The Devil's Element, by Dan Egan

Staff Pick

In 1969 the shock of the Cuyahoga River (among others) bursting into flames prompted passage of the Clean Water Act. But even in that era of political will, agriculture was given a pass; chemical fertilizers were crucial to the industrial farming needed to feed the growing human population, so their usage wasn’t regulated. As Egan shows in this urgent account of our relationship with phosphorus, this lapse set in motion some of today’s most intransigent problems, notably the growing size and numbers of toxic algae blooms, whose thick waves of cyanobacteria close beaches and fisheries around the countryYet even as marine life continues to die and humans to sicken, phosphate levels keep rising. To understand the problem, Egan takes us on a fast-paced tour of the confounding nature of this “devil’s element,” tracing its role as both a toxin and a crucial element in the evolution and sustenance of earthly life, a nonrenewable resource vulnerable to ruinous exploitation, a World War I weapon, whitener in laundry detergent, and more.


The Devil's Element: Phosphorus and a World Out of Balance By Dan Egan Cover Image
ISBN: 9781324002666
Availability: In Stock—Click for Locations
Published: W. W. Norton & Company - March 7th, 2023

The Last Cold Place, by Naira de Gracia

Staff Pick

The reality of five months at an Antarctic research camp is constant wind and cold, cramped and damp cabin quarters with four other people and wet socks hanging from the ceiling. It’s a shower every two weeks and no days off.  But it’s also magical snowscapes, “a momentary rainbow” in sunlit sea foam, penguins with personality to spare, the privilege of holding seal pups absorbed in REM dreams, and much more. Demonstrating how “wonder is the fire behind” so much science, de Gracia found her own wonder only increasing as she tirelessly counted, weighed, measured, “pumped,” and banded chinstrap and gentoo penguins during a summer at Cape Shirreff. Her account is as beautiful as it is brutal, showing us twilight’s “dramatic, angled shadows,” elaborate penguin pebble nests (and the bowing ceremonies that accompany their construction), and the fledglings leaping into the sea--but also penguin chicks devoured by skuas, fur-seal pups snatched by leopard seals, a yearly decrease of ice and, most threatening of all, unstable krill populations. To a future field technician, de Gracia warns “you will probably be heartbroken.”

The Last Cold Place: A Field Season Studying Penguins in Antarctica By Naira de Gracia Cover Image
ISBN: 9781982182755
Availability: In Stock—Click for Locations
Published: Scribner - April 4th, 2023

Enchantment, by Katherine May

Staff Pick

Along with many other pandemic survivors, May finds herself facing a glut of anxiety, alienation, lack of concentration, and other maladies as she struggles to regain some kind of normality. Looking back over her life, she traces the problem to the loss of the nurturing sense of wonder she felt as a child, noting that what used to have a timeless and absolute meaning available to all--“sacred places,” for instance—"are no longer given to us.” And as she details her effort to restore this lost enchantment—through means including meditation, swimming, forest bathing, and stories—her heartfelt and wholly relatable book becomes a welcome example of magical thinking in the best sense, and one filled with descriptions that are themselves literary magic, from a sea that’s “a quilt of wave crests” and the stones that “have a pure kind of weight to them, like small concentrations of gravity,” to the “delicate” stream water that “tastes of clarity.”


Enchantment: Awakening Wonder in an Anxious Age By Katherine May Cover Image
ISBN: 9780593329993
Availability: In Stock—Click for Locations
Published: Riverhead Books - February 28th, 2023