Intelligent, important assessment of a confusing phenomenon and its potentially catastrophic implications.

FRUITLESS FALL

THE COLLAPSE OF THE HONEYBEE AND THE COMING AGRICULTURAL CRISIS

Culinary writer Jacobsen (A Geography of Oysters, 2007, etc.) takes a laid-back yet terrifying look at the conundrum of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), which has devastated honeybees.

While CCD received media attention for its sheer weirdness, Jacobsen focuses on the larger ecological implications, particularly regarding the food chain. “80 percent of the food we put in our mouths,” he reminds us, “relies on pollination somewhere down the line.” While this delicate process is taken for granted in the era of industrial agriculture, it still depends upon the participation of surprisingly fragile insect populations. Indeed, one contributor to this fragility has been the industry’s reliance upon “busing” honeybee hives as rentals from farm to farm. CCD’s rise has been sudden, mysterious and brutal: By spring 2007, “the losses threatened an ancient way of life, an industry, and one of the foundations of civilization.” The author builds his narrative around beekeepers’ efforts to contend with CCD, beginning in 2006, when it became clear that their carefully managed hives were emptying out. Some force was disrupting the complex society of each hive, which divides pollination, honey-making and reproduction into regimented tasks. As beekeepers and scientists from all over the country shared their dispiriting experiences, they discerned that CCD attacked both hive behavior and the bees’ immune systems. Jacobsen identifies numerous potential culprits, all linked with the stressors created by the intersections of factory farming, globalization and the beekeepers’ craft. The suggestion that cell phones were to blame was debunked early; other possibilities, including pesticides, genetically modified crops and exotic maladies made resistant through cross-breeding, seem harder to dismiss. The author writes from a well-informed “green” perspective, in a breezy, humorous tone at odds with the ominous implications of his tale. For many readers, it may make the mystery of CCD easier to comprehend.

Intelligent, important assessment of a confusing phenomenon and its potentially catastrophic implications.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-59691-537-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 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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Drawings, words, and a few photos combine to convey the depth of a tragedy that would leave most people dumbstruck.

A FIRE STORY

A new life and book arise from the ashes of a devastating California wildfire.

These days, it seems the fires will never end. They wreaked destruction over central California in the latter months of 2018, dominating headlines for weeks, barely a year after Fies (Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow?, 2009) lost nearly everything to the fires that raged through Northern California. The result is a vividly journalistic graphic narrative of resilience in the face of tragedy, an account of recent history that seems timely as ever. “A two-story house full of our lives was a two-foot heap of dead smoking ash,” writes the author about his first return to survey the damage. The matter-of-fact tone of the reportage makes some of the flights of creative imagination seem more extraordinary—particularly a nihilistic, two-page centerpiece of a psychological solar system in which “the fire is our black hole,” and “some veer too near and are drawn into despair, depression, divorce, even suicide,” while “others are gravitationally flung entirely out of our solar system to other cities or states, and never seen again.” Yet the stories that dominate the narrative are those of the survivors, who were part of the community and would be part of whatever community would be built to take its place across the charred landscape. Interspersed with the author’s own account are those from others, many retirees, some suffering from physical or mental afflictions. Each is rendered in a couple pages of text except one from a fellow cartoonist, who draws his own. The project began with an online comic when Fies did the only thing he could as his life was reduced to ash and rubble. More than 3 million readers saw it; this expanded version will hopefully extend its reach.

Drawings, words, and a few photos combine to convey the depth of a tragedy that would leave most people dumbstruck.

Pub Date: March 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4197-3585-1

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Abrams ComicArts

Review Posted Online: Nov. 26, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2018

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