An elegant narrative braced by a fierce, sobering environmental conviction.

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THE GULF

THE MAKING OF AN AMERICAN SEA

A sweeping environmental history of the Gulf of Mexico that duly considers the ravages of nature and man.

In light of the 2010 devastation of the BP oil spill, environmental historian Davis (History and Sustainability Studies/Univ. of Florida; An Everglades Providence: Marjory Stoneman Douglas and the American Environmental Century, 2009, etc.) presents an engaging, truly relevant new study of the Gulf as a powerful agent in the American story, one that has become “lost in the pages of American history.” Once the habitat of the highly developed, self-sustaining Calusa indigenous people, the rich estuary of the Gulf is the 10th largest body of water in the world, and it forms the sheltered basin that creates the warm, powerful Gulf Stream, which allowed the first explorers, such as Ponce de León, to make their ways back to the Old World. Davis meanders through the early history of this fascinating sea, which became a kind of graveyard to many early marooned explorers due to shipwrecks and run-ins with natives. Yet the conquistadors took little note of the abundant marine life inhabiting the waters and, unaccountably, starved. A more familiar economy was established at the delta of the muddy, sediment-rich Mississippi River, discovered by the French. The author focuses on the 19th century as the era when the Gulf finally asserted its place in the great move toward Manifest Destiny; it would “significantly enlarge the water communication of national commerce and shift the boundary of the country from vulnerable land to protective sea.” The Gulf states would also become a mecca of tourism and fishing and, with the discovery of oil, enter a dire period of the “commercialization of national endowments.” The story of this magnificent body of water and its wildlife grows tragic at this point—e.g., the “killing juggernaut” of Gulf wading birds to obtain fashionable feathers. Still, it remains an improbable, valiant survival tale in the face of the BP oil spill and ongoing climate change.

An elegant narrative braced by a fierce, sobering environmental conviction.

Pub Date: March 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-87140-866-2

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2017

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Harari delivers yet another tour de force.

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21 LESSONS FOR THE 21ST CENTURY

A highly instructive exploration of “current affairs and…the immediate future of human societies.”

Having produced an international bestseller about human origins (Sapiens, 2015, etc.) and avoided the sophomore jinx writing about our destiny (Homo Deus, 2017), Harari (History/Hebrew Univ. of Jerusalem) proves that he has not lost his touch, casting a brilliantly insightful eye on today’s myriad crises, from Trump to terrorism, Brexit to big data. As the author emphasizes, “humans think in stories rather than in facts, numbers, or equations, and the simpler the story, the better. Every person, group, and nation has its own tales and myths.” Three grand stories once predicted the future. World War II eliminated the fascist story but stimulated communism for a few decades until its collapse. The liberal story—think democracy, free markets, and globalism—reigned supreme for a decade until the 20th-century nasties—dictators, populists, and nationalists—came back in style. They promote jingoism over international cooperation, vilify the opposition, demonize immigrants and rival nations, and then win elections. “A bit like the Soviet elites in the 1980s,” writes Harari, “liberals don’t understand how history deviates from its preordained course, and they lack an alternative prism through which to interpret reality.” The author certainly understands, and in 21 painfully astute essays, he delivers his take on where our increasingly “post-truth” world is headed. Human ingenuity, which enables us to control the outside world, may soon re-engineer our insides, extend life, and guide our thoughts. Science-fiction movies get the future wrong, if only because they have happy endings. Most readers will find Harari’s narrative deliciously reasonable, including his explanation of the stories (not actually true but rational) of those who elect dictators, populists, and nationalists. His remedies for wildly disruptive technology (biotech, infotech) and its consequences (climate change, mass unemployment) ring true, provided nations act with more good sense than they have shown throughout history.

Harari delivers yet another tour de force.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-51217-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: June 27, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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As pretentious as it is outlandish, but at least authentically mind-boggling.

THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE WORLD

AS LAID DOWN BY THE SECRET SOCIETIES

An encyclopedic, lavishly illustrated attempt to discern an alternative-belief system in the broad diversity of ancient paganism and mystical offshoots of the major faiths.

“Christianity contains a hidden tradition of the gods of the stars and planets,” proclaims British publishing executive Booth. While much of this tradition, including biblical allegories, has been denigrated by Mother Church, it has hardly been hidden. The author’s mystical guardian institutions include the Christian-associated Freemasons and Rosicrucians, which both arose at the outset of the 18th century from earlier origins; Cabalism on the Hebrew side; and Sufism from Islam. Much of the problem with this roughly chronological narrative is its hazy documentation: Readers must be content with “a friend of mine” or “an initiate I met” as substantiating sources. Likewise, we must accept Booth’s own innate ability to peer into antiquity and presume the influence of “mystery schools” on such figures as Plato. He seamlessly moves from reportage to proselytizing, presenting for instance a precise date in the 12th millennium BCE as the moment when matter reached its final solidified state in the progression of existence from pure thought (preceding matter itself) through a “human vegetable” state to the present form. Tracing this progression, Booth cites all kinds of permutations, fairy tales and familiar hippie spiritualist icons along the way. Humankind loses its third eye, can no longer directly interact with spirits and deities, must be content with the stifling restrictions of the scientific method to comprehend creation, etc. One culminating highlight: George Washington, a known Freemason, decrees that the capital city be laid out to reflect the geometry of the constellation Virgo, thus inviting “the mother goddess” to participate in determining the future of the United States. Somebody should tell President Bush to please get in touch.

As pretentious as it is outlandish, but at least authentically mind-boggling.

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-59020-031-5

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Overlook

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2007

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