VOICES OF THE ROCKS

A SCIENTIST LOOKS AT CATASTROPHES AND ANCIENT CIVILIZATIONS

Geologist Schoch recaps the importance of comets, asteroids, fireballs, and like objects striking our planet, and how they may change the way we view the march of time. Despite some grandiose claims early in this book about an imminent scientific revolution’skewering uniformitarianism, subverting historical linearity—Schoch, an associate professor of science and mathematics at Boston University, covers material on the implications of catastrophe that is well trafficked and nearer to orthodoxy than avant-garde. He prefers the punctured- equilibrium mode of evolutionary change as it impinges on everything from culture to physiology, as do many scientists, though he would have readers believe the scientific community is a colossus of gradualists. Of primary concern to Schoch are the consequences of the earth colliding with substantial extraterrestrial materials, like what is thought to have had a hand in the extinction of the dinosaurs. He then proceeds to speculate on an upcoming close encounter with the Oort cloud, raining debris that could spawn not simply a global winter but perhaps the type of event that may have vaporized ancient civilizations, from the Bronze Age collapses to the greatest erasure of all, Atlantis. None of this is new, nor are Schoch’s breathless explanations of Gaia or tectonics or precession. What he has contributed that’s new—an erosion-based dating of the Sphinx to 2,000 years before the conventionally accepted 2500 b.c.—is a pleasing wave in the placid waters of received opinion. Yet, without more evidence, his possible dating remains a tantalizing mystery. A sensible popular guide to geo-catastrophic events, compromised by the hot air of the opening pages (—I have become convinced that we are in the midst of a profound scientific paradigm shift”), which makes the book feel like a tabloid recycling of yesterday’s news, since readers will likely already know of these incidents. (25 b&w ilustrations)

Pub Date: May 26, 1999

ISBN: 0-609-60369-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Harmony

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1999

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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.

SO YOU WANT TO TALK ABOUT RACE

Straight talk to blacks and whites about the realities of racism.

In her feisty debut book, Oluo, essayist, blogger, and editor at large at the Establishment magazine, writes from the perspective of a black, queer, middle-class, college-educated woman living in a “white supremacist country.” The daughter of a white single mother, brought up in largely white Seattle, she sees race as “one of the most defining forces” in her life. Throughout the book, Oluo responds to questions that she has often been asked, and others that she wishes were asked, about racism “in our workplace, our government, our homes, and ourselves.” “Is it really about race?” she is asked by whites who insist that class is a greater source of oppression. “Is police brutality really about race?” “What is cultural appropriation?” and “What is the model minority myth?” Her sharp, no-nonsense answers include talking points for both blacks and whites. She explains, for example, “when somebody asks you to ‘check your privilege’ they are asking you to pause and consider how the advantages you’ve had in life are contributing to your opinions and actions, and how the lack of disadvantages in certain areas is keeping you from fully understanding the struggles others are facing.” She unpacks the complicated term “intersectionality”: the idea that social justice must consider “a myriad of identities—our gender, class, race, sexuality, and so much more—that inform our experiences in life.” She asks whites to realize that when people of color talk about systemic racism, “they are opening up all of that pain and fear and anger to you” and are asking that they be heard. After devoting most of the book to talking, Oluo finishes with a chapter on action and its urgency. Action includes pressing for reform in schools, unions, and local governments; boycotting businesses that exploit people of color; contributing money to social justice organizations; and, most of all, voting for candidates who make “diversity, inclusion and racial justice a priority.”

A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-58005-677-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Seal Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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