samedi 15 décembre 2012

Field Notes from a Catastrophe

I am rubbish at science.  I really am.  So rubbish, in fact, that when I was at school I simply pretended it didn’t exist – I once went an entire term without doing anything, sitting in lessons and writing stories instead of making notes.  Needless to say, I eventually got busted and it didn’t end well.  Yes, I was a horribly arrogant fourteen-year-old but I’m still a depressingly simplistic person – I only enjoy things that I am good at.  This is why I didn’t learn to drive until I was 28 (and even then only in an automatic), studiously avoid sports of any kind (the solo pursuit of running doesn’t count, as it requires zero coordination), and still skip over the ‘science-y’ articles in the paper.

However, my stepdad’s cousin is the extremely clever and brilliant New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert – a connection of which I am inordinately proud.  I recently had the treat of spending the weekend with Betsy’s equally brilliant parents, Marlene and Gerry, by the end of which I was inspired to read her book about climate change.

Field Notes from a Catastrophe has won a ton of awards and accolades, many of which were for translating the science into easily-graspable layman’s terms without the slightest hint of dumbing down.  So, could this work on even my non-science-y brain?

In a word: yes.  One review quoted in the front says that ‘the prose is as elegant as the facts are stark’ – and I can’t think of a better way of putting it.  Visiting different locations around the world where communities have been affected by climate change makes for an exciting story as well as a useful one, with interviews with scientists to discuss the facts in finer detail.

By the end, I was left feeling much more educated but not in the least taken back to those interminable science lessons I did my best to avoid when I was fourteen.  I recommend this book to anyone, no matter how little you think you are interested – it’s obviously a crucial topic that none of us should be avoiding, and I can’t think of a better way in than this.

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