Even if you don’t particularly care about wolves, and even if you cannot picture the Yellowstone Park vistas that feature prominently in the book, I bet you will love American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West. It follows a female wolf named “06” so as not to anthropomorphize her, but the author quickly lapses into portraying her and her pack as very real characters, so we root for her all the way to her death, when she is shot by a hunter. The story of the pack is interspersed with stories of the legal disputes around reintroducing wolves into the park, and descriptions of the rapid changes to the environment brought about by the arrival of that keystone species, but the real story is that of the pack. There’s also a sympathetic and delightful portrait of a park employee who observed wolves for decades, every day, and shared his knowledge with visitors (and, likely, drove his supervisors crazy!)
It reminded me of another inspiring book about wolves, A Wolf Called Romeo.
The Cloudspotter’s Guide: The Science, History, and Culture of Clouds is a highly idiosyncratic compendium of, well, clouds, from cumulus to cirrus, with all the species and varieties thereof. It mixes science, some quite serious, with art and even a visit to a fish market (you will have to read the book to understand that one), so it’s never dull. But there are problems. The first one is serious. It turns out that the taxonomy of clouds is very complex but the book’s organization (one cloud per chapter) and its small format and smaller yet pictures make it very challenging for uninformed readers to conceive of the differences between cloud types, let alone remember them. The other problem is geographic. The author is British and, of course, takes most of his examples from British clouds. California just does not have the same clouds!
The New Wild: Why Invasive Species Will Be Nature’s Salvation takes an unusual and refreshing take on invasive species. It turns out that they can be good for everyone, people, other species, and the ecosystem in which they arrive. The author give plenty of examples of lovely settings that are composed in great part (and, sometimes, solely) of non-native species, as well as entirely native ecosystems that went extinct. Along the way, he questions what “native” really means (not much, at least with a long enough time view) and whether human intervention is ever required to referee competitions between established and new species. Sure, we need to clean up our mess, but messing with species balance seems to be a fool’s errand.
The Wallcreeper is the funnily told story of not very much: a confused young woman who follows her husband to Europe and simultaneously expects him to support her from his decidedly corporate job and expects herself to save the birds and the rest of the environment. When he decides to join the environmental fight, she balks. And they sleep around. Despite the score of unusual hangers-on, I had difficulty forming any kind of attachments to the main characters, so the story did not work well for me.
American Catch: The Fight for Our Local Seafood is organized in a series of chapters focused on various types of seafood, from salmon to oysters to shrimp, and the author tells many interesting stories of, for instance, the revival of the New York oyster and the way Alaskan salmon is processed. The thesis of the book is that Americans should be eating our own fish and shellfish — but that does not necessarily make sense. Sure, there’s no reason to tolerate dire water pollution that kills shrimp or oysters to instead import shellfish, but I see nothing wrong in exporting Alaskan salmon and importing farmed fish if that is what consumers prefer, and can afford.
A very interesting book with a somewhat flawed approach.
Under the Surface: Fracking, Fortunes, and the Fate of the Marcellus Shale is the sober tale of how extracting natural gas from the Marcellus Shale of the title (in Pennsylvania and New York state) was conducted as a real-time experiment, from the “land men” who convinced hard-up farmers to sell their rights to mine the land to the various mishaps of drilling and production, including exploding toilets, heavy trucks at all hours on what was a quiet landscape, and, more worrisome, the enormous impact of an extraction process that needs vertiginous amounts of water and needs some place to dispose of the used water, laden with the mysterious chemicals required for the fracking. It’s the classic tragedy of the early adopters not realizing what they signed up for, both for the individual farmers who just needed a little income supplement and did not foresee the monster drills in their backyards, and for the local and state governments whose regulations were designed for standard wells, not the newfangled kind.
Written by a journalist with a deluge of facts, figures, and dates so on the tedious side as the story develops.