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AIR by William Bryant Logan Kirkus Star

AIR

The Restless Shaper of the World

By William Bryant Logan

Pub Date: Aug. 20th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-393-06798-9
Publisher: Norton

An examination of the all-encompassing role that the atmosphere plays in shaping our lives.

Arborist Logan weaves together history, philosophy and culture in the third volume of his trilogy. As in his earlier works—Dirt (1995) and Oak (2005)—he celebrates the union of the inorganic and organic realms that nurture life: “The air cannot be owned. It cannot be controlled…It changes the fate of creatures and the destiny of peoples.” The author explains that his purpose is to make us aware of how remarkable the role of the atmosphere is in the evolution of life on Earth and in every aspect of daily existence. Too often we take it for granted, he writes, except when problems arise. In our focus on air quality and global warming, we tend to forget that it is the medium in which spores, fungi, airborne bacteria and pollens circulate—along with soot and other pollutants. Logan provides a biting critique of the failure of government officials to be honest with the population of New York City about the dangerous level of pollution following 9/11, when he was able to accurately measure the air quality as he worked to save trees in the area. He explains how global patterns of air circulation are responsible for cyclones and describes the problem faced by weather forecasters because of the famous butterfly effect: how “the smallest unobserved change could make the difference between a sunny day and a massive storm.” Logan celebrates the atmosphere as a medium of communication—transmitting pheromones as well as sound, bird calls, music—and notes that the breath of life separates the living from the dead.

A tour-de-force journey through the natural world.