Considering recent research that negates biological hierarchies, the author then suggests that Jordan’s beloved taxonomic category—fish—does not exist. Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence.

A quirky wonder of a book.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6027-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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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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