Everything you ever wanted to know about volcanoes in expert hands.

SUPER VOLCANOES

WHAT THEY REVEAL ABOUT EARTH AND THE WORLDS BEYOND

A fine introduction to a spectacular geological phenomenon.

A London-based science journalist with a doctorate in volcanology, Andrews chronicles his interviews with numerous working scientists as well as his travels to observe half a dozen volcanoes in action. He pauses regularly to explain their mechanics, history, and (often inaccurate) popular mythology and to note famous eruptions in the past. The author begins with the catastrophic 1902 Mount Pelée eruption on the Caribbean island of Martinique, which killed 30,000. Then Andrews moves on to the more familiar Mount Kilauea in Hawaii, whose massive, well-publicized 2018 lava outpouring killed no one but destroyed hundreds of houses before flowing into the ocean and adding several hundred acres to the island. That eruption, writes the author, “reminded scientists that volcanoes are still more enigmatic than they are familiar [and] reminded the world that volcanic eruptions are both the privilege and price many pay for existing on a living planet whose innards are still burning.” After a few other examples, including a genuine supervolcano that makes up the entire Yellowstone National Park, Andrews delivers an impressive geologic education that includes illuminating lessons on plate tectonics, deep sea eruptions, and the origin of life itself. At this point, less than halfway through the text, the author leaves the Earth and devotes the remaining chapters to the moon, a dead world full of primordial volcanic features; Mars, home to the biggest volcanoes known to science; and Venus, fiercely hot and covered with basalt and awash in volcanoes, most likely active. Andrews does not ignore other solar system bodies, many of which display a dazzling variety of fiery geology. It turns out that forming any celestial body larger than a moonlet requires volcanism—one bit of knowledge among countless others in this fascinating scientific adventure.

Everything you ever wanted to know about volcanoes in expert hands.

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-393-54206-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Sept. 1, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2021

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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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A solid foundational education in a handful of lively scientific topics.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE UNIVERSE

Two science podcasters answer their mail.

In this illustrated follow-up to We Have No Idea: A Guide to the Unknown Universe (2017), Cham, a cartoonist and former research associate and instructor at Caltech, and Whiteson, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of California, Irvine, explain the basic science behind subjects that seem to preoccupy the listeners of their podcast, Daniel and Jorge Explain the Universe. Most of the questions involve physics or astrophysics and take the form of, is such-and-such possible?—e.g., teleportation, alien visitors, building a warp drive, entering a black hole). The authors emphasize that they are answering as scientists, not engineers. “A physicist will say something is possible if they don’t know of a law of physics that prevents it.” Thus, a spaceship traveling fast enough to reach the nearest star in a reasonable amount of time is not forbidden by the laws of physics, but building one is inconceivable. Similarly, wormholes and time travel are “not known to be impossible”—as are many other scenarios. Some distressing events are guaranteed. An asteroid will strike the Earth, the sun will explode, and the human race will become extinct, but studies reveal that none are immediate threats. Sadly, making Mars as habitable as Earth is possible but only with improbably futuristic technology. For those who suspect that we are living in a computer simulation, the authors describe what clues to look for. Readers may worry that the authors step beyond their expertise when they include chapters on the existence of an afterlife or the question of free will. Sticking closely to hard science, they deliver a lucid overview of brain function and the debate over the existence of alternate universes that is unlikely to provoke controversy. The authors’ work fits neatly into the recently burgeoning market of breezy pop-science books full of jokes, asides, and cartoons that serve as introductions to concepts that require much further study to fully understand.

A solid foundational education in a handful of lively scientific topics.

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-18931-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Sept. 7, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2021

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