Dense, but useful and up-to-date.



An authoritative history of our planet’s evolution.

Paleontologist Novacek (Time Traveler: In Search of Dinosaurs and Ancient Mammals from Montana to Mongolia, 2001, etc.), science provost at the American Museum of Natural History, seeks to help readers understand Earth’s past, the rise of the modern ecosystem and why human beings must act now to stem the damage they are inflicting on the environment. The world as we know it emerged 100 million years ago, he writes, with the appearance of the first flowering plants in the time of the dinosaurs (the Cretaceous period). Drawing on his own field work and recent discoveries in the fossil record, he describes in rich detail the biological processes that gave rise to the lush biota of the modern world. Pollination, for example, has produced wondrous flora in places from Sayreville, N.J., which has yielded fossilized plant parts from the Cretaceous, to present-day Vietnam, where forests and marshes harbor nearly 900 identified species of orchids. About 65 million years ago, he writes, the early flowering world was devastated when a Mount Everest–sized rock traveling at 22,000 miles per hour crashed into the Yucatan. The thermal blast kept temperatures at 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit for hours and led to the mass extinction of 70 percent of land and sea species, including the dinosaurs. The greatest subsequent threat to biodiversity has been Homo sapiens, who appeared seven million years ago, began cultivating crops and have increasingly damaged the planet ever since through land degradation, overexploitation, invasive species and pollution. This overlong book will appeal especially to readers who share his fascination with the minutiae of biological connections: “nearly nine hundred bird species (including three hundred hummingbirds!) are pollinators.” The author also duly notes that we have the capacity but may lack the will and international leadership to slow the planet’s biological decline.

Dense, but useful and up-to-date.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-374-27325-5

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2007

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A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

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A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...


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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