New reviews at the Science Shelf (including books on global warming)

Here’s a slightly abbreviated version of the latest news about my Science Shelf archive of book reviews, columns, and commentary.

Issue #14, March-April, 2006: Extinction, Climate Change, and Politics

Dear Science Readers,

I have rarely been so involved with the books I have been reviewing or adding to the Science Shelf as during the past several weeks. That is probably because my latest reviews include books of vital interest. In the case of climate change, it is no exaggeration that the future of civilization as we know it is at risk. Responsible scientists are discussing the possibility of abrupt climate change and scenarios that only a few years ago were considered too extreme to consider.

Fortunately, books like The Weather Makers by Tim Flannery and Field Notes from a Catastrophe by Elizabeth Kolbert are not full of “gloom and doom.” Rather they are warnings and calls to action.

Unfortunately, political forces with vested interests in the status quo in the U.S. and Australia, the homelands of the authors of those two books, have slowed down the progress promised by the Kyoto Protocols. Flannery goes so far as to call them deceivers and science abusers. He may be right, but they are pikers in comparison to the people Heather Pringle describes as developers of The Master Plan: Himmler’s Scholars and the Holocaust. As Seattle Times columnist and Science Shelf guest reviewer Adam Woog discusses, Pringle’s book is a cautionary tale of ideology run amok. Still, as bad as the Holocaust was, and as evil as the Nazi regime was, we can get into far worse trouble following today’s less evil but equally ideological climate-change deniers. In the extreme, the world could see to mass extinctions on a nearly unprecedented scale.

Not that we would expect anything like the great extinction at the end of the Permian Period, when 95% of all species died out. The cause is still a mystery, which Douglas H. Erwin attempts to unravel in Extinction: How Life on Earth Nearly Ended 250 Million Years Ago.

As I write this in early March, my reviews of the climate change and extinction books have not yet been published, which means that some of the above links will lead to excerpts of those reviews for now. As soon as they appear in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Dallas Morning News, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, or the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, I will publish them in full at those URLs.

To see what books are coming up, visit the Science Shelf Books Received page. You’ll note three titles that I have already committed to reviewing plus several others that are worth your attention. In addition, I have a few advance reading copies of upcoming titles that I will send to someone who will commit to a review for this site.

Besides writing newspaper reviews, I’ve been ranting about a few things on my blog, including provoking some rousing but civil discussions on the politics of climate change. The more I think about those issues, the more convinced I become that I need to write some children’s books on the topic. I’ve got some assignments lined up on other subjects, but I should have room for one more title on my plate soon.

I know many readers of the Science Shelf wait for books to come out in paperback before buying them. If you’re one of those, check out one of my favorite titles from 2005, The Fly in the Cathedral: How a Group of Cambridge Scientists Won the Race to Split the Atom by Brian Cathcart.

Many Science Shelf readers are also avid hikers, so I’ve added a new Science Shelf link to a Florida hiking blog by Sandra Friend, a great author whose career I helped launch when she lived near me in Pennsylvania.

If you’re new to The Science Shelf and want to discover some of this site’s recent history, Read the January-February, 2006, Science Shelf newsletter, which has a link to even earlier issues.

Happy science reading!

Fred Bortz