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Ruth’s Reviews: A World Without Ice – Henry Pollack

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Ruth Francis, Nature’s Head of Press, is reviewing all the entries shortlisted for the Royal Society’s science book prize. She’ll be reading one per week and posting her thoughts on The Great Beyond every Friday between now and the prize ceremony on 21 October.

A World Without Ice should, more precisely, be renamed a history of a world full of ice. Pollack leads us through centuries of Arctic and Antarctic exploration, informing us about the movements of ice and continents long ago. As with the best science writing, he uses stories to draw readers into the science, occasionally including observations from his own childhood.

After this exploration and adventure come the various impacts of the ice melting – which is far less fun, but no less engaging.

Pollack’s descriptions of best and worst case scenarios will strike fear into the heart of his audience. But the tone throughout is informative, and the reader learns about ice, people, and our fragile relationship. In the last three centuries the human population has exploded, and our use of fossil fuels has wrecked havoc with the balance previously maintained for millennia.

The final chapter deals with an uncertain future and weighs up the options for the planet. It ends with a call to arms, an appeal to act boldly to change the course that is plotted out for us. Quoting sixth century BC philosopher Lao Tzu, Pollack clearly believes we can and should change our route: “if you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading”.

This is certainly not a happy read, but one which I wholeheartedly recommend.

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