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Date of Publication: 2000
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The River That Flows Uphill: A Journey from the Big Bang to the Big Brain Paperback – January 17, 2001


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Neurobiologist and novelist (The Throwing Madonna Calvin uses a 14-day voyage through the Grand Canyonin the company of fellow scientistsas a vehicle for discoursing on earth history and evolution. This is a superb account of the river journey as a wilderness adventure. Generally, his forays into scientific subjects come naturallyhere are rock formations, fossils, Indian ruinsbut occasionally the essays seem forced. Calvin ruminates on the aquatic ape, juvenile traits, monogamy as a survival strategy, language and music in brain development, pain. He also makes trenchant remarks about the awarding of research grants and committee decision-making. All of this is deftly woven into that marvelous river trip (which, he confesses, was really four voyages); but his artifice is successfulreaders who enjoy adventure stories may discover they also enjoy good scientific writing. Fans of Stephen Jay Gould and Lewis Thomas will find Calvin equally stimulating. Illustrations. Prentice-Hall Book Clubs main selection.
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Conversations with imaginary companions during an actual float trip down the Colorado River provide the structure upon which this discourse on evolution and its relation to the environment is built. Successive geological strata exposed by the river's slice through the Grand Canyon spur discussions among the voyagers, who contribute details from the scientific disciplines they represent. Calvin, author of Inside the Brain and The Throwing Madonna , provides little new information here. Rather, the book's value lies in its unique interweaving of geology, human evolution, anthropology, and ecology in a clear time setting. A fine example of science writing for the interested layperson. Highly recommended for general collections. Frank Reiser, Biology Dept., Nassau Community Coll., Garden City, N.Y.
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 548 pages
  • Publisher: iUniverse (January 17, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0595167004
  • ISBN-13: 978-0595167005
  • Product Dimensions: 7.2 x 1.4 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,171,310 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

William H. Calvin, Ph.D., is a professor emeritus at the University of Washington School of Medicine, now affiliated with the Program on Climate Change of the College of the Environment. He is the author of Global Fever: How to Treat Climate Change (University of Chicago Press 2008, see Global-Fever.org) and thirteen earlier books for general readers. He studies brain circuitry, ape-to-human evolution, climate change, and civilization's vulnerability to abrupt shocks.

In Global Fever, he writes: "The climate doctors have been consulted; the lab reports have come back. Now it's time to pull together the Big Picture and discuss treatment options. At a time when architects are thinking ahead to more efficient buildings and power planners are extolling the virtues of "renewable energy," the climate modelers have discovered that long-term planning will no longer suffice. Our fossil fuel fiasco has already painted us into a corner such that, if we don't make substantial near-term gains before 2020, the long-term is pre-empted, the efforts all for naught. We are already in dangerous territory and have to act quickly to avoid triggering widespread catastrophes. The only good analogy is arming for a great war, doing what must be done regardless of cost and convenience."

His climate talk in Beijing at the Great Hall of the People is available in streaming video as are other recent lectures at NASA and Rice University.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 5, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Fascinating! An excellent overview of what is "known", according to available evidence, about how life - particularly humans - evolved, along with some extremely intriguing theories yet unproved (although the "aquatic ape" hypothesis was being taught when I studied anthropology 20 years ago! Indeed - dig Danakil!). All set like a metaphor within the context of a 2-week rafting trip through the Grand Canyon with insight into its evolution. On the other hand, the "metaphor" can also be put the other way around. Look at man's evolution in the context of that of the Grand Canyon. It's really food for thought. Might be a bit of a hard chew in certain spots for those without a certain level of knowledge or interest in natural science, but the level required is not THAT high and Calvin explains clearly and succinctly enough to follow if you take time to read any troublesome passages twice. Popular science writing at its best. It is humbling and awesome to contemplate our existence as he explains it. The marvel of man owes so much to a certain - serendipity - that one must believe in a creative force swirling and pushing towards ever more interesting development, even if one does not believe in a "God" per se (or if one does believe in Gods, to borrow from a popular film, "they must be crazy"). The "chaotic" (stoachistic) concepts he describes are particularly intriguing. The idea that many of the traits and abilities that make us so "superior" are actually "hitchhikers"; unexpected benefits of adaptations to challenges completely unrelated to what they eventually turned out good for.Read more ›
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 17, 1997
Format: Paperback
Calvin does science writing that is a pleasure to read. This account of floating the Grand Canyon on rubber rafts is all wrapped up in a wide sweep of natural history. My only criticism is his constant diversions to his own personal views on population control and environmentalism. He brings up these topics with all the fervor of a true religious believer, though they have little to do with the topic of the book. This is a strange diversion for a book which otherwise sticks close to a scientific outlook. Good scientists (like most of us) have a difficult time separating their own religious ideology from their science.

Read it anyway. This book is a playground of stimulating ideas
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Scribbler on July 11, 2012
Format: Paperback
The review by "A Customer" more than adequately reflects my thoughts on this book. (I read the review several years after first reading the book.) The one thing I want to add is that over the years I have told many people that "River" is the finest NF book that I have ever read, and I have purchased copies of the book for friends and family members. The author covers many topics (geology, cosmology, archeology, etc.) that I have more than a lay interest in, and he presents each subject area in a highly readable fashion and, finally, attempts to tie a lot of seemingly disparate scientific arenas together. All in all, a superb book that you can re-read every five years and find something new each time.
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