Trish'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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it was amazing
bookshelves: america, audio, fishing, geography, history, journalism, midwest, nonfiction, totally-unexpected

Egan separates a couple of salient facts by the length of a book, but I here eclipse the space between them:
The Great Lakes are the largest expanse of freshwater in the world.
The Great Lakes are in the midst of a slow-motion ecological catastrophe begun by opening to the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Atlantic.
Freshwater is the world's most precious natural resource.
“The intuition is that a very large lake like this would be slow to respond somehow to climate change. But in fact we’re finding that its particularly sensitive.”
After the last election I became laser-focused on Wisconsin. I watched as a traditionally blue state voted red, and kept Governor Scott Walker and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan in office through severe gerrymandering that could not be reversed even by mandate from federal judges. The Wisconsin gerrymandering case was forced to our country’s highest court, and SCOTUS's decision on the fairness of such twisted districts should be heard before the November 2018 election. But decisions made by the severely gerrymandered Republican legislature has been allowed to impact and will continue to impact Lake Michigan’s watershed at a time when it needs urgent attention.

A proposed $10 billion investment in Paul Ryan's District #1 by Taiwan's Foxconn, maker of touch screens for the iPad, was inked in 2017. Foxconn will use 7 billion gallons of water from Lake Michigan per day, five billion of which will be used outside and not returned to the lake's watershed area. By the end of Egan's book, contracts like this and that made with Waukesha city, a suburb of Milwaukee and also outside the watershed area, take on far greater meaning.

Lake Michigan and the rest of the Great Lakes have been under pressure from invasive species from the Seaway to the north, and from the south through the Sanitary & Ship Canal to the Mississippi. Just when scientists managed to tackle the problems caused by one devastating species, they would encounter another, even more overwhelming, until we arrived where we are now, with toxic algae blooms regularly threatening the water supplies of major cities that use lake water for drinking water.

Besides that, we discover the increases in the lake’s winter temperatures means increases in the lake’s summer temperatures, encouraging evaporation and shrinkage of water area. This, along with pollution of existing supplies and inevitable demands from rapidly drying areas of the country who have gone through their aquifers is increasing the pressures on scientists to refresh and preserve this enormously important natural resource. It requires attention and political support, and one fears what would happen should business-influenced politicians force through compromises that have short-term gains for the few and long term consequences for the many.

Dan Egan is a reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and has been researching and reporting on the Great Lakes for at least a decade. He has done something we rarely encounter: he has made science and history come alive. As I did my own research into the political conditions in Wisconsin, I thought it would be important to learn more about Lake Michigan which plays such an important role in the life and economy of the state but I expected Egan’s book would be struggle to read. Instead I found it completely riveting and hard to put down. When was the last time you said that about a science/geography/history book?

A few years ago I read another nonfiction title, Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown that was similarly involving. Although the history of the Washington crew team competing in the 1936 Olympics in Hitler’s Germany is long over, Brown made the book completely propulsive and un-put-down-able. That is the way I feel about Egan's book.

One threat to the lakes follows another, and our hearts squeeze as we hear of dangers and disasters in the last couple of years. It feels absolutely critical that we pay attention to the resource--freshwater--scientists have been telling us for half a century is in limited supply and which has everything to do with life on earth.

I can’t recommend this title more highly. Egan should definitely be on award lists for this title, and indeed has already scooped a couple. The W.W. Norton paperback came out last month (April 2018) and the Random House Audio production is likewise terrific, narrated by Jason Culp.
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Reading Progress

April 29, 2018 – Started Reading
April 29, 2018 – Shelved
May 3, 2018 –
page 95
26.1% "This is so completely riveting it is difficult to find a place to stop. First the lampreys were addressed by a thoughtful wildlife biologist. Now in the 1960s Northwestern Coho salmon are introduced to handle the alewives, without discussion among the states and Canada, & completely change their normal lifecycle to mature in one year instead of three, and to grow to three or four times the size of northwestern coho."
May 4, 2018 –
page 161
44.23% "I thought this book might drag. Just the opposite. Read it. Just the fact that the Great Lakes hold the largest amount of fresh water IN THE WORLD should remind us, now that this precious resource is being recognized for its life-giving properties, how monumental this is."
May 5, 2018 – Shelved as: america
May 5, 2018 – Shelved as: audio
May 5, 2018 – Shelved as: fishing
May 5, 2018 – Shelved as: geography
May 5, 2018 – Shelved as: history
May 5, 2018 – Shelved as: journalism
May 5, 2018 – Shelved as: midwest
May 5, 2018 – Shelved as: nonfiction
May 5, 2018 – Shelved as: totally-unexpected
May 5, 2018 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-4 of 4 (4 new)

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message 1: by Diane (new)

Diane Wallace Great review, Trish!


Trish This was a truly exciting read. So many things we don't ordinarily care about in our normal day is brought to the fore and made relevant. We see ordinary people facing problems and resolving them...but with the distance time & a greater knowledge brings. Some things they did, and are doing now, look dangerous to the ecosystem of the lakes.


Monica RL has me reading at a much slower pace than usual so I am holding off on reading your review but I'm sure it's fabulous!! ;-) Back in a week or so ...


Trish Oh, you are going to be surprised at how great this book is...and how relevant to all that is going on everywhere.


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