An important account of cutting-edge research that will fascinate serious readers and demand the attention of policymakers.

THE PLANET REMADE

HOW GEOENGINEERING COULD CHANGE THE WORLD

Economist briefings editor Morton (Eating the Sun: How Plants Power the Planet, 2008, etc.) offers a calm, rational discussion of deliberate technological interventions to cool the planet’s climate system.

Once dismissed as the province of cranks, geoengineering approaches to climate change have gained new respectability. The first international academic conference on research in the field was held in Berlin in 2014, and both British and American science academies have issued reports. Even so, as the author writes, the notion of global climate interventions “still strikes many as truly wild.” Despite skepticism, a small coterie of top scientists, including Harvard physicist David Keith (A Case for Climate Engineering, 2013), continues to explore different strategies to offset warming, from cultivating photosynthetic plankton to spraying sulfates into the upper atmosphere to block sunlight. In a thoughtful, complex, and sometimes-technical overview of “the promise and attendant perils of deliberately modifying climate,” the author argues that this field “should be taken considerably more seriously.” Though it may not necessarily offer a solution, it can provide a way to reduce harm from climate change. For instance, technology could be used to slow warming while better methods are developed to mitigate carbon emissions. Mindful that the risks are not well-understood, Morton describes the science behind the various climate interventions now being studied, including one physicist’s work on machines capable of sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. He covers the history of climate interventions—notably, volcanic eruptions spewing ash and dust into the atmosphere—concerns over possible harms (such as human engineering replacing “the authentic world with a fake one”), and the danger that even talking about technological interventions will lead to less climate mitigation.

An important account of cutting-edge research that will fascinate serious readers and demand the attention of policymakers.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-691-14825-0

Page Count: 440

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: Sept. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2015

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

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

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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