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Give me the facts, tell me a story, THEN call me to action
on November 20, 2007
I was enticed into purchasing this book by the positive blurbs on the cover by, among others, Jared Diamond. Also, I am basically in the "yes, we must do something" camp with respect to climate, and looked to find a deeper understanding behind this phenomenon.
Overall, this book suffers from the same problem as Flannery's book on North America (The Eternal Frontier). Flannery seems to seize on a conclusion, and then flog his facts in line. In contrast, my impression is that Diamond (or Quammen, or any of a dozen other ecologically focused authors) are much subtler thinkers. That is, they find repeated, compelling narratives that all nudge you in a consistent direction. Flannery doesn't detour to give you the background, he sticks to the straight-and-narrow of his thesis. Myself, I want to have the story told, and the facts emerge: Flannery tells me the facts, and justifies it with stories. There is a difference.
Besides this pedagogical problem, there's a UNITS problem. As an engineer, I appreciate this. But Flannery should have sorted degrees F from C, gigajoules from kilocalories, millions of gallons from cubic km, and while Sverdups are great fun, say what? The scale of problems, and their interrelations, is just a plain frank mess in this book.
Yes, the book is largely right in its conclusions. Yes, it is laudable in its passion.
Sorry: in my opinion it is flawed in its tone and execution. It ends up being, in my mind, ALMOST as flawed with ideology as the idiots he'd oppose -- and the high motives are obscured by a lack of care with consistent comparisons.