Book Review: THE END OF NIGHT

Standard

download.jpegI saw The End of Night for the first time on our recent family trip. We had just hiked the Hermit’s Rest Trail on the Grand Canyon’s South Rim, then took a shuttle bus back to the parking area to get out of the rain. In the gift shop, I noticed the book’s cover—all indigo sky and swirled starlight—and wished we’d planned for another night at the canyon so we could experience its darkness; instead, a four-hour drive to Boulder City loomed ahead. Next to the book were signs about light pollution, a term I’d heard of but didn’t really know anything about. I took a picture of the book so I’d remember to buy it eventually, once I finished the (literally) hundreds of other books on my to-read list.

But this book niggled at me. Walking home from the train station, I’d look up at the sky and think, I see a star! Then realize it was just a plane. There’s surely light pollution here, I thought, along with all the regular pollution in New York City. I found myself researching the logistics of a 2018 trip to Sark, an island off the coast of Normandy that I knew had been designated the world’s first dark sky island (no cars, no trucks, lighting designed to minimize light pollution, which is technically defined as excessive artificial light that taints the darkness of the sky, trespasses where it doesn’t belong or isn’t needed, or causes glare and visual discomfort). Within two weeks of our return home, I ordered The End of Night.

In my opinion, the book successfully achieves the goal of nonfiction: with every chapter, I learned something new, and the author relays his information in a way that feels like a story, with a cast of characters (experts, scientists, the author as narrator) I cared to hear from and a setting that ranged from Las Vegas to the desert to, yes, even Sark. In each place, author Paul Bogard searches for a truly dark sky, or talks to someone who can shed light (ha, ha) on some big related questions: How much artificial light (think security lights, gas station lights, street lights) do we need? Is there really a correlation between light and safety? How are night-shift workers affected by artificial light? How does darkness protect species, the planet? And, maybe most important, how can we ever know darkness if we don’t experience it?

Bogard, an associate professor of English and a dark sky enthusiast, tackles these issues and more in his well-researched book. It often reads like poetry rather than nonfiction; even the fact-heavy portions kept me engaged and interested. Bogard’s writing moved me, both in its skillful wielding of language and the weightiness of its content. Plus, I also really enjoyed the book’s cleverness: I only realized partway through that the chapters are numbered backward from 9 to 1 to correspond with the Bartle scale of darkness (9 = brightest sky, like that over Vegas or NYC; 1 = darkest sky, which can be found in the U.S. in only two remaining locations).

The more of this book that I read, the more I wanted to read, and the more I wanted to know how I could help protect the night sky—an important endeavor that not enough people are aware of. I’d really encourage you to check out this book if you’re looking for a good, meaningful read; I promise it will change the way you look at the world around you.

I’ll leave you with one of the many passages I starred while reading The End of Night:

“In the mythology of countless cultures, the hero is called one a journey that must include an experience of a dark time or dark place. For the Greek hero Perseus that meant venturing to kill the Gorgon, Medusa, but many different stories have the same message about the value of experience darkness. Are we to imagine that these heroes—heroes we were to model ourselves after—felt no fear? I bet Perseus was scared, and that the same was true of other real heroes in other cultures. Because if he wasn’t, why would I believe his story? Why would I follow his lead? What would I learn about real life, my life, this life now—a lift that has plenty of fear? With all our lights we push away our fear, and by pushing away our fear, we are a little less alive.”

Advertisements

One-Sentence Book Reviews

Standard

So far I’ve read 20 books in 2016. That’s almost halfway to my goal of 50 reads this year. I’m making good progress, and I’ve found some real gems; some of the titles I’ve delved into recently were just so good that I lingered over them, not wanting them to end. Now I’m on book 21: The Magician King by Lev Grossman. It’s the second installment in his popular trilogy, which is also currently a show on SyFy. I haven’t yet decided whether I prefer the books or the TV series. In the meantime, here are some short reviews to help you decide what to pick up next: Continue reading

Book Review: Behind the Beautiful Forevers

Standard

In January, I read six books. That sounds impressive, but The Strange Library falls more into the short-story category and Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library was a children’s book. I skimmed a few parts of The Leftovers and Restoration where they started to drag, and The Fate of Mercy Alban, a murder-horror-romance guilty pleasure, required barely more effort than it took to turn the pages. But one nonfiction book, Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Slum, will have a place in my thoughts and in my heart for a long time.
Continue reading

Book Review: Savage Harvest by Carl Hoffman

Standard

Savage Harvest book coverI only purchased this book because I read a short excerpt in my National Geographic magazine and thought maybe it sounded interesting. I had never heard of Michael Rockefeller’s disappearance in New Guinea in 1961 on a trip to collect art for his father’s new Museum of Primitive Art. I didn’t know that his boat had capsized or that he tried to swim to shore or that the most prevalent rumor about his death was that he had been killed and eaten by one of the New Guinea tribes.

I learned a lot from Savage Harvest, which really drew me in with its sprawling vistas and cultural questions. Did the tribes of New Guinea know the truth about Rockefeller’s death? Would they reveal their secrets to Hoffman as he delved deeper into their culture and into their lives? The narrative expertly wove together Hoffman’s quest for answers with an account of Rockefeller’s journey, and it didn’t skimp on historical background.

Continue reading