Calling this a classic like Rhodes’ The Making of the Atomic Bomb (1987) may be slightly premature, but it’s definitely a...

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ENERGY

A HUMAN HISTORY

From the Pulitzer and National Book Award winner, a magisterial history of “how human beings…[have] confronted the deeply human problem of how to draw life from the raw materials of the world.”

The modern world consumes gargantuan quantities of energy, a process made possible by the Industrial Revolution that began 300 years ago. In his latest, prolific veteran journalist and historian Rhodes (Hell and Good Company: The Spanish Civil War and the World it Made, 2015, etc.) casts his expert eye on the subject. The breakout century for energy was the 18th, its birthplace Britain, and its basis coal, a more concentrated source of power than wood, increasingly cheap, and—no secret at the time—a source of smoke far more irritating than that of wood. Energy’s breakout technology was the steam engine. After the traditional nod to the Greeks, the author delivers a lucid but not dumbed-down explanation of how it works, from the first, clunky Newcomen engine suitable only for raising water from mines to James Watt’s spectacular improvements, which made steam engines the dominant power source until around 1900, when the steam turbine, electric motor, and internal combustion engine took over. Invention accelerated after 1800 when Watt’s patents (ironically a drag on progress) expired, and Rhodes takes readers on an exhilarating ride through the following two centuries, mixing narratives about the new sources of energy (electricity, oil, natural gas, the sun, and the atom) and the marvels that they made possible. He devotes entire chapters to their downsides (smog, radiation, toxic waste) but shows little sympathy for anti-technology activists. Humans are problem-solvers, he maintains, and the same genius that produced technological wonders will solve the problems that accompany them—although his optimism flags in the face of global warming.

Calling this a classic like Rhodes’ The Making of the Atomic Bomb (1987) may be slightly premature, but it’s definitely a tour de force of popular science, which is no surprise from this author.

Pub Date: May 29, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-0535-7

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2018

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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Never especially challenging or provocative but pleasant enough light reading.

THE WAY I HEARD IT

Former Dirty Jobs star Rowe serves up a few dozen brief human-interest stories.

Building on his popular podcast, the author “tells some true stories you probably don’t know, about some famous people you probably do.” Some of those stories, he allows, have been subject to correction, just as on his TV show he was “corrected on windmills and oil derricks, coal mines and construction sites, frack tanks, pig farms, slime lines, and lumber mills.” Still, it’s clear that he takes pains to get things right even if he’s not above a few too-obvious groaners, writing about erections (of skyscrapers, that is, and, less elegantly, of pigs) here and Joan Rivers (“the Bonnie Parker of comedy”) there, working the likes of Bob Dylan, William Randolph Hearst, and John Wayne into the discourse. The most charming pieces play on Rowe’s own foibles. In one, he writes of having taken a soft job as a “caretaker”—in quotes—of a country estate with few clear lines of responsibility save, as he reveals, humoring the resident ghost. As the author notes on his website, being a TV host gave him great skills in “talking for long periods without saying anything of substance,” and some of his stories are more filler than compelling narrative. In others, though, he digs deeper, as when he writes of Jason Everman, a rock guitarist who walked away from two spectacularly successful bands (Nirvana and Soundgarden) in order to serve as a special forces operative: “If you thought that Pete Best blew his chance with the Beatles, consider this: the first band Jason bungled sold 30 million records in a single year.” Speaking of rock stars, Rowe does a good job with the oft-repeated matter of Charlie Manson’s brief career as a songwriter: “No one can say if having his song stolen by the Beach Boys pushed Charlie over the edge,” writes the author, but it can’t have helped.

Never especially challenging or provocative but pleasant enough light reading.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-982130-85-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

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