by Eric Roston; Walker & Company; $29.95
Sometimes you decide you’re just going to underline the significant parts of a non-fiction book. And sometimes — as in the case of Eric Roston’s new book, The Carbon Age — you end up pretty much underlining the entire thing. So much for making a quick job of a second reading. This former Time magazine writer traces the arc of carbon, from its primordial stirrings to its current status as “civilization’s greatest threat.” Not only is Roston’s book an essential read for the layperson interested in the science of global warming, it’s also a way to not take everything so personally. Here’s a sample paragraph: “Sunlight and the planet’s continuous recycling of surface rock outweigh all other influences on evolutionary change, with the exceptions of the occasional meteorite impact and the geologically unique case of manmade global warming. The sun, the planet’s interior, gradients of acidity or salinity, and radiation all provide Earth with abundant energy sources. Life may have emerged as a kind of chemical steam valve to help Earth efficiently degrade and release this energy.” [italics mine] Well, this particular chemical steam valve is here to tell you, pen in hand, that this book will tell you everything you’ve ever wanted to know about carbon, but were, ahem, afraid to ask.