In a mostly engaging book, Tennesen concludes that evolution will again drive survivors into a burst of creativity that will...

THE NEXT SPECIES

THE FUTURE OF EVOLUTION IN THE AFTERMATH OF MAN

In the past, five mass extinctions have destroyed at least 75 percent of all living species. It is no secret that we are now in the midst of another.

Joining the growing shelf of books warning of the miseries that lie ahead, science journalist Tennesen (The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Global Warming, 2005) chronicles his interviews with scientists from around the world, delivering an engrossing history of life, the dismal changes wrought by man and a forecast of life after the sixth mass extinction. Competition drives evolution. Mostly, this process involves the procurement of food, the author’s major concern. It has made humans the dominant species, but our disastrous mishandling of the process threatens our future. Agriculture occupies 43 percent of the Earth’s land. It is the best 43 percent, so there is little room for expansion, and scientific advances are losing the battle with ongoing soil deterioration. Livestock eat five times more grain than we do, and they take up 30 percent of the land, a percentage that is growing. Fish are the last wild animals that we hunt in large numbers, but we may be the last generation to do so because stocks are crashing. The spread of domestic animals combined with the elimination of forests and wild species guarantee more diseases similar to AIDS and SARS. Having delivered an alarming overview of our increasingly toxic environment, Tennesen gives short shrift to the traditional how-to-fix-it conclusion because his experts seem mostly discouraged. In one chapter, the author discusses migrating to other planets. “No single cause will take humans out,” he writes. “But multiple causes have a chance.”

In a mostly engaging book, Tennesen concludes that evolution will again drive survivors into a burst of creativity that will repopulate the planet, but it’s uncertain if this will include Homo sapiens.

Pub Date: March 17, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4516-7751-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Dec. 17, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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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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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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