Monthly Archives: June 2014

“Walden Warming – Climate Change Comes to Thoreau’s Woods” by Richard Primack

Henry David Thoreau has been part of my life for a long time. My mother quoted him. So did my minister. We read some of his writing in high school, more in college. And I am a New Englander. Walden Pond is located in woods just like those I played and camped in as a child. But until I read this book, I never thought about the impact of global warming on Walden Pond, and on “my” woods.

Dr. Richard Primack is an academic botanist with decades of research experience, but his work around Walden Pond began only about ten years ago. Looking for an “angle” from which to study the impact of climate change on plants, Primack learned that Thoreau, most commonly thought of as an author and philosopher, was a dedicated naturalist who kept detailed records about the plants and animals around him. The crucial pieces of data related to dates – when did the winter ice leave Walden Pont, when did plants leaf out, blossom and set fruit? Having an “old” data set allows for comparison with present conditions. Yes, it can be documented that climate change is having an impact on plants. (And so are many other actions, especially development.)

Primack moved on from plants to insects, using data from Thoreau and other early naturalists. When he ran out of records, he turned to the world’s great insect collections, reading the dates on specimens, from which emergence data can be construed.

Primack repeatedly referred to “analyzing” data, but didn’t really say how. I assume he looked for statistical correlations, but wonder if he also engaged in mathematical modeling, to me a mysterious but potentially useful “black box” endeavor. 

Primack also studied climate impact on birds, bees, butterflies, fish and frogs. Only a person with tremendous energy and a steady supply of graduate students could cover so much physical and intellectual territory.

I was totally taken by surprise when Primack discussed the impact of climate change on humans by analyzing data from the Boston Marathon! 

His last chapter, on solutions to global warming, wasn’t really needed. So many people are addressing that topic. But I would say Primack is entitled to hold forth, since he produced so much well written discussion in Walden Warming. His ideas about introducing southern wild plant species to New England are intriguing.

This book, which I highly recommend, is right on the line between “popular” and “scientific”. I hope Primack continues to write in both veins, since he has valuable information to impart.

“How Soccer Explains the World – an unlikely theory of globalization” by Franklin Foer

HAPPY first day of the World Cup 2014, in Brazil!

I didn’t mean to read this book. I bought it in a used bookstore, thinking it would appeal to my husband, but the real truth is that, if he wants a book, he already has it, so How Soccer Explains the World was low on his reading list. I snagged it in desperation when my Kindle died (see previous post). 

I was shocked to find I was reading a serious book. The cover looked warm and fuzzy (Buddhist monks watching a distant soccer match). Fortunately I read the prologue first, which said the chapters were ordered (roughly) from most serious to most optimistic.

The character of the book is also foreshadowed by its subtitle, an (unlikely) theory of globalization. To discuss globalization, it is necessary to analyze nationalism. This book combines journalism and political science to cover these subjects.

The first few chapters of the book, which dealt with soccer hooliganism, were depressing. Or frightening, depending on your mood. Chapter 1, “How soccer explains the Gangster’s Paradise” deals with the former state of Yugoslavia. Chapter 2, “How soccer explains the Pornography of Sects”, addresses the unfinished Reformation, being played out between Protestants and Catholics in England, Scotland and Ireland.

Country by country, Foer dissects sport and sociology around the world. My favorite chapter describes soccer as “Islam’s Hope”. The women of Iran refused to stay home when their national team was winning.

This book is ten years old, and Foer has not published a comprehensive follow up. I really just want someone to tell me if things are getting better or worse… Foer’s Jewish Jocks, published in 2012, sounds interesting.

Now I’m going to watch the second half of Brazil vs. Croatia.

My Kindle Died

My Kindle died! Maybe I killed it. I took it almost everywhere, and that included camping on Memorial Day weekend. A thundershower was closing in and we tossed everything under a convenient canopy before taking shelter in my brother-in-law’s Jeep.

My Kindle did NOT get wet! Damp, perhaps… But more likely it got torqued. It was in a bag full of miscellaneous food items… Do not pack your Kindle with canned goods. Half the screen was frozen with black streaks. Turning it off and back on and other interventions accomplished no improvement.

I shouldn’t complain. My Kindle was showing wear. I bought it three years ago, and found it wonderful for travel. Yes, I need six books for a week at the beach. Maybe more. I also appreciated the instant gratification of shopping in the Kindle store and the convenience of not having to remember to drive to a library. (I patronize several, none actually in my daily orbit.)

I was just plain shocked to be interrupted mid-book. For two or three days I compensated by writing in my journal. It’s not as if my house is short of books, but many fall into some inconvenient category –

  • already been read
  • reflecting someone else’s interests
  • I’m supposed to be interested but I’m not
  • purchased by mistake
  • given by someone with good intentions…

You know what I mean. Finally I yanked down a copy of Terry Pratchett’s Wintersmith. Great for bedtime or the odd moment when eating lunch. Pratchett’s wacky humor stands up pretty well. I wish I had a copy of The Wee Free Men.

After a week or so, I snapped out of my funk and ordered a new Kindle, a Paperwhite, the kind that lights up. I also found a stack of relatively new, unread books, and settled down with some good journalistic non-fiction. Stay tuned for a blog entry shortly. And a connoisseur’s evaluation of the Kindle Paperwhite!