The Uninhabitable Earth | Book Review

| Book Review by Jim Scott |

The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming by David Wallace-Wells

Wallace-Wells has delivered an eloquent description of the world’s climate breakdown and the consequent societal collapse.  Though a non-scientist and non-environmentalist, this talented journalist writes that mankind has “exited the state of environmental conditions that allowed the human animal to evolve in the first place, in an unsure and unplanned bet on just what that animal can endure.”  His conclusion emerges from analyzing years of others’ “scientific work” (my emphasis) and recognizing the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as the gold-standard assessment of the Earth’s state (on a carbon dioxide [CO2] drunk) and the likely trajectory for climate change (collapse), due principally to human-generated, CO2-rich emissions, accepted as “settled science” in our schools, colleges, scientific journals, and public media.

Cause=>effect=>solution: he says, “We have all the tools we need, today, to stop it all: a carbon tax and the political apparatus to aggressively phase out dirty energy; a new approach to agricultural practices and shift away from beef and dairy in the global diet; and public investment in green energy and carbon capture.”

In Wallace-Wells’ final pages, he inadvertently acknowledges that “we live today under clouds of uncertainty about climate change,” after already having told us repeatedly of the certainty of his bleak, IPCC scenario.  His stylistic phrase “clouds of uncertainty” is perhaps a Freudian slip: clouds and water vapor are unmentioned greenhouse gas molecules, accounting for as much as 10 times warming effect of CO2 + methane + nitrous oxide, combined, though yet remaining inadequately evaluated and modeled by the scientific community.  Moreover, many other serious researchers, believing that it’s wrong to blame global warming primarily on greenhouse gases in general, much less on CO2 alone, cite IPCC’s major shortcomings in the key areas of research scope, inadequate models, conflicting temperature information, lack of regional geographic relevance, and economics.  And Nobel Prize winner (for climate change economic modeling) William Nordhaus has soundly criticized the IPCC’s strategic CO2-target cap as costing more than it’s worth.

They describe the global heat engine as a complex interplay of activities all over Earth’s surface: on the sea and on land as well as above (stratospheric winds) and below (ocean currents and deep, geological activity).  Caltech’s Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences is aggressively researching the global heat engine scope issues.  In addition, to replacing the clunky IPCC climate models, MIT’s Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change has described in refereed technical journal, NATURE, its long-anticipated “Multi-Sectoral Climate Impact Assessment” strategy using a highly advanced, integrated modeling framework, which at long last analyzes and integrates economics with regional, geospatial factors.  The fresh, ongoing climate research by these and others should help inform Wallace-Wells’ “certainty” as well as help dispel our uncertainties.

Meanwhile, read Wallace-Wells’ book as he takes us to a place where we may not wish to go, as hair raising as poet Virgil was for Dante in the Inferno.

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The Paper Wasp

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From The Avid Reader Show, Sam’s latest interviews from a history of over 450 interviews over the past decade:

Listen to the podcast:  THE AVID READER

The Paper Wasp is about two women, one beautiful, one plain, one insecure and one quite confident (at different times).  It’s about a rekindled relationship in which power shifts, spirituality is embraced or given lip service and plans are made, by both women, plans that sometimes work and sometimes don’t.  My point, somehow made in an extremely disjointed fashion, is that it’s hard to know who’s successful, who’s a failure, who knows what their life is about and who doesn’t and then layered on that is the insecurity the reader experiences when she has no idea whether what she is reading is what is really happening.

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Cinderellas of Conflict

| 3 Book Review by Jim Scott |

  • A Lab of One’s Own: Science and Suffrage in the First World War,

by Patricia Fara

  • Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II,

by Liza Mundy

  • Hidden Figures:The Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win The Space Race,

by Margot Lee Shetterly

 

These are three, celebratory narratives of women excelling in science, engineering and mathematics in the shadow of war and international conflict.

Patricia Fara, a Cambridge science historian, writes convincingly of the wholesale, societal animus against women in Britain 100 years ago.  Based on her prodigious research, she celebrates the work of historically marginalized women scientists, previously excluded from the solidly male territory of the technically elite.  Fara delivers a lasting tribute to the women who bridged the science and engineering talent gap caused by WWI’s absorption of male counterparts.

Accomplished journalist Liza Mundy extols the work of several thousand, mathematically astute, American women recruited in WWII by the U.S. Army and Navy and deployed successfully as code-breakers of German and Japanese war communications.  Mundy passionately and effectively portrays the mind-numbing tedium and frustration of their clandestine work, and holds no punches in assailing society’s entrenched misogyny before, during, and after the war.

Margot Lee Shetterly, daughter of a Black research scientist at NASA-Langley Research Center, founded “The Human Computer Project” as the research vehicle resulting in the paean, Hidden Figures.  The focus was the successful struggle of segregated Black women mathematicians who played key roles inside NASA, with clear impact on the U.S./U.S.S.R. space race of the ‘50s and ‘60s.  She illuminates the human computers’ efforts to overcome Jim Crow and “gender-smack down” realities, both of which failed spectacularly to attenuate the spunk and value of the women to NASA’s successes.

As Frederick Douglas wrote presciently in 1870: “Women’s natural abilities and possibilities, not less than man’s, constitute the measure of her rights in all directions and relations, including her right to participate in shaping the policy and controlling the action of the Government under which she lives…” These 21stcentury stories reflect the “Douglas touch” on women’s rights, extending from a suffrage base of counting politically towards one of competency-based, professional equality.

These mathematicians, scientists, and engineers were clearly Cinderella figures, where war and conflict were wicked stepmothers, with a fairy godmother nowhere to be seen until the likes of Fara, Mundy, and Shetterly appeared to reveal their exciting stories from obscurity.

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You Will Be Safe | Podcast

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From The Avid Reader Show, Sam’s latest interviews from a history of over 450 interviews over the past decade:

Listen to the podcast:  The Avid Reader

Damian Barr is an award-winning writer and columnist. Maggie And Me, his memoir won several prestigious awards. Damian writes columns for BigIssue and High Life. He is the creator and host of his own Literary Salon that premieres work from established and emerging writers. I’d love to talk to him for hours about that but we’re here to sell his book, to be unpolished.

You know, Sometimes I get a little nervous when a novel straddles two centuries with multiple characters. But no need to fear here. The pieces of this book fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. It may not be the most pleasant of juxtapositions but it is a novel that immediately draws the reader in, not with certainty, but with a subtle questioning that leaves one a bit nervous and unsure, kind of, of one’s own values.

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Book Review: Sleep No More: Six Murderous Tales

Sleep No More: Six Murderous Tales by P. D. James

Book review by Jim Scott

I implore you join the throngs who love the work of this British grand-dame of mystery writers. Called by many the “queen of crime,” and others “the doyenne of detective novelists,” James left a legacy of over a dozen, priceless mystery novels and short stories.  She received the Mystery Writers of America Grandmaster Award and the National Arts Club Medal of Honor for Literature.  She was awarded the Order of the British Empire and was created life peer in the House of Lords as Baroness of Holland Park.

            I have selected Sleep No More (2017), a delicious collection of her short stories to induce interest in and further exploration of this thoughtful and meticulous writer’s work.   

            Should you move along to her mystery novels, you will discover “detective story” told as penetrating analysis of men, women and society, dissecting social privilege, politics, the nature and expression of romance, beauty, the fine arts, and religion.  There, her literary protagonists are Scotland Yard police commander Adam Dalgliesh – a Jaguar-driving inspector and poet; and Cordelia Gray, private investigator and owner of Pryde Detective Agency in London.  

            James subtly undergirds her work with the use of irony and control of structure.  This touch is evident throughout her detective masterpieces, Death Comes to Pemberly (2011). Beware,, for as in all of James’s work, murder (often grisly, never delicate) is the focus, and always within a larger conversation marked with intelligence, manners and meaning.

Book Review – These Truths: A History of the United States

These Truths: A History of the United States by Jill Lepore

Book review by Jim Scott

This ambitious book addresses Hamilton’s pregnant question posed in 1787, “whether societies…are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force?”  Searching for an answer, Lepore quotes Lincoln, “We must disenthrall ourselves,” and James Baldwin, “What one begs American people to do…is simply to accept our history.”  Paying homage to both, she offers her story to those who want to know about our past and seek an honest reckoning.  She delivers it as an inquiry into whether and how America has kept its documented promises.

Professor Lepore, Harvard historian and literary journalist at The New Yorker, organized her book by both time and theme, covering the history of political thought, American social life, industrialization, mass communication, and technology.  Complementing historically sound research, Lepore integrates the lives of lesser known, previously marginalized men and women into the standard parade of the famous and better known.  This gives deeper insights into the culture and creates a more interesting read, presenting opportunities to focus on traditional topics from new angles.  As a talented and published investigator of the impact of technology on society, Lepore brings that skill to bear throughout the book, particularly since 1945 following nuclear warfare, when “technological change wildly outpaced the human capacity for moral reckoning.” 

Thanks to her own recent disclosure, her book includes the Obama presidency and the first eighteen months of Trump’s, but not as part of her original book design, only as an afterthought.  Consequently, the book’s analysis of those years suffers from lack of historical distance, and reflects noticeable disorientation of untested day-to-day news.

Ideologically, Lepore spares the reader from a Gingrich-like liqueur of relentless, patriotic, national progress; nor does she bludgeon with overt, political bias from the left or right.  Instead, Lepore narrates masterfully between the ideological goalposts and runs the gamut of our nation’s undulating past.  However, the book is not without several factual errors, such as referring to a fourth session of the critical 1ST Congress when there were only 3; or 15 Confederate states when there were but 11 (the extra four may have affected seriously the subsequent balance of power); or misstating that the drafting of the Constitution and invention of the cotton gin were contemporaneous (for if they had been, the non-slave North would likely not have thought that slavery would die quietly).

In the end, Lepore leaves the answer to Hamilton’s questions in the hands of her readers, who, in my opinion, will have been richly informed by having read her outstanding book.

The Ninth Hour | Book Review

Book Review by Leslie Finkel

The Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott

I was taught by Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and by the Order of Franciscans through the 1950s and ‘60’s so I have a 12 years’ experience of their demeanor and vocation and their patience with the antics I and my friends brought into their classrooms. One of the regrets of my life is how we treated them — we, who understood nothing of their sacrifices. Through a combination of fear and love, they taught us how to concentrate, how to be still, how to listen. In a very literal sense, they gave all of their lives to us.

The Ninth Hour begins with a suicide in early twentieth-century Brooklyn and then shows how that act, quickly forgotten by the larger world, infiltrates the lives of two families and one convent house of Catholic nuns. Sally, the daughter of the man who committed suicide is the primary character of the novel, but that can be a misleading description because the characters of the nuns, a large family, Sally’s mother, and others are drawn with such compassionate respect for their own individuality that we feel as if we know well a whole small cosmos of people by the time we come to the end.

This is a quiet book, but it understands that what really forms the center of our lives is always personal, intimate, fundamental like forgiveness and mercy and simple endurance when life’s circumstances turn unfortunate. This is a quiet book but one with a great heart. It left its mark on me.

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