Field Notes from a Catastrophe Man, Nature, and Climate Change

Elizabeth Kolbert

Bloomsbury USA



240 Pages


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An American Library Association Notable Book of the Year Americans have been warned since the late 1970s that the buildup of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere threatens to melt the polar ice sheets and irreversibly change our climate. With little done since then to alter this dangerous path, the world has reached a critical threshold. By the end of the twenty-first century, it will likely be hotter than at any point in the last two million years, and the sweeping consequences of this change will determine the course of life on earth for generations to come. In writing that is both clear and unbiased, journalist Elizabeth Kolbert approaches this problem from every angle. She travels to the Arctic, interviews researchers and environmentalists, explains the science and the studies, draws frightening parallels to lost ancient civilizations, unpacks the politics, and presents the personal tales of those who are being affected most—the people who make their homes near the poles and, in the eerie foreshadowing, are watching their worlds disappear.  Growing out of a three-part series for the New Yorker, Field Notes from a Catastrophe brings the environment into the consciousness of the American people and asks what, if anything, can be done to save our planet.


Praise for Field Notes from a Catastrophe

"[Elizabeth Kolbert's] research is thorough. She gleaned much of her information from personal interviews and visits to localities around the world. Although she is clearly distressed by the lack of concern of the Bush administration about global warming and climate change, Kolbert tends not to use alarmist language to argue for a particular viewpoint, choosing instead to let her stories and interviews do the talking. That is an effective approach to a topic that could, in less-skilled hands, make for dull reading. And by the end of the book, the reader will have no doubt that the problem is a serious one."—Doug Macdougall, The Chronicle of Higher Education
"The hard, cold, sobering facts about global warming and its effects on the environment that sustains us. Kolbert's Field Notes from a Catastrophe is nothing less than a Silent Spring for our time."—T. C. Boyle, author of Drop City
"Reporters talk about the trial of the decade or the storm of the century. But for the planet we live on, the changes now unfolding are of a kind and scale that have not been seen in thousands of years—not since the retreat of the last ice age. In Field Notes from a Catastrophe, Elizabeth Kolbert gives us a clear, succinct, and invaluable report from the front. Even if you have followed the story for years, you will want to read it. And if you know anyone who still does not understand the reality and the scale of global warming, you will want to give them this book."—Jonathan Weiner, author of The Beak of the Finch

"In this riveting view of the apocalypse already upon us, Kolbert mesmerizes with her poetic cadence."—Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., author of Crimes Against Nature

"Reading Field Notes from a Catastrophe during the 2005 hurricane season is what it must have been like to read Silent Spring forty years ago. When you put down this book, you'll see the world through different eyes."—Sylvia Nasar, author of A Beautiful Mind

"This country needs more writers like Elizabeth Kolbert."—Jonathan Franzen, author of The Corrections

"On the burgeoning shelf of cautionary but occasionally alarmist books warning about the consequences of dramatic climate change, Kolbert's calmly persuasive reporting stands out for its sobering clarity. Expanding on a three-part series for the New Yorker, Kolbert lets facts rather than polemics tell the story: in essence, it's that Earth is now nearly as warm as it has been at any time in the last 420,000 years and is on the precipice of an unprecedented 'climate regime, one with which modern humans have had no prior experience.' An inexorable increase in the world's average temperature means that butterflies, which typically restrict themselves to well-defined climate zones, are now flitting where they've never been found before; that nearly every major glacier in the world is melting rapidly; and that the prescient Dutch are already preparing to let rising oceans reclaim some of their land. In her most pointed chapter, Kolbert chides the U.S. for refusing to sign on to the Kyoto Accord. In her most upbeat chapter, Kolbert singles out Burlington, Vt., for its impressive energy-saving campaign, which ought to be a model for the rest of the nation—just as this unbiased overview is a model for writing about an urgent environmental crisis."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

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Elizabeth Kolbert was a reporter for the New York Times for fourteen years before becoming a staff writer covering politics for the New Yorker.  She and her husband, John Kleiner, have three sons. They live in Williamstown, MA.
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  • Elizabeth Kolbert

  • Elizabeth Kolbert was a reporter for the New York Times for fourteen years before becoming a staff writer covering politics for the New Yorker. She and her husband, John Kleiner, have three sons. They live in Williamstown, MA.
  • Elizabeth Kolbert Barry Goldstein
    Elizabeth Kolbert