The publishing industry is fairly well known for being afraid of nonfiction environmental books, especially on subjects like global warming. What a snooze, publishers often think. Moreover, they have data to show that a number of books on this subject have not sold particularly well in the past. (What data? Er, I don't know precisely, but trust me, they have it.) Anyway, that's why I've been watching the fate of Tim Flannery's The Weather Makers and Elizabeth Kolbert's Field Notes From a Catastrophe quite closely. Neither has appeared on any bestseller lists yet, so far as I know. But Flannery is in the top 100 on Amazon, and Kolbert is around 200. That ain't nothing. So, perhaps one of these global warming books will finally be the runaway success that I've been expecting and waiting for. They have certainly gotten a lot of attention. Or, perhaps that distinction will fall to another author. But I have little doubt that as the salience of global warming continues to grow, someone will find a way to write about it in order to achieve a big market success. (And then everybody else will pile on.) Meanwhile, the latest Seed contained a brief unsigned review, written by yours truly, of Kolbert's book, which I very much enjoyed. Here's my take:
Adapted from a series of New Yorker articles, Kolbert's book provides colorful dispatches from the front lines of climate change. By visiting with research teams in far-flung places, she successfully weaves the latest scientific observations of ongoing climate change into a fluid travelogue. All is keenly observed and often deeply memorable, as when one Arctic scientist remarks that melting permafrost creates tipsy, "drunken trees." Kolbert manages to provide ample context for her narrative but, as even she admits, a book as slim as Field Notes can only present a small sampling of the diverse ways in which global warming is altering (or will alter) the earth. Nevertheless, the picture she draws is compelling, and very scary.