MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewThis new volume could not be more timely — it emerges after a year that saw the costliest slew of weather disasters in history, and that despite a cooling La Niña current in the Pacific managed to set the mark for record global temperature ... It is a disappointment, then, to report that this book turns out to be a little underwhelming. Gates — who must have easy access to the greatest experts the world can provide — is surprisingly behind the curve on the geeky parts, and he’s worse at interpreting the deeper and more critical aspects of the global warming dilemma ... it’s perhaps not surprising that he’s still catching up. And yet, his miscalculations are important, because they are widely shared ... One wishes Gates had talked, for instance, with Stanford’s Mark Jacobson, whose team has calculated how almost every country on earth could go to 80 percent renewable energy by 2030. If he had, he might have understood more clearly that the things that really interest him — advanced nuclear power, for instance, where he describes his considerable investments — are more about mopping up: He’s absolutely right that we should be investing in research across a wide list of technologies because we may need them down the line to help scrub the last increments of fossil fuel from the system, but the key work will be done (or not) over the next decade, and it will be done by sun and wind ... it’s wonderful that Gates has decided to work hard on climate questions, but to be truly helpful he needs to resolve to be a better geek — he needs to really get down on his hands and knees and examine how that power works in all its messiness. Politics very much included.
PanThe Washington PostWe are...in a climate emergency. But you’d never know that from Daniel Yergin’s new book...written in magisterial mode, staring down from the heights of history at the great men who make it ... We are treated along the way to a variety of potted histories for the uninitiated...and colorful details of the rich and powerful ... In 2020, however, you need to understand a lot of other things, too, and I’m not sure Yergin does. In particular, he’s behind the curve on the volatile mix of activism, engineering and climate science that seems to be reshaping the energy world in real time ... He’s...dismissive of the massive fossil fuel divestment campaign and other activist movements. That is a shame, because they’ve helped reshape the energy debate ... Change clearly needs to come fast, and Yergin is so embedded in old patterns of thought that he can’t quite recognize the urgency. Even history bends to physics.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewThis book careens and skitters across the landscape of its topic, which means I now know a number of interesting things I didn’t know when I picked it up ... [Tatiana Schlossberg] has not done a great deal of original reporting — the book includes accounts of just a few short trips. But she has scoured the internet for pretty much every scary and fascinating statistic on her subject that you can imagine, and her time has been well spent. You come away from her book with a stronger sense of the sheer largeness of the human enterprise ... When I picked up this book, I feared it might go down the same cul-de-sacs, but it doesn’t ... fighting for the Green New Deal makes more mathematical sense than trying to take on the planet one commodity at a time. And that, interestingly, is where Schlossberg seems to come out, even as she conducts her rambling tour of each of those commodities ... there are a few places where her reporting covers issues that few people know about and everyone should ... I confess that Schlossberg’s writing style grates on me — the rate of cutesy asides per page is diabetic. But she deserves real credit for coming through her journey into the guts of the consumer machine with a clarifying insight.
PositiveThe New York Review of BooksIt’s a story Americans need to know and appreciate ... I’ve spent much of my life sharing a property boundary with the Forest Service, but I knew little of the complex behind-the-scenes machinations and the public appeals that produced this unlikely wonder. I’m struck, reading these accounts, how useful the history is for the present moment. They prompt the important recollection that Americans have at times demanded that our prosperity protect the public good, not just private interests ... Clayton’s book sheds valuable new light.
PositiveThe New York Review of BooksIt’s a story Americans need to know and appreciate ... I’ve spent much of my life sharing a property boundary with the Forest Service, but I knew little of the complex behind-the-scenes machinations and the public appeals that produced this unlikely wonder. I’m struck, reading these accounts, how useful the history is for the present moment. They prompt the important recollection that Americans have at times demanded that our prosperity protect the public good, not just private interests.
MixedThe New York Times Book Review\"When something really captures his interest, Jonathan Franzen is an engaged and engaging reporter. Which is to say, two essays in his new collection, The End of the End of the Earth, truly expand one’s knowledge of the world ... That makes it more the shame that he usually opts for something much easier ... But if Franzen’s travel writing is unexceptional, it’s better than his political essays, which suffer from being under-thought and over-emoted, the chief feeling often being a kind of self-absorbed peevishness ... One reason Franzen wants to concentrate on immediate conservation tasks is that he’s more or less given up on fighting climate change ... As [Franzen] points out, individual action at this point will not amount to much; all the more reason for thought leaders like Franzen to join in building movements to prevent the worst outcomes. Bitching about those who are making the attempt seems a sad waste of precious time.\
PositiveThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)... [a] wonderful account, the deserved winner of this year’s Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction ... Griswold, focused on her characters, tells little of this larger story, and misses entirely another important dimension of the controversy. Early on, as she mentions, some environmentalists looked at the natural gas that fracking produced as an ally in the fight against climate change, because it produces less carbon dioxide than coal when burned in a power plant. But over the same years that she’s telling her story, and just a few hundred miles away in the labs of Cornell University, scientists were actually finding that the methane released by fracking more than made up for the reduction in carbon – all in all, this new fracked gas was just as bad as coal...Griswold’s account would have been stronger had she worked it in ... She avoided it, perhaps, to keep her focus on the rural residents of the region. And this focus is one of the strongest parts of the book. Fracking allows her to explore the lives of people who are usually ignored; we get a sense of their great strengths in the face of adversity, as well as their devout belief in the trustworthiness of corporations ... The virtue of Griswold’s reporting is that, though it’s never sentimental, you understand and sympathize with these men and women.
Charles C. Mann
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewIt’s an ambitious sort of book, one that, to be completely successful, requires two things. One is a command of sprawling detail, with the ability to see parallels among events across time and distance and to explain the complex with ease. The second is an analytical device that takes all those parts and molds them into something novel and useful. On the first count, Mann succeeds magnificently. William Vogt and (particularly) Norman Borlaug are brought to splendid, quirky life ... Mann’s storytelling skills are unmatched — the sprightly tempo with which this book unfolds, each question answered as it comes to mind, makes for pure pleasure reading. But you may find yourself troubled a little along the way by the analytical framework he’s imposed on the material, the division between the technologically minded Wizards and the limits-embracing Prophets. His distinction works pretty well when he applies it to food (GMOs vs. organics) and water (dams and desalination vs. drip irrigation) but it starts to break down when we reach climate and energy, perhaps the planet’s central problems.
PositiveThe Washington PostIf there was ever a moment when Americans might focus on drainage, this is it. But this fine volume (which expands on [Goodell's] reporting in Rolling Stone) concentrates on the slower and more relentless toll that water will take on our cities and our psyches in the years to come.
PositiveThe New York Review of BooksSo far most of the virtues Sax has listed for the analog world are private and personal—the rush of creativity (or really the rush of the possibility of creativity) that comes with buying a Moleskine, the slightly smug sense that your record collection somehow makes you a curator of your musical life. He’s on even stronger ground, I think, when he takes up the question of connection to other human beings ... Board games are the clunky polar opposite of the shiny digital experience. But Sax demonstrates that even as the Web has risen and the revenue from video games comes to rival the profits from movies, there’s also been a striking renaissance of people pushing little figurines around the tops of tables ... The notion of imagination and human connection as analog virtues comes across most powerfully in Sax’s discussion of education ... Why should efficiency be the standard measure, and not pleasure? I defy you to read Sax’s book without wanting to buy a Moleskine, put an LP record on a turntable, or play a game of Scrabble with your friends. It’s true that he mostly ignores some of the deepest questions raised by the digital age: the obsolescence of human labor against the tide of automation; the endless, uncheckable spread of surveillance. But the small rebellions he chronicles help us understand the general shape of a threat that goes beyond Karl Marx and his nineteenth-century complaints about capitalism; it’s in our digital era that all that was solid really did melt into air.
RaveThe New York Review of BooksJane Mayer’s remarkable new book makes it abundantly clear that the Kochs, and the closely connected group of billionaires they’ve helped assemble, have spent thousands of times that much over the past few decades, and that in the process they’ve distorted American politics in devastating ways, impairing the chances that we’ll effectively respond to climate change, reducing voting rights in many states, paralyzing Congress, and radically ratcheting up inequality.