Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Human Face for a Global Problem: A Review of Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change by Elizabeth Kolbert

Title: Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change
Author: Elizabeth Kolbert
Edition: Paperback
Publisher: Bloomsbury (2009)
Pages: 225
Challenges: GoodReads 2011 Reading Challenge
How I Came By This Book: This was just one of many books on global warming that I got from the library as research for that book I keep talking about.

About the Author: Elizabeth Kolbert has been a staff writer for the New Yorker since 1999. Prior to that, she was a political reporter for the New York Times. She lives in Williamstown, Massachusetts, with her husband and three sons.

Synopsis: Long known for her insightful and thought-provoking political journalism, Elizabeth Kolbert now tackles the controversial and increasingly urgent subject of global warming. In what began as a groundbreaking three-part series in the New Yorker, for which she won a National Magazine Award, Kolbert cuts through the competing rhetoric and poltical agendas to elucidate what is really going on with the global movement and asks what, if anything, can be done to save our planet. With a new afterword by the author, Field Notes from a Catastrophe is the book to read on the greatest challenge facing the world today.

Review: I've now read four books on the subject of climate change (and I still have several more waiting to be read), but Field Notes from a Catastrophe was the one that had the greatest impact on me. Whereas Under a Green Sky and The Discovery of Global Warming focused more on the scientific aspects of climate change and The End of Nature focused more on the personal aspects of the topic, Field Notes strikes a concise and well-written balance between the two. Not simply a book on the causes of climate change or the steps that we can take to halt its progress, Kolbert writes about the people who are affected by global warming and how they are dealing with its disastrous consequences.

At only a little over 200 pages, Kolbert's book leaves an indelible mark on the reader by doing two things: one, she visits impacted areas and interviews people who are dealing with the visible (and the sometimes even more dangerous invisible) environmental changes predicted by climate scientists; two, she weaves these accounts together with comprehensive research on climate change that not only goes back to the 1800's when carbon's affects on the environment were first posited, but further back through history to look at possible other societies damaged by climate change. The resulting narrative is compelling and it shows Kolbert's skill as a writer and as an investigative journalist.

Whereas other books may be filled with difficult jargon or poorly-explained diagrams, Kolbert's intended audience is the scientific layperson and she strives to be as clear and as readable as possible. She succeeds with flying colors and manages to do what other authors cannot--make a strong connection with the reader. Instead of over-saturating her pages with lingo, Kolbert uses personal narratives to show rather than to tell, which allows her to spend less time on technical exposition and more time on what's really important--the historical, political, and cultural story of how we ended up where we are and what can be done about it.

Informative and insightful, Field Notes from a Catastrophe really is one of the best books to read on the subject of climate change, especially if you are intimidated by too much scientific language. Kolbert is a phenomenal writer and I'd like to see her write more books on the subject. Actually, she could write a book about dryer lint and I'd probably read it.

I'm giving Field Notes from a Catastrophe 5 out of 5 Gabriels.


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