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HOLDING BACK THE RIVER

THE STRUGGLE AGAINST NATURE ON AMERICA'S WATERWAYS

Solid journalism on a pressing problem that is likely to get far worse, and soon.

A gimlet-eyed look at America’s rapidly deteriorating riparian infrastructure.

In the days of Lewis and Clark, writes freelance journalist Kelley, the sight of the Missouri River in seasonal flood, overspilling its banks and “spreading out to fill its floodplain,” would have seemed entirely natural. Their successors in the Army Corps of Engineers took a dim view of rivers doing their own thing, though, and over time the nation has invested trillions of dollars in efforts to control them, from huge dams to the extensive levee system along the lower Mississippi. These structures are now crumbling, and although the Trump administration talked a big game about investing in infrastructure, it was consistently sidetracked by diversions of the president’s own making—the testimony of James Comey on Russian involvement in the 2016 election, for instance, overshadowing a promise to ease regulations on coal and boost the barge industry. The professional organization of civil engineers rates the nation’s dams at a D, identifying more than 15,500 as being of “high-hazard potential”—i.e., likely to cause deaths if they failed. Of a critically important lock on the Ohio River, its manager sighs, “The lock is kept going with all the bubble gum and duct tape we’ve got left.” Meanwhile, even as the Corps of Engineers negotiates new spillways and scrambles to keep up with existing structures, nature works to thwart their efforts. For example, a projected plan to divert the Mississippi to Louisiana’s Barataria Bay would kill some of the state’s most lucrative oyster beds and a resident dolphin population—all in service of trying to keep New Orleans from going underwater, which seems destined to happen anyway, with a “new shoreline…around the latitude of Baton Rouge and the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain.” Kelley concludes with an exhortation to develop “a basin-based approach” to river management while there’s still a little time left.

Solid journalism on a pressing problem that is likely to get far worse, and soon.

Pub Date: April 20, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5011-8704-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 23, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON

THE OSAGE MURDERS AND THE BIRTH OF THE FBI

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

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    Best Books Of 2017


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Greed, depravity, and serial murder in 1920s Oklahoma.

During that time, enrolled members of the Osage Indian nation were among the wealthiest people per capita in the world. The rich oil fields beneath their reservation brought millions of dollars into the tribe annually, distributed to tribal members holding "headrights" that could not be bought or sold but only inherited. This vast wealth attracted the attention of unscrupulous whites who found ways to divert it to themselves by marrying Osage women or by having Osage declared legally incompetent so the whites could fleece them through the administration of their estates. For some, however, these deceptive tactics were not enough, and a plague of violent death—by shooting, poison, orchestrated automobile accident, and bombing—began to decimate the Osage in what they came to call the "Reign of Terror." Corrupt and incompetent law enforcement and judicial systems ensured that the perpetrators were never found or punished until the young J. Edgar Hoover saw cracking these cases as a means of burnishing the reputation of the newly professionalized FBI. Bestselling New Yorker staff writer Grann (The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession, 2010, etc.) follows Special Agent Tom White and his assistants as they track the killers of one extended Osage family through a closed local culture of greed, bigotry, and lies in pursuit of protection for the survivors and justice for the dead. But he doesn't stop there; relying almost entirely on primary and unpublished sources, the author goes on to expose a web of conspiracy and corruption that extended far wider than even the FBI ever suspected. This page-turner surges forward with the pacing of a true-crime thriller, elevated by Grann's crisp and evocative prose and enhanced by dozens of period photographs.

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

Pub Date: April 18, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-385-53424-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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THE BACKYARD BIRD CHRONICLES

An ebullient nature lover’s paean to birds.

A charming bird journey with the bestselling author.

In his introduction to Tan’s “nature journal,” David Allen Sibley, the acclaimed ornithologist, nails the spirit of this book: a “collection of delightfully quirky, thoughtful, and personal observations of birds in sketches and words.” For years, Tan has looked out on her California backyard “paradise”—oaks, periwinkle vines, birch, Japanese maple, fuchsia shrubs—observing more than 60 species of birds, and she fashions her findings into delightful and approachable journal excerpts, accompanied by her gorgeous color sketches. As the entries—“a record of my life”—move along, the author becomes more adept at identifying and capturing them with words and pencils. Her first entry is September 16, 2017: Shortly after putting up hummingbird feeders, one of the tiny, delicate creatures landed on her hand and fed. “We have a relationship,” she writes. “I am in love.” By August 2018, her backyard “has become a menagerie of fledglings…all learning to fly.” Day by day, she has continued to learn more about the birds, their activities, and how she should relate to them; she also admits mistakes when they occur. In December 2018, she was excited to observe a Townsend’s Warbler—“Omigod! It’s looking at me. Displeased expression.” Battling pesky squirrels, Tan deployed Hot Pepper Suet to keep them away, and she deterred crows by hanging a fake one upside down. The author also declared war on outdoor cats when she learned they kill more than 1 billion birds per year. In May 2019, she notes that she spends $250 per month on beetle larvae. In June 2019, she confesses “spending more hours a day staring at birds than writing. How can I not?” Her last entry, on December 15, 2022, celebrates when an eating bird pauses, “looks and acknowledges I am there.”

An ebullient nature lover’s paean to birds.

Pub Date: April 23, 2024

ISBN: 9780593536131

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 19, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2024

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