RaveThe San Francisco Chronicle... a bravura performance, displaying Macdonald’s literary gifts: her curiosity, her intensity of attention. And her pleasure of her prose — clear, tart, understated but regularly exploding into brilliance ... Some of the strongest essays are vignettes ... Sometimes, she suggests, like the swifts we must fly high to truly see ourselves and our world. This superb book helps us do that.
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleGessner embarks on a leisurely but consistently interesting journey that follows, more or less, T.R.’s loop around the West. Along the way, we get engaging local color (a gathering of Roosevelt impersonators in North Dakota) and a solid sense of the man: energetic, inquisitive, immune to self-doubt and an ardent lover of nature. Gessner celebrates Roosevelt’s conservation achievements: five national parks, 18 national monuments and the U.S. Forest Service ... Gessner wrestles with these issues thoughtfully, weighing Roosevelt’s accomplishments against the cold and ugly.
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleConfessional, contemplative, intellectually adventurous, Ben Ehrenreich’s Desert Notebooks: A Road Map for the End of Time is a worthy addition to the library of American aridity ... He’s an elegant writer with a skill for capturing desert essences ... If you’ve come to Desert Notebooks expecting a straightforward jaunt across the American Southwest, these detours can be disconcerting. It’s as if your desert road trip was morphing into a graduate seminar, with everybody in the car talking about Hegel when all you want is to take the next exit, grab a Coke at the Circle K and make Zabriskie Point by sunset...Yet it works. Ehrenreich’s intellectual explorations are challenging but never pretentious. He’s searching, he’s trying to find hope and certainty in troubled, uncertain times. He makes connections ... Ehrenreich shows that deserts can make us wise in new ways.
PositiveSan Francisco ChronicleKurlansky excels in this variegated research, and if you’re puzzled by the occasional omission (a 416-page salmon book, and not one mention of lox?), you’ll be amply supplied with fun fish facts for your next salmon barbecue. But while Kurlansky’s past books have been quirky cabinets of curiosities, Salmon contains more somber undercurrents ... Not all the news is bad ... How do we save [salmon]? By saving the planet.
RaveSan Francisco Chronicle... succeeds brilliantly ... In theory, Tsui’s globe- and topic-hopping structure could make the book seem scattered. But the breadth of her reporting and grace of her writing make the elements of Why We Swim move harmoniously as one ... deepens from informative and entertaining to transcendent and moving ... There’s a poignancy to the fact that Why We Swim arrives just as COVID-19 has made so many bodies of water, from public swimming pools to beaches, off limits. But you can read it to remember just how good a swim can feel on a hot summer day and dream about when that day will come.
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleFew writers are better equipped to tell the story than Arax ... Arax narrates this tumultuous history skillfully, and if he isn’t completely successful in explicating the byzantine tangle of California water law, maybe it’s because nobody could be. He shines in profiling the gamblers, grifters and irrigation proselytizers who battled to make the valley their own ... \'Some of us who live in arid parts of the world think about water with a reverence others might find excessive,\' Joan Didion writes in The White Album. The line is both astute and illustrative of the way water, land and the conjunction of the two have inspired some of California’s most powerful writing: Didion, Mary Austin’s lyrical The Land of Little Rain, Norris Hundley’s authoritative The Great Thirst, William Kahrl’s gorgeous, shamefully out-of-print The California Water Atlas, and, jumping genres, Chinatown, with its water-crazed Mephistopheles, Noah Cross. The Dreamt Land earns its place alongside them.
RaveSan Francisco ChronicleFew writers come as well-equipped for the subterranean task as Macfarlane ... It’s a tangled journey—part science fiction, part ancient myth—and Macfarlane narrates it elegantly. He’s a precise, tart, luminous writer, whose descriptions throw off sparks ... It’s also true that toward its middle, Underland lags a bit ... But his story gathers power as he descends into subterranean spaces linked to humanity’s grimmest moments ... a remarkable book.