Thomas's Reviews > Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change

Field Notes from a Catastrophe by Elizabeth Kolbert
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Feb 20, 2008

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Read in January, 2006

Review from "Winds of Change," but it works here, too!

A competent but unadventuresome tour of the state of global warming science and media coverage thereof, circa 2006. Linden was a longtime environmental writer at Time, and one of the first "big" journalists to start covering global warming on a regular basis, and the several chapters that deal with the history of climate change in the media are excellent and fascinating. But this really-quite-decent book is most notable, unfortunately, for coming out at just about exactly the same time as, and being totally overshadowed by, Elizabeth Kolbert's juggernaut of global warming book, Field Notes from a Catastrophe.

(I thought [a minority opinion, to be sure] that Kolbert's book was competent but unadventuresome also--just how unoriginal Kolbert's book was is highlighted by the literally dozens of sections where the two books treat the same material in practically identical ways. But that's another story. Anyway, Linden's book is just as good if not a little better, because he provides richer social/political context for the scientific material they both cover. But timing+marketing means a lot in publishing, and Kolbert won this particular battle of the magazine writers.

Tangentially, Tim Flannery's The Weather Makers, which also came out at the same time, is way more interesting, way more original, and way more inflammatory to boot. Amusingly, given that he's a scientist and the other two are writers, Flannery's book is much better written, but also plays more loosely with the line between what is known and not known. I'd recommend Kolbert for a primer on basic climate change science, Linden for that plus more of the social, political and media context, and Flannery if you already know a fair amount of that stuff and are up for a more intellectual, idiosyncratic and enjoyable take on all that, plus some powerful sections on the need for action, and what that action ought to be.

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message 1: by William (new)

William wow, tom -- that is so efficient -- overlapping reviews of 3 related books. Irene would be proud of you. and we potential readers appreciate your differentiating the 3 books so clearly for us. perhaps kolbert's book was more successful because she had first written articles on the topic in the new yorker. we should send copies of these books to the president of general motors, who said a few days ago that all the fooforaw about climate change and global warming was so much bullsh*t. speaking of irony -- he said this at the unveiling of gm's new electric car, the volt. do we need any further explanation of the decline of the american car industry?

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