Fradkin (The Seven States Of California, 1995, etc.), a Pulitzer-winning journalist, captures the awesome power and monstrous consequences of earthquakes—and in particular the crazy, wild jiggerings of the San Andreas fault—in this elegant, at times breathtaking, environmental history of the dangers of place. Earthquakes betray the security of terra firma; they are omnipotent, obey no law, and pretty much reduce everyday folk to jelly. As a Californian fault-line resident, Fradkin has more than a journalist’s curiosity as he seeks here to take the temblor’s pulse, to get acquainted with this brief, complex, catastrophic phenomenon, its firestorms and luminosity, its sound of distant thunder. Interspersed in these pages is a guided tour, from Cape Mendocino to Mexico, of the San Andreas fault, that well-chronicled fracture between the Pacific and North American plates. Fradkin takes its measure on foot and bike, in canoe, automobile, and subterranean walkabout along the Hollywood Fault subway tunnel. He tracks fault lines, blind faults, fault traces and branches; he plumbs the mythological fashionings of earthquakes by Wintun, Washo, Chumash, and Yurok. He talks with witnesses of the Parkfield 1966 and Loma Prieta 1989 quakes, which he sets within the context of material known from the earthquakes of London 1580, Lisbon 1775, New Madrid (Missouri) 1811—12, and San Francisco 1906. He avoids the obsolete numerology of the Richter scale and finds much to report about concerning modern prediction efforts and precursory anomalies: earth lights and sounds, animal behavior, the vagaries of water well levels, and strange weather. And he gets very exercised when he considers the woeful unpreparedness of fault sitters, let alone the building codes that have more to do with avarice than survival. Fradkin’s detailing of that most roguish of events is rich and dramatic, and the lesson is clear: earthquakes etch not only frantic, dreadful images on seismographs, but on our psyches as well. (map)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-8050-4696-8

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1998

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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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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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