Posts Tagged ‘Environment’

Best New Books of 2014: Emil S’s Picks

December 2, 2014

When a book calls my name, I will not turn it down. Somehow, the books know how to find me.

No Place to Hide No Place to Hide by Glenn Greenwald
“Cincinnatus” was the alias Edward Snowden used when he contacted Glenn Greenwald, a columnist for The Guardian and a former constitutional lawyer. Cincinnatus referred to a real life hero, a farmer who in ancient times defended Rome against foreign forces, and then voluntarily gave up absolute power and returned to life on the farm. Edward Snowden was a former National Security Agency contractor, and the revelations brought about by him altered the course of history. This book – a curious blend of real life thriller, lecture, moral-ethic discussion, and petition – shows how invasive U.S. surveillance capabilities have become, and what it means in a world in which people increasingly find and display their inner lives online.  See my full review.

War of the WorldsWar of the Whales by Joshua Horwitz
Whales and other marine mammals are under severe threat from a number of human activities, not the least mankind’s insistence on waging war and preparing for war. The navy use of sonar creates noise storms that again and again cause atypical mass strandings and deaths of whales. The U.S. government regulators have become captives “to the interests they’re supposed to police,” and it is up to individuals and private organizations to help protect life in the oceans. War of the Whales is the true story of how environmental law attorney Joel Reynolds (of NRDC), marine biologist Ken Balcomb, and many others did everything in their power in order to reduce deadly, man made noise pollution and save some of the magnificent creatures that humankind share this planet with.  See my full review.

Everything Leads to YouEverything Leads to You by Nina LaCour
Emi’s goal is to become a set designer in Hollywood, and as an intern on a movie set, she visits the estate sale of a legendary Hollywood actor. When Emi and her best friend Charlotte find a letter hidden in the jacket of an LP, the two of them – without knowing the content of the letter – begin searching for the intended recipient. The mysterious letter leads her to the alluring Ava, and life begins to take on film-like qualities.  See my full review.

Cycle of LiesCycle of Lies: The Fall of Lance Armstrong by Juliet Macur
If the mountains of Le Tour de France are the dragons of that particular classic, then the riders are the knights. And when Lance Armstrong started slaying and devouring these opponents he seemed to be living a real life heroic poem of epic proportions. Armstrong had bravely defeated a monstrous cancer, made a mind-boggling comeback, and then developed into one of the most revered and remarkable athletes in the world. However, the tale took a nightmarish turn as evidence of highly advanced and organized doping mounted. Here is the story of Lance Armstrong’s rise and fall as understood by New York Times journalist Juliet MacurSee my full review.

Little FailureLittle Failure: A Memoir by Gary Shteyngart
American author Gary Shteyngart was born as Igor Shteyngart in Leningrad (now [again] St. Petersburg) in the Russian empire that went under the name of Soviet Union. When he was seven years old, Gary and his family moved to the United States as part of a Jews-for-grains swap between the two superpowers. The Shteyngarts ended up in Queens, New York, and life in the land of the free was not easy for a “Socialist” boy with a weird accent. This memoir investigates a troubled family’s adventures and misadventures in two cultures, and it is moving, poignant, and at times outrageously comical.  See my full review.

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

April 8, 2014

Flight Behavior by Barbara KingsolverDellarobia is a young housewife living on a struggling family farm in the mountains of Tennessee. She is sneaking away for an illicit affair when she stumbles across an incredible sight. Millions of Monarch butterflies have set down in a field on their land. Dellarobia is so moved by the sight she convinces her husband and father-in-law to put on hold their plan to sell logging rights to raise cash.

When word spreads, the butterflies become a worldwide sensation and focus for controversy. Visitors from all over arrive to see the wonder. Environmentalists mount campaigns to save the butterflies. The local church believes it is a sign from God. Scientists argue over climate change. News crews keep showing up on Dellarobia’s doorstep.

For Dellarobia, it means a glimpse of life outside her small world. In high school she was considered bright and had planned for college when she discovered she was pregnant. Since then she has grown stagnant living in her home town. Now, she goes to work for the scientists who have arrived to study the butterflies and she becomes wrapped up in their work. When they tell her that they will only be there for a few short months she is devastated.

Kingsolver’s novel is wonderfully written and is an insightful study of different worlds colliding. One of my favorite scenes is when an environmental activist tries to get Dellarobia to join the fight “to save the planet”. His list of things people can do to help aren’t remotely relevant to her life. Save electricity by turning off the computer? She doesn’t have one. Bring your own cup to Starbucks? There isn’t one, and they couldn’t afford it anyway. Recycle? Her husband’s truck is on its third engine and they never buy new clothes. The man becomes discouraged and leaves without talking to anyone else in the town. It is hard to reconcile that there are so many in this country living such different lives than what we think of as normal, but Kingsolver does a good job of making everyone in the book realistic and sympathetic. And by the end you are really hoping for a new life for both Dellarobia and the butterflies.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog


Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond

February 24, 2014

Despite its gloomy title, Collapse is a manual for how humans can live successfully on Planet Earth. Jared Diamond examines in detail a number of ancient and modern civilizations to find out why they failed while other societies succeeded. In every collapse, whether of the North American Anasazi, the medieval Norse of Greenland or modern-day Rwanda, the depletion of natural resources played a major role. However, Diamond also showcases societies such as modern-day Japan, the highlanders of New Guinea, and the Pacific islanders of Tikopia who have managed their resources successfully.

One early sign of trouble is large-scale deforestation, leading to erosion and drought, because there are no longer tree roots to hold moisture in the soil. Once these situations come to a crisis point, it may be too late to turn back. Perhaps there were people on remote Easter Island who wondered, “What’s going to happen to us when we cut down the last tree?” However, in that ancient society there was such intense competition between the local chiefs that nobody seemed able to alter the course of events. The largest trees were cut down and used for platforms to carve and move the hundreds of gigantic statues which still remain. Predation by rats and overpopulation also contributed to the deforestation and eventual collapse of that society.

We tend to believe we can get our trees from “somewhere else.” The ancient Easter Islanders may have thought the same; those living on one side of the island may have thought there were more trees on other parts of the island. Planet Earth is a bigger island than Easter, but the same realities exist. Our use of natural resources can be sustained only if we allow them time and the right conditions to regenerate.

Diamond demonstrates through many examples that societies can make a conscious choice between living sustainably or undermining their resources till they are all gone. He points out that the leadership for sustainability can come from the bottom up—as grassroots efforts—or from the top down—as mandated by a government—and gives examples of both kinds that have succeeded. The alternative is to ignore the problems and continue the misuse of our resources until the last of them is gone.

Which will we choose?

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Storm Surge by Tamara Ward

September 3, 2013

Jonie Waters thought she had escaped her past but when she finally decided to come back home and work as an investigative journalist, she is surprised to see the sight of a dead friend. Jonie is horrified that there are secrets in her home town that no one knows about. In her efforts to do her job and help a friend, she becomes the number one suspect.

Intertwined within this whodunit, is the story of a family torn apart. Jonie has no hope that her family will ever come together and she is left desperately alone. Even when she comes back to town, North Carolina is still flowing in her veins and calling her back home, she tells no one of her arrival. Instead she stumbles into a mystery that will test her strength and her family.

Tamara Ward has written a thrilling and enjoyable novel. Her description of North Carolina brings a familiar setting to the novel while her tale of suspense is filled with questions that leave the reader in a perpetual state of suspense. You never know who the bad guy is. Is it Jonie with her secret past and a youthful indiscretion that tore her family apart? Is it the too handsome detective that is always there when she turns around? Add a list of characters, all with secrets to hide, and you’ll never know who the real bad guy is until the last few pages.

Storm Surge is definitely worth the read. It is a wonderful story from a local author that I would suggest to anyone who likes a good suspense novel.

Tamara Ward along with several other local authors will be at Eva Perry Regional Library and West Regional Library this month, visit our website for more details. 

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

Old Turtle by Douglas Wood

April 20, 2012

This book may be shelved in the children’s section, but it is a book for adults as well.  Written by Douglas Wood and illustrated by Cheng-Khee Chee, this story is a parable for our times that received the top rating of 5 stars in its 73 reviews on—a rare feat indeed.

Wood writes of a time long ago when all the different parts of nature could communicate with each other, and of how they began to argue about subjects all too familiar to us:  What is the most important thing?  Who is God?  How can we know God?  The lioness argues that She is a hunter, the antelope envisions Him as a runner, the ants as Someone close, and the stars as a lofty Being who is far away.  How can they decide who is right?

The argument gets louder and nastier until at last Old Turtle steps in.  She tells the creatures about a new race of beings who are coming, who will occupy a very special place in nature.  When these “human” beings finally come, the same argument ensues with even more devastating results.  Only after the humans remember who they are does the destruction stop.

Remembering who we are turns out to be about more than just knowing ourselves.  There can only be peace and harmony on the earth when we take that next step toward understanding and accepting our fellow creatures and their different points of view.

This simple yet eloquent story is a powerful reminder of how much we need each other.  Each of us sees and knows only one small part of the whole.  Together, our understanding is much greater.  This understanding turns out to be the kind of love that heals the earth.

Cheng Khee-Chee’s watercolor illustrations perfectly capture both the beautiful detail and the sweeping scope of Wood’s vision.  Yes, children can get a great deal out of this book.  However, I believe it is a story that grows in meaning with time, maturity, and experience.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

Fixing Climate: What Past Climate Changes Reveal About the Current Threat—and How to Counter It By Wallace Broecker and Robert Kunzig

April 19, 2012

This book is amazing – startling, terrifying, and yet, reassuring.  A unique combination to be sure, but those are the phrases that come to mind when I think back about this book.  One of the authors, Wallace Broecker, may sound familiar as the scientist who developed the “conveyor belt” system that explains the circulation of water throughout the world’s oceans.  He started measuring carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere back in the 1950’s, a time when few people gave any thought to the idea that rising emissions of CO2 could have any effect on us and our world.  This early start and subsequent expertise has made him one of the leading researchers in the field.

The amount of science covered in this book is phenomenal.   One of the things that really caught my attention is that during the last ice age we experienced a short period of about 10 to 12 years where the earth heated up rapidly and came out of the ice age only to plunge right back into the ice age again.  Scientists have no clue as to why this happened and what the implications of this event might be for us today.  Another thing that really stuck with me is that about 40% of our increased CO2 output is being absorbed by the oceans.   The problem is that this absorption is acidifying our oceans and threatening the way water circulates through them, thereby threatening the best climate stabilizer we have.

The authors believe there is no way we will be able to eliminate our addiction to carbon based fuels quickly enough to stop the ensuing climate problems that increasing levels of CO2 cause.  Just as my spirit was sinking in despair at this news, they gave me hope for our future.  Technology now exists to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, but questions remain about where to store it once it’s been removed.  The good news is that they are close to having this system worked out and we have reason to believe that we can return to a cooler world.

Science based books are not typically page-turners, but this one truly is.  Give it a try and I think you’ll enjoy it.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

The Rising Sea by Orrin Pilkey

January 18, 2012

Following up on yesterday’s review of The Battle for North Carolina’s Coast by Stanley Riggs, try this related title!

Pilkey, described as colorful and outspoken, provides a brief balanced overview of the urgency of sea- level rise in a global context. This important book breaks a scientifically and politically complex topic into fascinating chapters for the public, defining the scope of the enormous challenges ahead and our options.

2100 seems so far in the future to some, it breeds inertia. Photos visibly show seas already claiming coastal communities, yet it took twenty years of public debate to relocate our Cape Hatteras Lighthouse back 2000 feet in 1999.

Now, rapid response is required. Indonesian scientists believe the airport of its capital, Jakarta (population 8.5 million), will be inundated by 2035. Our Outer Banks could collapse by 2050. As many as 150 million people in the world’s major cities may need engineering structures such as dikes for survival by 2070. Countries like the UK, Netherlands and South Africa are taking positive steps to prepare for inundation of their coasts.

Instead of continually funding relief for predictable disasters after they occur, Pilkey urges government agencies to focus on prevention. He advises planning for a 7 foot rise by 2100 as a cautious approach. Instead of monstrous sea walls and dikes, wherever possible he recommends retreat for a more sustainable future: strategic relocation of roads, buildings and infrastructure. He envisions redesigning with nature to maintain a coast that future generations can enjoy.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

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