Urgent, absolutely necessary reading as a portrait of our devastated planet.

UNDER A WHITE SKY

THE NATURE OF THE FUTURE

More top-notch environmental reportage from the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Sixth Extinction.

In the manner of fellow New Yorker contributor John McPhee, every paragraph of Kolbert’s books has a mountain of reading and reporting behind it. In her latest, the author opens with a consideration of America’s most important waterways, the Mississippi and the Great Lakes, which meet near Chicago but “are—or were—distinct aquatic worlds.” We learn the reason for the past tense via Kolbert’s sharp account of the overweening engineering project that reversed the flow of Chicago’s wastewaters to send them not into the lakes but into the river. This created an artificial channel that has allowed invasive species from the south, such as Asian carp, into the lakes and creatures such as the zebra mussel from the lakes into the river. Things are no better down south in New Orleans, where the author finds a Mississippi Delta inundated by rising seas. “If Delaware or Rhode Island had lost that much territory,” she writes, “America would have only forty-nine states. Every hour and a half, Louisiana sheds another football field’s worth of land.” All of these processes feed neatly into Kolbert’s overarching theme of human-caused disasters. Her travels are wide and often challenging, as when she visited remote waterholes in the Mojave Desert to examine isolated populations of pupfish or when she interviewed ornithologists and entomologists to better understand the staggering decline in avian and insect species. “Even among insects, a class long thought to be extinction-resistant, numbers are plunging,” she writes, a process that extends across ecosystems everywhere. Especially vulnerable are coral reefs, which Kolbert examines in meticulous, exquisite detail. Can we and the world be saved from ourselves? That’s an up-in-the-air question, but the author holds out hope in a program that makes use of geoengineering, which, though highly speculative, is something that must be considered.

Urgent, absolutely necessary reading as a portrait of our devastated planet.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2021

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2021

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Stuffed full of trivia, data, lore, and anecdote—a pleasure for any fan of trout fishing.

THE UNREASONABLE VIRTUE OF FLY FISHING

The prolific author returns to an old love: angling for trout.

“Any day fishing on a wintry river is a great day,” writes Kurlansky, refuting Tolstoy’s grumpy assertion that angling is “a stupid occupation.” His river of choice is the appropriately named Salmon, in central Idaho, where the water flows so swiftly that Lewis and Clark named it the “River of No Return.” It’s not open in winter, notes the author, but there are other wintry rivers where one can test “the only two rules of fly fishing that cannot be broken: you cannot fall in and you must keep your fly in the water as much as possible. Everything else depends on circumstance.” This being a book by Kurlansky, who never met a fact he didn’t like, the narrative turns from his experiences as a fisherman to a more universal history. First come the fish themselves, the salmonids, which people have been harvesting for millennia. Only one of those species is a true trout, namely Salmo trutta, the brown trout, with every other kind of trout so called only because they resemble it. The author then moves on to the “acclimatization” projects of the French and the British, “an imperialist concept in an age of Empire,” whereby British anglers felt it was only proper that the brown trout follow the course of conquest, which explains why it can now be found in places such as New Zealand, Chile, and South Africa, “to assure that anywhere a British colonist went, there would be good game for a fly rod.” As for rods and flies, Kurlansky geeks out, reciting names that are known to this day: Charles Orvis, for one, whose contributions to the tackle box are legion; and Clarence Birdseye, the frozen-food magnate whose automatically retracting reel when a fish struck was a dismal failure since “hauling out the fish is part of fishing.”

Stuffed full of trivia, data, lore, and anecdote—a pleasure for any fan of trout fishing.

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Dec. 25, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2021

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

An enthusiastic appreciation of a spectacular astrophysical entity.

BLACK HOLE SURVIVAL GUIDE

A short, lively account of one of the oddest and most intriguing topics in astrophysics.

Levin, a Guggenheim fellow and professor of physics and astronomy at Barnard College, knows her subject well, but her goal is appreciation as much as education, and there is much to admire in a black hole. Before Einstein, writes the author, scientists believed that the force of gravity influenced the speed of moving objects. They also knew that light always travels at exactly the speed of light. This combination made no sense until 1915, when Einstein explained that gravity is not a force but a curving of space (really, space-time) near a body of matter. The more massive the matter, the greater it curves the space in its vicinity; other bodies that approach appear to bend or change speed when they are merely moving forward through distorted space-time. Einstein’s equations indicated that, above a certain mass, space-time would curve enough to double back on itself and disappear, but this was considered a mathematical curiosity until the 1960s, when objects that did just that began turning up: black holes. Light cannot emerge from a black hole, but it is not invisible. Large holes attract crowds of orbiting stars whose density produces frictional heating and intense radiation. No writer, Levin included, can contain their fascination with the event horizon, the boundary of the black hole where space-time doubles back. Nothing inside the event horizon, matter or radiation, can leave, and anything that enters is lost forever. Time slows near the horizon and then stops. The author’s discussions of the science behind her subject will enlighten those who have read similar books, perhaps the best being Marcia Bartusiak’s Black Hole (2015). Readers coming to black holes for the first time will share Levin’s wonder but may struggle with some of her explanations.

An enthusiastic appreciation of a spectacular astrophysical entity.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-65822-1

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Aug. 25, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more