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The Death and Life of the Great Lakes by Dan…
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The Death and Life of the Great Lakes (2017)

by Dan Egan

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The Death and Life of the Great Lakes is an environmental history, mostly and at its best about invasive species. That subject may sound a little dry, but it's way more interesting than I ever expected. *The Gulf* won the Pulitzer in 2018, Egan's book is in the same league and makes an excellent book-end. The story of the invasives - zebra mussels to Alewife to Asian carp (and thousands more) - is often told in short journalistic pieces. But when the story of a species is told with context from beginning to end, holy cow, it's like science fiction as species battle it out over decades for mastery of the world's largest fresh water basin. It's epic. A species will rise to the top and take over most of the biological resource, then crash and burn as another rises. All the while humans keep introducing more in a hubris attempt to control the uncontrollable. Meanwhile the natives hang on a small isolate pockets, ready to rebound if only humans would stop allowing invasives to return. And the craziest part, an 80' wide canal-lock on the St. Lawrence that allows ocean traffic with infected bilge water could easily be shut down and the cargo transported by train to ships upstream would seal off the lakes from invaders (about 2 ships a day). But for a few 10s of millions of dollars, states spend 10s of billions combating invasives. It's the same insanity of global warming, a precious untouchable industry causes everyone else great harm and cost for lack of political will to change. ( )
1 vote Stbalbach | Feb 9, 2019 |
Disturbing, but highly informative. ( )
  mnchkyn | Nov 1, 2018 |
A good overview of crises in the Great Lakes, what has caused them, what has been done to fix them - not always separate things, and how they show the vulnerability of all N. American fresh water bodies and waterways. Not and unpleasant book with a charming affection for many of the figure with rolls in or reports on the problems and the actions to address the problems. ( )
  quondame | Jun 11, 2018 |
Although I had seen good reviews of this book, I live far from the Great Lakes and passed this by as 'not local to me'. However when the PBS/NYT Now Read This book club featured it as their selection for April, I decided to give it a try – and I'm glad I did.

The books starts out with enough history and geology of the region so the reader has the background to understand the political and environment precedents and consequences of current problems.

But many of the problems described directly relate to the area where I live, far off in Montana.

I now have a much better understanding of the problem of introduced species, including keeping the big head carp out of the Great Lakes, and the mussels that are spreading like wildfire though out almost every drainage in the US – with the exception of the Pacific Northwest, where monitoring is intense.

Other universal problem include fertilizer and pesticide runoff from agriculture and the nutrient rich effluent released by cities' sewage plants.

All of these will intensify as the current climate changes and the fight for water escalates. It becomes a battle between higher profits/less cost in the short term versus long term planning which is often more expensive in the now.

Dan Egan is a journalist who has been covering the stories of the Great Lakes for many years. His writing is clear and engaging. This is a very worthwhile read and recommended to anyone who enjoys drinking water. ( )
1 vote streamsong | May 5, 2018 |
Not since I discovered the entire Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys collections of books in the attic of a house my family briefly rented when I was in third grade, have I been so grateful for being introduced to a literary work. Take every fun, interesting moment I ever had watching Mr. Wizard, Jules Bergman's reports on the space race, Bill Nye the Science Guy, PBS's Miles O'Brien present day science reporting, and the efforts of many others, and it will just barely scrape the consistent and persistent enjoyment I received from this book. It is not lost on me, that the title of the book does very little to get the average reader excited. At the risk of losing your interest, let me offer a crude analogy. Imagine a man in his home, looking out the window on a summer day. He sees the breeze rustling the tree leaves and can faintly hear the birds singing. Anxious to feel the soft breeze and hear the bird songs more clearly, he opens the window wide. He does this forgetting the air conditioning is on full blast due to the heat, so now he's trying to cool the entire outside, raising utility costs for an already stretched family budget. The house-bound family cat promptly jumps out the window, never to be seen again, but rodents find their way in, and memorize for eternity the location of the cat food left behind. Flies swarm in; even a few wasps, which sting a family member, highly allergic and requiring immediate medical attention. And on and on. All of this happening because the man wanted to improve his day. This book is not about that house but about the largest source of fresh water in the world: the Great Lakes. In telling it's story, the author is a true master in getting the reader to fully understand each concept presented with bulls-eye comparisons to facts well within the average reader's experiences. Plus, he writes with a lively, engaging style. My own favorite example, among very many, involves comparing the discriminating tastes of a multitude of invasive mussels avoiding eating toxic algae with the same ferocity of a toddler spitting out his brussels sprouts. Even the ending to the book was a delight as the author brought his young son into the discussion. Other than this book, the author is mainly a an award winning journalist with a Milwaukee newspaper. Maybe I need to subscribe, just to read more of his work, even if I haven't had any interest in Milwaukee since Hank Aaron, Warren Spahn, and the rest of the Braves were my favorite team as a child. I wonder what he has to say about the Braves moving their team back to Milwaukee? Whatever it may be, I'm sure it will be fascinating. ( )
  larryerick | Apr 26, 2018 |
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In memory of Michael Faricy
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There are few views that can draw noses to airplane windows like those of the Great Lakes.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0393246434, Hardcover)

A master reporter’s landmark work of contemporary ecology.

The Great Lakes hold 20 percent of the world’s freshwater, and they provide food, work, and weekend fun for tens of millions of Americans. Yet they are under threat as never before.

In a work of narrative reporting in the vein of Rachel Carson and Elizabeth Kolbert, prize-winning reporter Dan Egan delivers an eye-opening portrait of our nation’s greatest natural resource as it faces ecological calamity. He tells the story of the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Chicago ship canal―good ideas in their time that have had horrendous consequences. He explains how invasive species such as Asian carp, sea lamprey, and zebra mussels have decimated native species and endanger the entire United States. And he examines new risks, such as unsafe drinking water, the threat of water diversions, and “dead zones” that cover hundreds of square miles of water―while showing how the Great Lakes can be restored and preserved for generations to come.

20 illustrations, maps

(retrieved from Amazon Sun, 30 Oct 2016 17:21:54 -0400)

"The Great Lakes--Erie, Huron, Michigan, Ontario and Superior--hold 20 percent of the world's supply of surface fresh water and provide sustenance, work and recreation for tens of millions of Americans. But they are under threat as never before, and their problems are spreading across the continent. The Death and Life of the Great Lakes is prize-winning reporter Dan Egan's compulsively readable portrait of an ecological catastrophe happening right before our eyes, blending the epic story of the lakes with an examination of the perils they face and the ways we can restore and preserve them for generations to come. For thousands of years the pristine Great Lakes were separated from the Atlantic Ocean by the roaring Niagara Falls and from the Mississippi River basin by a "sub-continental divide." Beginning in the late 1800s, these barriers were circumvented to attract oceangoing freighters from the Atlantic and to allow Chicago's sewage to float out to the Mississippi. These were engineering marvels in their time--and the changes in Chicago arrested a deadly cycle of waterborne illnesses--but they have had horrendous unforeseen consequences. Egan provides a chilling account of how sea lamprey, zebra and quagga mussels and other invaders have made their way into the lakes, decimating native species and largely destroying the age-old ecosystem. And because the lakes are no longer isolated, the invaders now threaten water intake pipes, hydroelectric dams and other infrastructure across the country. Egan also explores why outbreaks of toxic algae stemming from the overapplication of farm fertilizer have left massive biological "dead zones" that threaten the supply of fresh water. He examines fluctuations in the levels of the lakes caused by manmade climate change and overzealous dredging of shipping channels. And he reports on the chronic threats to siphon off Great Lakes water to slake drier regions of America or to be sold abroad. In an age when dire problems like the Flint water crisis or the California drought bring ever more attention to the indispensability of safe, clean, easily available Water, The Death and Life of the Great Lakes is a powerful paean to what is arguably our most precious resource, an urgent examination of what threatens it and a convincing call to arms about the relatively simple things we need to do to protect it."--Dust jacket.… (more)

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