Grady McCallie's Reviews > The Death and Life of the Great Lakes

The Death and Life of the Great Lakes by Dan Egan
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In his introduction to this book, Egan takes the relatively unusual step of preemptively telling the reader that they’ve probably misunderstood what his book will be about: not the poisoning of the lakes with industrial effluent between 1870 and 1970, followed by a resurrection after enactment of the federal Clean Water Act in 1972. Instead, Egan says,

The story of The Death and Life of the Great Lakes takes you beneath the lakes’ shimmering surface and illuminates an ongoing and unparalleled ecological unraveling of what is arguably North America’s most precious natural resource. It’s about how the Great Lakes were resuscitated after a century’s worth of industrial abuse only to be hit with an even more vexing environmental catastrophe.


Which is certainly truth in advertising. The book is really a selective history of the havoc wrought by invasive species in the lakes: lamphreys (alewives), chinook salmon, zebra and quagga mussels, gobies, and unnamed fish viruses. He also spends time on the potential for several kinds of carp to invade the lakes from the Mississippi. One chapter throws some attention to the Great Lakes waters wars - the question of whether the current compact will succeed in protecting the lakes from being drained by thirsty communities beyond the basin. Another chapter discusses the toxic algal blooms in Lake Erie that have plagued Toledo, but these are outliers from the book’s main theme.

The main policy takeaway from the book is that we ought to close the canals between the St. Lawrence Seaway and the lakes, and between the Mississippi and the lakes. A relatively tiny amount of commerce moves along these channels, and the prospect of introducing another devastating exotic species through either one is high. Any reasonable cost-benefit analysis should support closing off the canals. That thesis is only slightly undermined by recent good news: the manmade alewife/chinook food web that has dominated the lakes for the last fifty years is in the process of collapsing, allowing a resurgence of native fish.

Stylewise, Egan’s writing is lively and journalistic. The book was cobbled together (with significant additional research) from his previously-published articles; a minor annoyance is that in several places the seams are showing, with information re-shared as though for the first time. But that is minor, and Egan makes a strong case that we should make greater effort to prevent invasions by exotic species, in the Great Lakes and everywhere else.
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Reading Progress

June 2, 2017 – Shelved
June 2, 2017 – Shelved as: to-read
Started Reading
October 3, 2017 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-3 of 3 (3 new)

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message 1: by Peter (new)

Peter Gehred Great review on an important topic! Thanks.

"The book was cobbled together (with significant additional research) from previously-published articles; a minor annoyance is that in several places the seams are showing, with information re-shared as though for the first time. " - This makes the case for what I've thought since 2003 and the rise of Wikipedia: There should be more open source inputs for books/articles/reports.

Hope life is well with you Grady!


Grady McCallie Ah - the way I wrote that may have been unintentionally misleading. The ‘previously published articles’ were Egan’s own - he mentions that in his acknowledgements. Where he relies on other sources, he takes great pains to cite them. I’ll add a ‘his’ to the key sentence in my review to clarify.

I’m doing well, and hope you are also! I’ve appreciated your recent Facebook posts.


message 3: by Peter (new)

Peter Gehred Well throw a like at me on Facebook, or even a comment, if that's so! ;-)

I'm not saying he plagiarized, I'm saying that—as an inveterate typo typer—we could all us a free, cloud-based editing service!

Be well.


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