The author of Dirt and Oak brings to life this quickest, most sustaining, most communicative element of the Earth.
Air sustains the living. Every creature breathes to live, exchanging and changing the atmosphere. Water and dust spin and rise, make clouds and fall again, fertilizing the dirt. Twenty thousand fungal spores and half a million bacteria travel in a square foot of summer air. The chemical sense of aphids, the ultraviolet sight of swifts, a newborn’s awareness of its mother’s breast - all take place in the medium of air. Ignorance of the air is costly. The artist Eva Hesse died of inhaling her fiberglass medium. Thousands were sickened after 9/11 by supposedly “safe” air. The African Sahel suffers drought in part because we fill the air with industrial dusts. With the passionate narrative style and wide-ranging erudition that have made William Bryant Logan’s work a touchstone for nature lovers and environmentalists, Air is - like the contents of a bag of seaborne dust that Darwin collected aboard the Beagle - a treasure trove of discovery.
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Thorough and varied, but hit or miss
A little heavier on the science and less on personal asides.
A little too much whimsy mixed in with the science for my personal tastes. That said, for other readers it might be just the right combination. The author is clearly enamored of his topic and has taken great pains to range far and wide with his discussion of air. My personal preferences mean that the chapters on science (from atmosphere to microbes, from spores to weather, from the mechanics of flight to the wonders of respiration) were my favorite. Some of the other chapters (the sky as depicted in art, memory and the sense of smell, how we interact with sound), were hit or miss. I do not begrudge an author waxing poetic, but only to a point. Some of the science in these other chapters were interspersed with a bit too much personal narrative (I would have preferred more information and less memoir). Still, the author has an approachable (if occasionally overwrought) writing style and the book would read well for a layperson as he tries to make the science digestible.
- S. Yates