Though short on a clear thesis, the book is strong on examples of human adaptation in the face of catastrophe.




A frightening, from-the-trenches overview of “natural” and man-made disasters—and responses to them—across the globe.

This father-and-son team of scientists—Stan (Any Way You Slice It: The Past, Present, and Future of Rationing, 2013, etc.) is a research coordinator at the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas, and his son, Paul, is an anthropologist based in Copenhagen—delves closely into “geoclimatic hazards,” such as earthquakes, cyclones, volcanic eruptions, and mudslides, from Missouri to Australia, gauging the human toll and cultural value of so-called victimization and resilience. These are personal stories of cataclysm—e.g., the almost resigned, mystical attitude of Filipinos to deadly cycles of typhoons and earthquakes, during which thousands of people perish, a toll unimaginable to Western nations; or conditions in the slums of flooding-prone Mumbai, where residents have no choice but to accept their role as “absorber” of shocks for the rest of the stricken city. The authors also offer stories of how disasters are used as opportunity, especially in economic rebuilding—i.e., pushing through much-needed legislation for reinvigorating the status quo, which occurred in Joplin, Missouri, after a deadly tornado wiped out its blighted business district in 2011 or in New York City and coastal New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Each chapter of this work of wide-traveled research takes up one aspect of these geoclimatic hazards once considered a kind of punishment for man’s sins (such as the mother of all disasters, the Lisbon earthquake of 1755). More recently, the horrendous 2013 mountain landslides in Uttarakhand, India, were arguably the result of man-made road building and deforestation. In the end, the authors assert that communities at risk, such as Miami Beach, Florida, “have to abandon as a mirage the old promises of security and development” and embrace what is going to become the art of resilience.

Though short on a clear thesis, the book is strong on examples of human adaptation in the face of catastrophe.

Pub Date: July 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-62097-012-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: April 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2016

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...


Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

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A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

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