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Dancing at the Dead Sea: Tracking the World's Environmental Hotspots Hardcover – May 15, 2005

ISBN-13: 978-0226532004 ISBN-10: 0226532003 Edition: First Edition

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 239 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; First Edition edition (May 15, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226532003
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226532004
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.3 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,415,741 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The itinerary of this winning pilgrimage is well-chosen to illustrate contemporary environmental crises. Mitchell, an environmental journalist at the Toronto Globe and Mail, visits some familiar disaster areas, including the island of Madagascar, whose deforestation by a populace hungry for land and firewood is wiping out a unique ecosystem; the dying Jordanian oasis of Azraq, whose aquifer has been drained to support development in Amman; and the Canadian High Arctic, where the native Inuvialuit people see apocalyptic portents in the warming of winters and thinning of sea ice. Mitchell also explores more hopeful locales, like Suriname, in South America, which has preserved 90% of its rainforest, and Iceland, which is using geothermal energy to wean itself off of fossil fuels and onto a hydrogen economy. Mitchell dusts her lucid, if sketchy, rundown of environmental issues with a sprinkling of ecotourist travelogue, as she visits Amazonian religious sites and goes scuba diving off the Galápagos Islands. She tries to tie it all together with a garbled interpretation of Darwinian evolution, writing that species "are programmed to continue to adapt... even if it means dying out." Extinction is not quite what Darwin meant by adaptation, but there's no doubt the great naturalist would be appalled by the panorama of ecological havoc described by Mitchell. (May 18)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Mitchell, earth sciences reporter for the Globe and Mail, agrees with some environmental theorists that the sixth mass extinction of our planet is well under way. Based on a conservation strategy (similar to the medical model of triage) proposed by Norman Myers and other theorists, Mitchell visits and writes about hotspots that are most in danger. She travels, therefore, to Madagascar, looking for lemurs in a seriously deforested nation, and to Jordan, where the quarter-million-year-old Azraq Oasis is being depleted by water-hungry humans. Mitchell also visits the Banks Islands in the Arctic Circle, where there's been a sharp shift in the ecosystem. There are success stories, including Suriname, for one (which has retained 90 percent of its forest cover), and Iceland, land of "kinetic steam." Rounding out the collection are insightful essays about Charles Darwin and On the Origin of the Species, combined with a trip to the modern-day Galapagos. Well written and inspiring, these essays should help awaken environmental awareness. Rebecca Maksel
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Friederike Knabe VINE VOICE on September 25, 2004
Format: Paperback
Having won an international award for environmental journalism, Alanna Mitchell benefited from a study time-off included with the prize. She used her time well. Pursuing research topics close to her heart, she investigated what environmental hotspots can teach us about our past and the future of human evolution. Combining scientific curiosity with enthusiasm for "adventure", her travels have taken her to somewhat remote places - in Jordan, Iceland, Madagascar, the Galapagos and the high Arctic among them. She accompanied numerous specialists in biology, marine ecology, anthropology and other fields, plus local experts, on explorations in their field of study. She meets extraordinary people, confronting delicate and sometimes dangerous situations. She skillfully explains some of the complex climatology and other science for the non-specialist reader. The result is an engaging book, part travelogue, part environmental analysis, within a historical context.

With Darwin's journals of his voyage on the Beagle in hand, she traces his footsteps on the Galapagos. There and elsewhere she maintains an internal dialogue with Darwin wondering what he would have made of the ecological destruction she witnesses. Like the local people in Evatraha, Madagascar, who believe that trees "carry their own magic of regeneration", we are destroying precious resources somehow believing that "there will always be another tree". The evidence, Mitchell warns, attests to the opposite. Today, more species are endangered than ever before and some fragile ecosystems are beyond recovery. Reflecting on the five mass extinctions on our planet, she casts some doubt on our "shelf life" in the grand evolutionary scheme of the planet.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Melanie on October 5, 2004
Format: Paperback
This book is an entertaining and often sobering look at environmental degradation that is occurring around the world. Author Alanna Mitchell, who was named the best environmental reporter in the world by the World Conservation Union and the Reuters Foundation, writes about several environmental catastrophes that are taking place including the effects global warming is having on the Arctic, the destruction of wetlands in Jordan where species are going extinct "at the rate of about one a year," and deforestation in Madagascar which, according to Mitchell, "is the world's top extinction hotspot."

While some of Mitchell's observations of how our species is destroying the very ecosystems we depend on for life are depressing, other prominent people's views on how destructive our species is are further disturbing.

"Leakey, the eminent Kenyan paleoanthropologist and authority on human evolution, is convinced that humans are poised to become 'the greatest catastrophic agent' the world has ever seen, a highly intelligent, highly lethal species set to destroy billions of years of evolutionary advances."

Much of Mitchell's book looks at how humans have decimated the planet, but she also writes about some environmental success stories including how Suriname's rainforest, thanks to conservationists, is almost entirely intact. Mitchell, in the chapter "Iceland's New Power" reports on how Iceland is "doing away with fossil fuels in favor of harnessing the mythical energy of hydrogen," and how, in the next couple of decades, they will switch their cars and ships to hydrogen and then won't require any oil.

Dancing at the Dead Sea is a fascinating, sometimes disturbing, book, but it is one which needs to be read.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on November 18, 2004
Format: Paperback
At first glance, this seems a foolish question. All creatures strive for survival. None have ever been known to vote for extinction. Alanna Mitchell, disturbed by what she has observed around the planet, still poses the question to the researchers she meets. Will we soon go extinct through our own thoughtless activities? Will we continue to denude forests of their trees? Will we allow our auto exhausts to melt the polar ice fields? How many other species will we drive into extinction before we follow? These aren't new questions. Nor does Mitchell pose them in any particularly unique way. However, her personal anguish comes through vividly in this string of powerfully evocative essays. As a "new learner" in observing ecological disaster, her concern is one we should all share.

Mitchell is almost unique in her descriptives prowess as she tours the planet's ecological "hot spots". She has discovered Charles Darwin, followed some of his travels and drunk deeply of the wisdom he imparted. The Pierean spring, cautions the cliche, scorns the shallow questor, and Mitchell has followed that dictum. In some haste, she turns to those on the sites for further information. They don't fail her as she watches attempts to restore trees in Madagascar, where only ten percent of the original stands survive. She learns that ancient cultures aren't easily cast aside - the Malagasy think the trees will go on forever. They spend more time and energy following the shrinking forest without considering the possibility that the trees may not be there someday. A familiar outlook, reflecting the energy use in our own society, she reminds us.
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