An exceptionally lucid, evenhanded study of the scientific basis of our current and future lives.

HOW THE WORLD REALLY WORKS

THE SCIENCE BEHIND HOW WE GOT HERE AND WHERE WE’RE GOING

A scientific panorama of our well-being and how it can be sustained in our current tumultuous times and beyond.

In seven chapters, Smil, the author of more than 40 books on science, nature, and current affairs, explores the science behind essential contemporary topics: energy generation, food production, material dependence, globalization, large-scale risks, responses to environmental threats, and predictive uncertainty. The author aims to combat the widespread “comprehension deficit” about basic scientific facts, and he seeks to “explain some of the most fundamental ruling realities governing our survival and our prosperity.” That aim is marvelously achieved, as Smil sheds needed light on how global populations depend on particular technologies and industrial processes while debunking common misperceptions. Chief among these is the assumption that large-scale decarbonization is plausible in the near term. As several chapters demonstrate, we will most likely remain dependent on the consumption of massive amounts of fossil fuels for decades to come before alternative energy sources can be scaled to meet global demand. The author provides a revelatory overview of where human health and affluence come from, how they might be preserved in spite of alarming signs of ecological collapse, and which specific disruptions to them, such as those posed by viral pandemics or climate change, are actually most threatening. Throughout, Smil exposes the dubious assumptions of so-called “catastrophism,” the conviction that human life is doomed to extinction in the near future, as well as “techno-optimism,” an equally misplaced faith in the ingenuity of engineers to deliver utopian solutions to all our existential challenges. The author’s sober and illuminating assessment of contemporary realities shows how challenges can, seemingly, be managed in the coming decades even if the precise means of doing so—and the various complications that will inevitably unfold—cannot be reliably ascertained in advance.

An exceptionally lucid, evenhanded study of the scientific basis of our current and future lives.

Pub Date: May 10, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-29706-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: March 8, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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A lovely, sometimes challenging testament to the universality of human nature.

HUMANS

The creator of the hit internet series Humans of New York takes it global, chasing down a panoply of interesting stories.

In 1955, Edward Steichen staged a show called “The Family of Man,” a gathering of photographs that emphasized the commonality of humankind. Stanton’s project seemingly has much the same ambition. “You’ve created this magic little corner of the Web where people feel safe sharing their stories—without being ridiculed, or bullied, or judged,” he writes. “These stories are only honestly shared because they have a long history of being warmly received.” The ask is the hard part: approaching a total stranger and asking him or her to tell their stories. And what stories they are. A young Frenchwoman, tearful, recounts being able to see things from the spirit world that no one else can see. “And it’s been a very lonely existence since then,” she says. A sensible teenager in St. Petersburg, Russia, relates that her friends are trying to be grown-up, smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, whereas she wants to remain a child close to her parents: “I’d like these times to last as long as possible.” A few stories are obnoxious, as with a Dutch incel who has converted himself into a pickup artist and outright cad: “Of course it’s manipulation, but why should I care? I’ve been manipulated so many times in my life.” A great many stories, some going for several pages but most taking up just a paragraph or two, are regretful, speaking to dashed dreams and roads not taken. A surprising number recount mental illness, depression, and addiction; “I’d give anything to have a tribe,” says a beleaguered mother in Barcelona. Some are hopeful, though, such as that of an Iranian woman: “I’ve fallen in love with literature. I try to read for one or two hours every day. I only have one life to live. But in books I can live one thousand lives.”

A lovely, sometimes challenging testament to the universality of human nature.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-11429-7

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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