The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light, by Paul Bogard

The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light, by Paul Bogard
Publisher: Little, Brown, & Company
ISBN: 0316182907
336 pages, hardcover
Published July 2013
Source: Goodreads First-Reads

Since I was young I have loved the night sky, gazing up at the lovely stars. Years later when I had the opportunity to be outside in a small village and the Bush of Botswana, I realized that until then I had never seen true night. Not only were these stars of the Southern Hemisphere different, but there were so many more. I was bathed in their glow and I found that I could even see the Milky Way, something that prior I had never comprehended. Yet even then, there in the heart of Africa, light pollution was evident, blazing along the horizon from distant mining industry.

The End of the Night talks about light pollution, about how most people are born, live, and die without ever experiencing an actual night, actual darkness, free of artificial light. I was aware of the effects of modern electric light on star-gazing, and even a bit on its adverse health effects, but Bogard takes the story far beyond these issues alone to shed light into all aspects of darkness, literal and even figurative.

Bogard writes both well and passionately, suffusing the text with a glow of caring and hope, even amid factoids that can be downright depressing regarding how ubiquitous and how horrible our way of artificially lighting our lives is done. The book is about light as much as it is about darkness, starting at one of the brightest spots on Earth, Las Vegas, and slowly counting down chapter numbers, dimming the focus on light and raising the focus on dark to the final reflections in quiet blackness.

After the initial astronomical discussions, Bogard turns to examining how two large European cities, London and Paris of course, have utilized light in different ways, with very different effects. He addresses the issue that most lighting we use is too strong and too wasteful, both economically and energetically. He discusses findings that demonstrate that all this light we clamor for in fear, all in the name of ‘safety’, actually has the opposite effect.

The most interesting chapter occurs halfway through the book with exploration of light and darkness in the metaphorical sense, and the psychological needs we humans have for darkness and for both sides of related things characterized so dualistically. Another chapter focusing on what people can do to change how we misuse light and foolishly banish darkness completes the tour of this book, leaving the last chapters almost like an epilogue, finding bits of darkness still close to home, and hope that it will still exist in the future, perhaps even return to our daily lives.

Riding the bus while reading this I noticed all the lights blaring inside, lights still on outside in parking lots, lights shining from cars…all while the Houston sun blazed down. This book opens your eyes to the lights that blind us. I’d recommend it to all to read.

Five Stars out of Five

Pandemics: What Everyone Needs to Know, by Peter C. Doherty

19170663Pandemics: What Everyone Needs to Know, by Peter C. Doherty
Publisher: Oxford University Press
ISBN: 9780199986781
272 pages, Kindle Edition
Published July 2013
Source: NetGalley

Nobel Prize winning immunologist and veterinary surgeon Doherty writes a comprehensive and succinct review of things involving disease pandemics: what pandemics are, which have occurred, which may likely occur, and what governments and individuals are doing/can do to combat them. To form a foundation for the reader Doherty first gives a quick primer on molecular biology, viruses/bacteria, and immunology basics. He then delves into discussing the major pandemic threat of influenza before moving onto others, like HIV.

What impressed me about this volume is that it is written in a particularly laid-back fashion – almost stream-of-consciousness at points, obviously geared towards the layman with only a bit of background in microbiology. As part of Oxford University Press’ “What Everyone Needs to Know” series the book is organized as a series of question/answers to apparently aid in the comfort of this being a book for the general audience.

The downsides to the book stem from this organization, I think. Many of the questions posed are quite simple, like asking what the difference is between a virus and a bacteria. But the ‘answer’ portion goes far beyond addressing that – into myriad other topics not directly related. It therefore ends up feeling like one is reading something from a political debate, where the question is used to spring off into whatever topic or aside seems to come to mind. This ends up making portions of the book – particularly the first chapters appear rather unorganized to me.

In a few spots the scientific detail or issues raised appear to go beyond what I would deem really necessary (such as the PCR descriptions), but this was a rare occurrence. The densest scientific details can be lost on some readers without the overall important messages of the book getting lost. In the end if you are unfamiliar with what pandemics are, if you can’t explain what immunizations are and why we should get them, if you don’t know what the differences are between viruses and bacteria (and their treatments), then you should read this and learn some really essential information that is not only important for yourself but could be important for your responsibility in sharing this planet with other humans.

Four Stars out of Five