RaveThe AtlanticFrankopan’s purpose in The Earth Transformed isn’t to explain how we find ourselves where we are climatically or to chronicle the steady increase of atmospheric carbon and our failure to curtail it. The book is doing something different. Frankopan presents an enormous panoply of cultures and societies affected by widely differing climatic pressures. He uses a wealth of new climate data and huge advances in climate modeling to understand \'the role that climate has played in shaping the history of the world,\' to retell history as if it were something more than the interactions of humans on a weather-less planet.
Kim Stanley Robinson
RaveThe AtlanticThe Robinson fluency is here: the compact, mobile sentences; the narrative ease; the technical detail. Prosy perhaps—he’s talking right at you—but only literally pedestrian ... exoteric—attentive to the general reader, instructive, open in character. But it’s also highly esoteric, best read with constant reference to a good set of topographic maps (or an app like CalTopo). Unless you know the Sierra as well as Robinson does—and not many people do—you’ll find yourself lost geographically ... et, somehow, being lost doesn’t matter. Will The High Sierra mean more to readers who have seen the Tehipite Dome from below or camped on \'the crab-claw peninsula sticking into Cirque Lake\'? Of course, though it will also mean more to those who have read Emerson and Thoreau than to those who haven’t ... I would call it fractally encyclopedic ... Robinson is constantly shifting scale too—shifting scale, subject, angle of attention, even genre. One moment the book is memoir. The next it’s trail guide. Then it’s bibliography, history, ecological meditation, and a discourse on renaming peaks and passes that have culturally unacceptable names. Robinson lets his thoughts scatter and then tracks them down wherever they’ve settled, much like a Sierra sheepherder and his flock in the late 19th century. The High Sierra might be subtitled: A Miscellany—even though it’s a word we don’t use much any more. Robinson registers that the human mind is miscellaneous and invites us to accept that fact ... That loose-limbed quality is what makes The High Sierra so appealing. But it’s also something more. Robinson clearly accepts the limits of what nature writing can do, in his hands at least ... The point of The High Sierra isn’t to show us the author’s moments of transcendence. It’s to remind us that we can find our own transcendence just the way Robinson did ... what Robinson also contributes is a spirit of engagement with the natural world that’s generous and freeing.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewSister Leopolda is one of contemporary American literature\'s great opportunists of conscience, and she poses problems when it comes to conversion ... As the novel darts back and forth in time over the span of almost a century, Father Damien leads a \'huge life\' at the settlement of Little No Horse, so different from the one he might have lived when we meet him, early in the novel, as \'a farm woman with a beautiful piano\' ... Erdrich takes us farther back in time than she ever has, so far back that she comes, in a sense, to the edge of the reservation that has been her fictional world. What makes it possible is the Ojibwa language, which is both as fresh and as ancient as rain.
Michael J. Benton
RaveThe New York Review of BooksBenton’s prose is a model of science writing—energetic without being hyperactive, illustrative without loosing a swarm of irritating metaphors, alive to the reader’s curiosity without pandering to the reader’s ignorance. To Benton, the story of what we know about dinosaurs is also the story of how we know it ... I found myself going back—for solace, I admit—to Michael Benton’s book, where he quotes these remarkable words from John Hutchinson, a professor of evolutionary biomechanics: \'The ground we walk on is that of science itself: clear, reproducible data and tools, a spirit of sharing and professionalism, and open-mindedness.\' This is the ground that must be kept open—against the repeated narrowing of the human mind.
MixedThe New York Review of BooksRereading Berry, I realized that my attention tends to wander whenever he seems to believe he deserves my full attention. That happens all the time, or so I judge from the nature of the prose. A reader can tell the difference, I think, between a writer who owes it to himself to keep writing and one who feels he owes it to the welfare of his readers. Berry can be both kinds, often at the same time. I found myself wishing he’d written far more about sheep and mules and horse-farming and the actual character of the soil and far less about sex and science and faith and the principles of Robert E. Lee. And, rereading Berry, I realized that most of his essays aren’t really essays. They’re disquisitions, extended arguments. I don’t often get around to agreeing or disagreeing with their author, because I’m too busy arguing with his prose. Berry derives his strength as a writer from contact with the earth, the more immediate, the better. All his life, he’s been a vigilant man of conscience. He’s capable of moving and inspiring readers, capable too, at times, of getting to the heart of a cultural or social problem. But he can also make you feel like you’re warming yourself at a bonfire of straw men and women. All too often I’m disturbed, to the point of physical unease, by the involuted, strangely patristic way his writing and thinking move, the grandeur of his modesty ... he often fails to do the first important job of a writer—\'even\' a nonfiction writer—which is to make sentences that breathe with the life of the body, even when that body happens to be thinking ... Again and again, you come across moments in Berry’s essays where logic overrides empathy, where conviction overrides imagination, where the pursuit of a single truth overrides the possibility of other truths.
RaveThe New York Review of BooksWhen I first read The Sixth Extinction, I thought there was a chapter missing. It might have been called \'Why We Should Care\' ... Caring and not caring don’t alter the gross systemic changes that are forcing extinctions—the rapid pumping of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and its absorption by the oceans. Caring and not caring are merely indiscernible emotional effluents emitted by the dominant species on this planet. How much we care or don’t care about the well-being of other species is overwhelmed—utterly engulfed—by how much we care about ourselves. There’s a really good reason for not writing that chapter ... Kolbert is right. Whether you care or not is immaterial. The question is this: Have we arrived at this point because of something inherent in our nature? Or has something peculiar in our circumstances brought us here, something we can still hope to alter? ... the kind of book that helps us recognize the actual planet we live upon, apart from the planet of our daily walking dreams.
PositiveThe New York Review of BooksThe early chapters of Horizon are dense with intention, with something more than a writer’s ordinary desire to explain where he’s going and how he plans to get there ... a kind of personal anthology arranged as nonsequential autobiography, an interrogative autobiography. The writer’s recurring statements of purpose serve almost as a guide to the book’s fragmentary, sometimes oblique structure ... Lopez brings these enormous questions down to earth by rooting them in a series of landscapes. In a sense, Lopez is remapping the world, revisiting places of surprising starkness and beauty ... There’s an extraordinary delicacy in what Lopez does—the way he relates to traditional, indigenous wisdom and the people who sustain it within their own lives.
RaveThe New York Review of BooksOne of the pleasures of The Dinosaur Artist is learning so much more than you thought you wanted to know about almost anything that wanders over the book’s horizon—such as the art of wading for sunken cypress logs or the intricacies of do-it-yourself fossil preparation or the recent history of Mongolian politics and its ties to American conservatives. Another is Williams’s prose: playful, allusive, and truly alive to the joy of trekking through a landscape full of quirks and quarries and sunken logs. Paige Williams is a reader’s ideal companion.
PanThe New York Review of BooksBrusatte is...a writer of what he calls \'pop-science,\' and we are its victims ... It’s enough to make you wish that Henry Osborn—the paleontologist and head of the American Museum of Natural History in the early twentieth century—had called the species Tyrannosaurus civis, if only to forestall the monarchical metaphors. This kind of writing isn’t merely exuberant nonsense, the metaphorical stumblings of an excitable scientist. It’s language that works against the grain of the science it’s trying to explain. To say, as Brusatte does, that acidifying oceans, capable of dissolving the shells of sea creatures, are \'why we don’t bathe in vinegar\' is ridiculous ... Steve Brusatte has created a lost world of his own, where metaphors war anachronistically in defiance of what scientists understand. He didn’t invent this kind of writing. He grew up on it, and sadly we’re surrounded by it.
Ulrich Raulff, Trans. by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp
PositiveThe New York Review of Books...strange and fascinating … What the horse requires, Raulff suggests, is an “histoire totale.” What he offers instead is a sweeping cultural history, more kaleidoscopic than totale, as bibliographical as it is historical … Farewell to the Horse is a whirlwind that seems capable of drawing into its vortex almost anyone who ever thought of a horse. Jacques Lacan and Alan Turing and Lucian Freud, Goethe and his writing stool, Myron Cohen and his one-way street joke, Nietzsche and his mad embrace of a beaten cart-horse—these and a vast crowd of occasional and oblique equestrians make it clear that what Raulff is tracing are the endless impressions the horse has left on the minds of humans.
MixedThe New York Review of BooksMichael McCarthy’s powerful, sensitive new book, The Moth Snowstorm: Nature and Joy, [is] a book about the wonders of the natural world and about its decline … Half of his book contributes movingly to the literature of environmental despair. The problems are too deep and systemic for anything more than the most cautious hope...Seeded throughout The Moth Snowstorm is the other half of the book—a study of joy, not loss. McCarthy has set out to write what is, in essence, an environmental theodicy—to account for the existence and purpose of the joy and beauty we feel in the midst of so much loss and despair … But I find ‘defense through joy’ insufficient. Like sustainable development and the commodification inherent in ecosystems services models, it values nature mostly for what it offers us. Ultimately, it’s not radical enough, either as a form of protest or as a philosophical statement.