A knowledgeable account of the trials of the National Park Service that would work better as a polemic.

NATIONAL PARKS FOREVER

FIFTY YEARS OF FIGHTING AND A CASE FOR INDEPENDENCE

An earnest plea to move the National Park Service out of the highly politicized Department of the Interior and make it an independent agency.

Jonathan, former director of the National Park Service, and his brother T. Destry, vice president of the U.S. National Committee for the International Council on Monuments and Sites, tell a story that begins well but seems headed for an unhappy ending. Americans love their national park system and consistently rank it as one of the most popular federal organizations. For more than 50 years after its founding in 1916, this love was universal. Professionals managed the system and lobbied Congress for additions. The period from 1964 to 1970 marks the last golden years when many parks were established and the agency recommended sites for future local, state, and federal parks. Today, “the NPS is now only allowed to study new parks when specifically authorized by Congress.” The authors blame the system’s deterioration on political polarization, especially the conservative shift with the election of Ronald Reagan. The NPS is a federal program, and conservatives believe that, like most federal programs, the NPS is bloated, inefficient, and discouraging to private enterprise. Since the election of Reagan and the Bushes and, worst of all, Trump, the Secretary of the Interior and his or her powerful assistants have mostly been political appointees with little interest in conservation and intense hostility to the NPS. They propose no new parks and support efforts at “development,” meaning logging and oil drilling. While their ongoing efforts to set up a “park closing commission” to remove those that do not receive high visitation have so far failed, they have successfully shrunk the budget and downsized the department by forcing out skilled employees. The authors have facts on their side, but their text—almost entirely devoted to legislation, White House politics, efforts of national conservation organizations, and their job experience—will persuade readers without inspiring them to take to the streets.

A knowledgeable account of the trials of the National Park Service that would work better as a polemic.

Pub Date: April 5, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-226-81908-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Univ. of Chicago

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2022

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A quirky wonder of a book.

WHY FISH DON'T EXIST

A STORY OF LOSS, LOVE, AND THE HIDDEN ORDER OF LIFE

A Peabody Award–winning NPR science reporter chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century scientist and how her quest led to significant revelations about the meaning of order, chaos, and her own existence.

Miller began doing research on David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) to understand how he had managed to carry on after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his work. A taxonomist who is credited with discovering “a full fifth of fish known to man in his day,” Jordan had amassed an unparalleled collection of ichthyological specimens. Gathering up all the fish he could save, Jordan sewed the nameplates that had been on the destroyed jars directly onto the fish. His perseverance intrigued the author, who also discusses the struggles she underwent after her affair with a woman ended a heterosexual relationship. Born into an upstate New York farm family, Jordan attended Cornell and then became an itinerant scholar and field researcher until he landed at Indiana University, where his first ichthyological collection was destroyed by lightning. In between this catastrophe and others involving family members’ deaths, he reconstructed his collection. Later, he was appointed as the founding president of Stanford, where he evolved into a Machiavellian figure who trampled on colleagues and sang the praises of eugenics. Miller concludes that Jordan displayed the characteristics of someone who relied on “positive illusions” to rebound from disaster and that his stand on eugenics came from a belief in “a divine hierarchy from bacteria to humans that point[ed]…toward better.” Considering recent research that negates biological hierarchies, the author then suggests that Jordan’s beloved taxonomic category—fish—does not exist. Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence.

A quirky wonder of a book.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6027-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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A solid foundational education in a handful of lively scientific topics.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE UNIVERSE

Two science podcasters answer their mail.

In this illustrated follow-up to We Have No Idea: A Guide to the Unknown Universe (2017), Cham, a cartoonist and former research associate and instructor at Caltech, and Whiteson, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of California, Irvine, explain the basic science behind subjects that seem to preoccupy the listeners of their podcast, Daniel and Jorge Explain the Universe. Most of the questions involve physics or astrophysics and take the form of, is such-and-such possible?—e.g., teleportation, alien visitors, building a warp drive, entering a black hole). The authors emphasize that they are answering as scientists, not engineers. “A physicist will say something is possible if they don’t know of a law of physics that prevents it.” Thus, a spaceship traveling fast enough to reach the nearest star in a reasonable amount of time is not forbidden by the laws of physics, but building one is inconceivable. Similarly, wormholes and time travel are “not known to be impossible”—as are many other scenarios. Some distressing events are guaranteed. An asteroid will strike the Earth, the sun will explode, and the human race will become extinct, but studies reveal that none are immediate threats. Sadly, making Mars as habitable as Earth is possible but only with improbably futuristic technology. For those who suspect that we are living in a computer simulation, the authors describe what clues to look for. Readers may worry that the authors step beyond their expertise when they include chapters on the existence of an afterlife or the question of free will. Sticking closely to hard science, they deliver a lucid overview of brain function and the debate over the existence of alternate universes that is unlikely to provoke controversy. The authors’ work fits neatly into the recently burgeoning market of breezy pop-science books full of jokes, asides, and cartoons that serve as introductions to concepts that require much further study to fully understand.

A solid foundational education in a handful of lively scientific topics.

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-18931-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Sept. 7, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2021

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