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


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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