A personality-rich narrative of one community’s successful fight against a polluter, as well as a vade mecum for other towns...

NIGHT FIRE

BIG OIL, POISON AIR, AND MARGIE RICHARD’S FIGHT TO SAVE HER TOWN

Miami Herald investigative journalist Greene debuts with a David-and-Goliath story that casts Shell Oil as the villain.

Drawing on extensive interviews, newspaper articles, court documents and other public records, the author chronicles the difficulties encountered by Margie Richard, a schoolteacher and community leader, when she took on the giant multinational corporation that threatened the health and safety of her neighborhood. Diamond, a four-block African-American area in Norco, La., was located just outside the fence of a Shell chemical plant, across town from a Shell refinery where many of Norco’s white residents were employed. After deadly explosions and pollution-based illnesses took their toll on her family and neighbors, Richard launched a grassroots campaign in 1989 that sought relocation payments from Shell so that Diamond residents could move away from the hazardous plant. Later, the strategy changed to a suit for damages known as Richards v. Shell, opposed by many local whites whose livelihood depended on Shell. Richard’s group lost the case at trial in 1997, but over the years she had become a knowledgeable, skilled and well-connected environmental activist. In 1999 she addressed the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, and in 2000 she carried a bag of polluted air from Norco to a UN Conference on Climate Change at the Hague, where she presented it to a Shell executive. The resulting publicity, not just in print but on the Internet and on television, put new pressure on Shell. Greene provides a lively, readable account of how this pressure grew and the various ways that Shell responded. In 2002, shortly before the airing of a PBS documentary about the struggle, the corporation offered to buy all the houses in Diamond, enabling Richard and her neighbors to relocate.

A personality-rich narrative of one community’s successful fight against a polluter, as well as a vade mecum for other towns facing similar problems.

Pub Date: May 6, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-06-112362-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2008

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The book is not entirely negative; final chapters indicate roads of reversal, before it is too late!

SILENT SPRING

It should come as no surprise that the gifted author of The Sea Around Us and its successors can take another branch of science—that phase of biology indicated by the term ecology—and bring it so sharply into focus that any intelligent layman can understand what she is talking about.

Understand, yes, and shudder, for she has drawn a living portrait of what is happening to this balance nature has decreed in the science of life—and what man is doing (and has done) to destroy it and create a science of death. Death to our birds, to fish, to wild creatures of the woods—and, to a degree as yet undetermined, to man himself. World War II hastened the program by releasing lethal chemicals for destruction of insects that threatened man’s health and comfort, vegetation that needed quick disposal. The war against insects had been under way before, but the methods were relatively harmless to other than the insects under attack; the products non-chemical, sometimes even introduction of other insects, enemies of the ones under attack. But with chemicals—increasingly stronger, more potent, more varied, more dangerous—new chain reactions have set in. And ironically, the insects are winning the war, setting up immunities, and re-emerging, their natural enemies destroyed. The peril does not stop here. Waters, even to the underground water tables, are contaminated; soils are poisoned. The birds consume the poisons in their insect and earthworm diet; the cattle, in their fodder; the fish, in the waters and the food those waters provide. And humans? They drink the milk, eat the vegetables, the fish, the poultry. There is enough evidence to point to the far-reaching effects; but this is only the beginning,—in cancer, in liver disorders, in radiation perils…This is the horrifying story. It needed to be told—and by a scientist with a rare gift of communication and an overwhelming sense of responsibility. Already the articles taken from the book for publication in The New Yorker are being widely discussed. Book-of-the-Month distribution in October will spread the message yet more widely.

The book is not entirely negative; final chapters indicate roads of reversal, before it is too late!  

Pub Date: Sept. 27, 1962

ISBN: 061825305X

Page Count: 378

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1962

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Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

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LAB GIRL

Award-winning scientist Jahren (Geology and Geophysics/Univ. of Hawaii) delivers a personal memoir and a paean to the natural world.

The author’s father was a physics and earth science teacher who encouraged her play in the laboratory, and her mother was a student of English literature who nurtured her love of reading. Both of these early influences engrossingly combine in this adroit story of a dedication to science. Jahren’s journey from struggling student to struggling scientist has the narrative tension of a novel and characters she imbues with real depth. The heroes in this tale are the plants that the author studies, and throughout, she employs her facility with words to engage her readers. We learn much along the way—e.g., how the willow tree clones itself, the courage of a seed’s first root, the symbiotic relationship between trees and fungi, and the airborne signals used by trees in their ongoing war against insects. Trees are of key interest to Jahren, and at times she waxes poetic: “Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.” The author draws many parallels between her subjects and herself. This is her story, after all, and we are engaged beyond expectation as she relates her struggle in building and running laboratory after laboratory at the universities that have employed her. Present throughout is her lab partner, a disaffected genius named Bill, whom she recruited when she was a graduate student at Berkeley and with whom she’s worked ever since. The author’s tenacity, hope, and gratitude are all evident as she and Bill chase the sweetness of discovery in the face of the harsh economic realities of the research scientist.

Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-87493-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

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