cover image The Human Age: The World Shaped by Us

The Human Age: The World Shaped by Us

Diane Ackerman. Norton, $27.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-393-24074-0

Ackerman (One Hundred Names for Love) addresses a currently vogue topic, the Anthropocene—the geologic age humans have shaped by altering the world’s ecosystems—and in doing so raises the bar for her peers. “We’ve subdued 75 percent of the land surface,” Ackerman points out, “preserving some pockets as ‘wilderness,’ denaturing vast tracts for our businesses and homes, and homogenizing a third of the world’s ice-free land through farming.” Yet in the face of massive changes that have “created some planetary chaos that threatens our well-being,” she finds hope. Ackerman views the efforts of the tiny, deluge-prone Indian Ocean nation of the Maldives to be carbon neutral by 2020 as “a model for changes radical enough to help fix the climate.” Her critical eye focuses on changes at the human as well as the global level: “Anthropocene engineering has penetrated the world of medicine and biology, revolutionizing how we view the body.” The greatest strength of her work, though, is the beauty of her language, the power of her metaphors, and the utterly compelling nature of her examples. Whether Ackerman is writing about an iPad-using orangutan or Polynesian snails whose “interiors belong in a church designed by Gaudí,” her penetrating insight is a joy to behold. Agent: Suzanne Gluck, William Morris Endeavor. (Sept.)