The Austin American-Statesman has teamed up with Kirkus Reviews to bring you select reviews from one of the most trusted and authoritative voices in book discovery. For more from Kirkus, visit www.kirkusreviews.com.
Little, Brown, $30
Overconsumption, not overpopulation, will destroy the planet, but no one except enthusiasts expects us to renounce our meat, cars, single-family houses and air conditioning anytime soon. After traveling the world, journalist Alan Weisman delivers a dozen often painful journalistic essays on efforts to answer four questions: How many people can the Earth hold at a tolerable standard of living? How much ecosystem do humans need; at what point do we eradicate an organism our existence depends upon? Today every nation depends on growth for prosperity. How can we design an economy for a stable population? Is there an acceptable way to convince people of every religion, culture and political system that it’s in their interest to stop having so many children?
Despite the maxim that poor people yearn for huge families, that turns out to be true only for poor men. Poor women mostly yearn for birth control, and Weisman offers heart-rending portrayals of nations already suffering demographic collapse (Pakistan, the Philippines, Uganda and Niger are the worst) and admirable individuals and organizations struggling to help despite little support from national governments or American aid. “I don’t want to cull anyone alive today,” writes the author. “I wish every human now on the planet a long, healthy life. But either we take control ourselves, and humanely bring our numbers down by recruiting few new members of the human race to take our places, or nature’s going to hand out a pile of pink slips.”
Some news is hopeful, and a few nations have taken action, so this is not a jeremiad but a realistic, vividly detailed exploration of the greatest problem facing our species.
Wesiman will be at the Texas Book Festival today, speaking at 2:15 p.m. at the C-SPAN 2/Book TV Tent. Weisman also will speak and sign copies of his book at 7 p.m. Monday at BookPeople, 603 N. Lamar Blvd.
Norman Mailer: A Double Life
J. Michael Lennon
Simon & Schuster, $40
Norman Mailer, writes archivist and authorized biographer J. Michael Lennon, grew up in a reasonably happy family, with a strong mother and dapper father, who, as Mailer wrote, “had the gift of speaking to each woman as if she was the most important woman he’d ever spoken to.” Mailer himself was fairly obsessed with women, though his quest was often thwarted — as he recalled, particularly at Harvard, where he served something of an apprenticeship.
Mailer came into adulthood with a noticeable chip on his shoulder and some well-aired grievances, and he kept the pattern up throughout a long and productive life.
Lennon ably reveals the always-contentious Mailer but also a man who could be generous and very smart. Lennon is also a shrewd literary critic, commenting on the origins and fortunes of Mailer’s works, notably his study of Marilyn Monroe, which laid bare “his narcissism, born of early spectacular success.” Mailer possessed an outsized ego well before then, of course, but the point remains: Though he seems to be little read now, Mailer was of central importance in postwar American writing, as he would have been glad to tell you.
Lennon will speak about Mailer at 1:30 p.m. today in the Capitol Extension Room E2.012