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Stephen Pletko "Uncle Stevie" (London, Ontario, Canada)
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Mission to Mars: My Vision for Space Exploration
Mission to Mars: My Vision for Space Exploration
by Buzz Aldrin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 19.44
49 used & new from CDN$ 1.86

4.0 out of 5 stars The second man on the Moon says, "I believe this nation should commit itself...to commencing American permanence on...Mars", Sept. 21 2013
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"Humans will one day live on Mars. The year 2019 will mark the 50TH anniversary of the first time humans set foot on the Moon. I have long suggested this historic anniversary is an ideal time for a future President to announce a commitment, similar to that of President Kennedy's that brought about Apollo, to establish a permanent human presence on the planet Mars within the following two decades."

The above comes from this fascinating book by Buzz Aldrin (with Leonard David). Aldrin, best known for being the second man on the Moon, is educated in the scientific disciplines of mechanical engineering and astronautics. He has been decorated with numerous awards. (David is a veteran space journalist who has been writing about the space industry for more than fives decades.)

In this book, Aldrin presents what he calls his "Unified Space Vision" which is ultimately about getting a human presence on the Red Planet and beyond. Along the way he discusses such things as the business case for space exploration, the importance of science education, space tourism, near-Earth objects, returning humans to the Moon, and missions to asteroids.

Personally, what I enjoyed most about this book was the historical details, especially about his historic Moon landing.

For me, the last chapter is especially good because it gives a tribute to Neil Armstrong (1930 to 2012), the first man on the Moon.

Peppered throughout the book are black and white illustrations. As well, there are a set of sixteen colour photographs at the center of the book. I found most of the black and white illustrations and colour photographs quite interesting.

Finally, the only problem I had with this book is that certain things are not explained or elaborated on.

For example, we're told of "today's elitist nature of going into space." I'm not sure what this means and this phrase was not really elaborated on.

Or we're told about "space entrepreneurs" providing such things as space tourism, orbital hotels, and other space services to "ordinary people." Now, we're not really told what a "space entrepreneur" is but it seems to be a person that has acquired obscene amounts of money in some industry (like music, entertainment, or the Internet) and is now magically qualified to bring his or her profit motive to space. Again, I would have liked more explanation, more elaboration.

In conclusion, this is a thought-provoking and awe-inspiring book told by a person who has been as far from Earth as any human being!!

**** 1/2

(first published 2013; forword; 8 chapters; main narrative 210 pages; appendix; illustration credits; index)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>

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Decoding Neanderthals
Decoding Neanderthals
Price: CDN$ 24.03
23 used & new from CDN$ 15.24

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I've been called a Neanderthal before. I never knew I was being...complimented!!, Sept. 14 2013
This review is from: Decoding Neanderthals (DVD)
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"They were the brutes of Ice Age Europe. Although a branch of our human family tree, they were seen as a dead end, deep in our prehistoric past. They were called Neanderthals.

They etched out a marginal existence, hunted by brute force, with only simple stone tools. They were considered primitive with no language, art, or the higher-level thinking of advanced species like us.

They began to disappear 40,000 years ago, as modern humans, our species, came on the scene.

But this primitive picture is being replaced by a different image of Neanderthals. It's bringing them much closer to us, as genetic evidence revises our human family tree and reveals their mysterious presence right within our genes.

Now archaeologists are finding new evidence to resolve bitter debates. In tool-making, they're seeing signs of language. A new Neanderthal mind emerges. And if scientists are finally finding the real legacy of the Neanderthals buried deep in our history and our genes, what does it say about all of us?"

The above comes from the preview of this exceptional documentary about Neanderthals, our closest extinct ancestor.

This program looks at such topics as the technologies of Neanderthals, their intelligence, and their genetic makeup. (The genetic studies on Neanderthals took about four years to complete.)

The end of this program asks the question:

"Why are we [humans] still here and the Neanderthal not?"

The answer to this question may shock you.

Finally, throughout this documentary are brief comments made by university professors, geneticists, etc.

In conclusion, this is an exceptional program that may radically change your perception of Neanderthals. I leave you with this documentary's last words:

"We're finding out that we owe a debt to a mysterious, long-vanished branch of the human family in ways we are only just beginning to discover."

(2013; 55 min; wide screen; 6 chapters; PBS--NOVA)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>

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Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction
Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction
by Annalee Newitz
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 20.06
3 used & new from CDN$ 13.56

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Life on Earth has almost been erased in the past. Another global disaster is coming!! Can humans survive it? How??, Sept. 7 2013
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"My argument in [this book] is that humans face a dangerous future. But that future is not filled with unknowns...humans have a history of surviving in adverse conditions. And we also have a geological record stretching back billions of years, which reveals how other creatures survived climate collapses that were many magnitudes worse than our own. By learning from the successes of our ancestors--humans and otherwise--we can make it possible for [our species] to stick around for at least another million years...

Ultimately, this book is about how to survive Earth's great mass extinctions...things will get dicey on the way, and more than a little strange. But we will survive."

The above comes from the preface of this interesting book by Annalee Newitz. She is a journalist with a decade's experience in writing about science, culture, and the future. Newitz was a Knight Science Journalism Fellow at MIT.

This is a speculative book, grounded in science, that focuses on humanity's long history of surviving mass extinction. As well, it considers new threats that we may face in the coming years. It explores how scientific breakthroughs today may help us conquer possible future disasters.

I noticed that this book is quite well-researched. The author explains:

"I interviewed over a hundred people in fields from physics and geology to history and anthropology; I read about survival strategies in scientific journals, engineering manuals, and science-fiction novels; and I traveled all over the world to find evidence of humans' quest to survive."

Where does this book's somewhat strange title come from? This title is actually a "distillation" of those survival strategies that worked for humans in the past.

Finally, peppered throughout this book are black and white illustrations. I found the last one, an image of the surface of Saturn's moon Titan, especially informative.

In conclusion, this is an interesting, well-researched book worthy of your consideration. I leave you with its very last paragraph:

"Things are going to get weird. There may be horrific disasters, and many lives will be lost. But don't worry. As long as we keep exploring, humanity is going to survive."

(first published 2013; preface; introduction; 5 parts or 23 chapters; main narrative 265 pages; acknowledgements; notes; illustration credits; index)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>

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IN SEARCH OF MOZART
IN SEARCH OF MOZART
DVD ~ Narrated by Juliet Stevenson
2 used & new from CDN$ 69.98

5.0 out of 5 stars If what you know about Mozart only comes from the movie "Amadeus," then you must see this documentary, Aug. 31 2013
This review is from: IN SEARCH OF MOZART (DVD)
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"The artist will move future generations when the bones of kings have long since mouldered away."

The above quotation (uttered in 1792) is found at the very end of this exceptional documentary about the relatively short life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 to 1791). It was made to celebrate the 250TH anniversary of Mozart's birth.

The great feature about this film is that it is factual, dispelling many of the myths that have been perpetuated about Mozart through the centuries.

Also, this film covers quite adequately the major parts of his life.

Mozart had tremendous international success as a child prodigy. Despite this success, he found it singularly difficult to achieve the patronage or employment his musical genius deserved. Thus, Mozart had financial difficulties but still found the time to get married. The final year of his life was actually a "fabulous" year for Mozart.

Something of the miraculous hovers over and in the music of Mozart. His masterful melodic writing, his elegance of style, and his rich orchestral colours sound effortless. This deceptive simplicity is the art that conceals his musical art.

In this film, there are over 80 interviews (with historians, conductors, musicians, etc.), over 70 performances (brief excerpts), and 7 operas (brief excerpts). This biography-documentary was filmed in 11 countries and took about 2 1/2 years to complete.

Besides the music, I also enjoyed the brief excerpts from letters that were written by Mozart himself.

As well, this documentary is beautifully filmed.

Finally, the DVD (the one released in 2008) itself has one major extra. It is an excellent interview with writer and director Phil Grabsky that lasts over half an hour.

In conclusion, this is the film to see if you want to know the facts about the life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart!!

(2006; 2 hr, 5 min excluding end credits; wide screen; 15 scenes)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>

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A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing
A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing
by Lawrence M. Krauss
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 12.27
43 used & new from CDN$ 5.96

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Making much ado about...NOTHING, Aug. 24 2013
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"The purpose of this book is simple. I want to show how modern science...can address and is addressing the question of why there is something rather than nothing. The answers that have been obtained--from...experimental observations, as well as from the theories that underlie much of modern physics--all suggest that getting something is not a problem. Indeed, something from nothing may have been REQUIRED for the universe to come into being."

The above comes from this extremely interesting book by Lawrence Krauss. He is Foundation Professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration and the Physics Department at Arizona State University, as well as Co-Director of the Cosmology Initiative and Inaugural Director of the Origins Project. Krauss is an internationally known theoretical physicist. He is the recipient of numerous international awards for his prolific research and writing, and is the only physicist to receive awards from all three major U.S. physics societies.

As can be deduced from the quote above, this book answers the following question or "theological chestnut:"

"Why is there something rather than nothing?"

So as to properly answer this question, the initial chapters reviews our modern scientific picture of the universe, its history, and its possible future, as well as operational descriptions of what "nothing" might actually be.

It is not until late in the book that all this empirical evidence is put together to answer the question posed above.

What Krauss does first is to put this question in a form that science can answer, namely:

"HOW is there something rather than nothing?"

Then he defines CLEARLY exactly what "nothing" is. (The nothing of empty space is not what most people think of when they think of nothing. As Krauss tells us, "empty space is complicated.")

Finally, he explains how nothing is something and more important, that nothing is unstable.

The last chapter of this book gets away from the physics. In this chapter, Krauss gives us his thoughts including his thoughts on theology. (Note that throughout this book, there are no big discussions on theology and religion but Krauss does not hesitate to give his thoughts in passing.)

I liked the fact that Krauss asks the reader if what he has written "proves" that our universe arose from nothing? Krauss states:

"Of course not. But it does take us one rather large step closer to the plausibility of such a scenario."

Finally, there is one main problem with this book. It screams out for a glossary. True, many terms and words are defined or explained in the main narrative but many are not. Thus, I felt that a lack of a glossary was a major oversight.

In conclusion, Richard Dawkins states at the end of his "after word" for this book that:

"If 'On the Origin of Species' was biology's deadliest blow to supernaturalism, we may come to see [this book] as the equivalent from cosmology."

It's up to each reader of this book to decide whether Dawkins' statement is correct or not.

(first published 2012; preface; 11 chapters; epilogue; main narrative 185 pages; after word by Richard Dawkins; index; about the author)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>

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Pound Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry
Pound Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry
by Helaine Olen
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.50
60 used & new from CDN$ 0.66

5.0 out of 5 stars "[In this book,] I...want to help people realize that, just because they're not millionaires, doesn't mean they're failures", Aug. 17 2013
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"[This book] will tell the story of how we were sold on a dream--a dream that personal finance had almost magical abilities, that it could compensate for stagnate salaries, income inequality, and a society that offered a shorter and thinner safety net with each passing year.

[This] book will tell the tale of how that fantasy was sold to us by people, organizations, and businesses that had a vested monetary interest in selling to us.

Finally, it will tell the story of how we allowed ourselves to be convinced that the personal finance and investment industrial complex would save our collective financial souls--and what comes next, now that it is clear it never could."

The above is found in the introduction of this informative and shocking book by Helaine Olen. She is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in several major newspapers and magazines such as "The New York Times" and "Forbes."

I think this book's title should be explained. The phrase "pound foolish" alludes to William Shakespeare's play "The Merchant of Venice" (written circa 1595).

The stand-out character in this famous play is "Shylock," a person shrewd in his business dealings. At the beginning of this play, Shylock agrees to lend some money without interest to Antonia (a Venetian merchant) under one condition: Antonio must sign a bond that stipulates that after a specific time has elapsed that "the forfeit [of the bond] be nominated for an equal pound of [Antonio`s] fair flesh to be cut off and taken in what part of [Antonio`s] body that pleaseth [Shylock]." Antonio foolishly signs the bond since he's confident he will be able to pay back the loan within the specified time period.

This book is about the personal finance industry or rather the "dark side of the personal finance industry." Olen exposes the myths, contradictions, and yes, even the lies it has spread. She shows how it thrives by selling us products and services that offer little if any help.

The author exposes some of the more prominent names in this business, revealing how even its most respected gurus have engaged in questionable practices.

Above all, Olen disproves many myths about spending and saving.

The author does all this through reporting, research, interviews, and studies from a broad spectrum of disciplines (such as behavioural economics).

Here are the actual subtitles for each of the chapters in order to give the potential reader a "feel" for this book:

(1) The invention of personal finance
(2) Suze Orman's self-help
(3) Selling the myth of the fiscally promiscuous American
(4) The coming retirement train wreck
(5) The culture of commission in the financial services sector
(6) The hopeless quest for the perfect investment
(7) The truth about woman and money
(8) The selling of home ownership as a cure for income and investment stagnation
(9) The myth about financial literacy

Finally, I want to emphasize that this book in no way trashes people who work in the personal finance industry. It is not an opinion-piece.

In conclusion, I want to caution you that this book will potentially change the way you think and talk about money!!

(first published 2012; introduction; 9 chapters; conclusion; main narrative 235 pages; acknowledgements; notes; index)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>

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The Devil Wears Prada (Widescreen)
The Devil Wears Prada (Widescreen)
DVD ~ Anne Hathaway
Price: CDN$ 6.98
28 used & new from CDN$ 0.43

5.0 out of 5 stars "Everybody wants this. Everybody wants to be us", Aug. 10 2013
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Co-assistant Andrea "Andy" Sachs (Anne Hathaway) to her fashion magazine boss Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) : "I didn't have a choice."

Miranda's response: "Oh, no, you chose. You chose to get ahead. You want this life, these choices are necessary."

The above dialogue is found near the end of this engrossing comedy-drama movie based loosely on Lauren Weisberger's novel "The Devil Wears Prada" (2003). ("Prada" is an Italian fashion label.)

This movie is the story of a young woman (Hathaway) who wants to fit into a fashion organization, does eventually fit in, and then realizes that she is giving up way too much just to keep fitting in.

Oh, I forgot to mention that this movie is hilarious. The story revolves around Miranda's assistants (the other more experienced assistant is played by Emily Blunt) trying to please her. Andrea gets help fitting in and other advice from the magazine's Art Director, Nigel (Stanley Tucci).

Enough has been said about Streep's superb performance. As the boss, she indeed plays her character as the "devil in high heels" with perfection. Both Emily Blunt and Stanley Tucci give stand-out performances as well.

The background music in this film is fantastic. Also look for several cameos such as the novel's author, Lauren Weisberger, Heidi Klum, and Ivanka Trump.

This movie was filmed both in New York City and Paris.

Having this film set in the fashion world, I felt, was the perfect setting in getting this movie's message across. Fashion obviously concentrates on the outer person but this movie reminds us that there is an inner person.

As well, this movie asks the subtle question:

"What would you give up and do to get ahead?"

Finally, the DVD (the wide screen edition released in 2006) has several fun and interesting extras. I personally liked the "Gag Reel."

In conclusion, this is a hilarious movie with a subtle message.

"That's all."

(2006; 1 hr, 45 min. excluding end credits; wide screen; 36 scenes)

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Death: The Scientific Facts to Help Us Understand It Better
Death: The Scientific Facts to Help Us Understand It Better
by Richard Beliveau
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 18.77
43 used & new from CDN$ 3.62

5.0 out of 5 stars "Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful. It's the transition that's bothersome", Aug. 3 2013
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"While it is impossible to prevent death, it is...possible to [reduce] the fear of it by better understanding the...nature of the processes at work in maintaining life. Science...can demystify the mechanisms involved in death...

To talk about death is to come to grips with the ordeal that awaits us all; by being aware of its inevitability and by better understanding just what it is, we can enjoy every moment of this precious life more.

Understanding death better so as to get more out of life--this is our goal in this book."

The above comes from this well-written and comprehensive book by Richard Beliveau, PhD and Denis Gingras, PhD. Beliveau is a professor of biochemistry at the University of Quebec. He's also a research fellow in neurosurgery at Notre-Dame Hospital, professor of surgery and physiology at the University of Montreal, and research associate at the Center for Cancer Prevention at McGill University. Gingras is a researcher specializing in oncology at the University of Quebec.

This book explains the biological processes and the different causes of death (such as the wear and tear of time, infections, poisons, murder and execution) and, as well, examines the human perceptions of death throughout history and across cultures. It also reflects on our philosophical, scientific, & even spiritual understanding of death.

One of the hallmarks of this book is that it is extremely well-illustrated. There are abundant diagrams that help explain the science of death. Included are masterpieces of art, paintings, and sculptures.

Finally, I personally was impressed with how this book uses the most current research and medical analysis to explain concepts.

In conclusion, this book helped me immensely in my understanding of death. In doing so, I now appreciate life more!! As well, I know that:

"death won't take me alive."

(first translated edition from the French published in 2012; foreword; introduction; 11 chapters; conclusion; main narrative 255 pages; bibliography; illustration credits; index)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>

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The Epigenetics Revolution: How Modern Biology Is Rewriting Our Understanding of Genetics, Disease, and Inheritance
The Epigenetics Revolution: How Modern Biology Is Rewriting Our Understanding of Genetics, Disease, and Inheritance
by Nessa Carey
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 16.89
33 used & new from CDN$ 16.88

5.0 out of 5 stars Welcome to the Revolution: an introduction to the fascinating world of Epigenetics, July 27 2013
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"In biology, Darwin and Mendel came to define the 19TH century as the era of evolution and genetics; Watson and Crick defined the 20TH century as the era of DNA...

But in the 21ST century it is the new scientific discipline of epigenetics ["epi" meaning over or beyond] that is unravelling so much of what we took as dogma and rebuilding it in an infinitely more varied, more complex, and even more beautiful fashion."

The above comes from the introduction of this well-written, fascinating, and educational book by Nessa Carey, Ph.D. (virology). She works in the UK biotechnology and pharmaceutical sectors, and for the past seven years has specialized in epigenetics. She has strong relationships with leading epigenetics researchers, with medical labs in Europe, and with some of the most prestigious institutions in the US (such as the Harvard Medical School).

A human being is the product of an amazing interaction between the genes inherited from one's parents (genetics) and all the modifications that one's lifestyle imposes on those genes (**epigenetics).

Epigenetic modifications do not affect our genetic code but do affect the molecular mechanisms that regulate the genetic code's expression.

This is where this book comes in. It takes us on a scientific tour of what's known about epigenetic mechanisms and their implications especially for disease and aging.

Near the end of this book there is a chapter on plants and their "highly developed epigenetic system." Another final chapter explains the honeybee and epigenetics.

Carey concludes with a discussion of the future directions for epigenetics research and its ability to improve human health.

I appreciated the excellent illustrations peppered throughout this book to help me understand important concepts. As well, there is a glossary that I found to be invaluable.

Finally, it would be helpful to have some basic biology before reading this book. Also, I found it best to read this book slowly so as to get maximum understanding from it.

In conclusion, this is a good, solid introduction to the fascinating world of epigenetics. Welcome to the revolution!!

(first published 2012; acknowledgements; introduction; 16 chapters; main narrative 310 pages; notes; glossary; index)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>

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What We Know About Climate Change
What We Know About Climate Change
by Kerry Emanuel
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 12.24
35 used & new from CDN$ 7.09

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Scientific CONSENSUS: "climate is...changing...the change is caused mostly by [humans], and...it poses important risks", July 20 2013
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"Certain findings [by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] are NOT in dispute, not even among those generally sceptical of climate risk:

[1] Atmospheric concentrations of key greenhouse gases--carbon dioxide, methane, ozone, and nitrous oxide--are increasing , driven by the burning of fossil fuels and biomass...(From ice-core records, it is evident that present levels of carbon dioxide are higher than they have been in at least the last 650,000 years.)

[2] Concentrations of certain [atmospheric] aerosols have increased owing to industrial activity. [Aerosols are thought to have had a significant effect on climate.]

[3] The Earth's average surface temperature has increased by about 1.2 degrees Fahrenheit in the past century...(The year 2005 was the warmest [on] record, closely followed by 2010 and 1998.)

[4] Sea level has risen by about four inches over the past sixty years. (A little more than an inch of this rise occurred during the past decade.)

[5] The annual mean...extent of Arctic sea ice has decreased by 15 [to] 20 percent (since satellite measurements began in 1978).

[6] The acidity of ocean water has increased by about 30% since the beginning of the industrial era."

The above comes from this slim, informative, and well-written book by Kerry Emanuel. He is Professor of Atmospheric Science in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). In 2006, Emanuel was named one of "Time" magazine's "100 people who shape our world."

In this new edition of this small book (the first edition was published in 2006), Emanuel outlines the basic science of climate change and how the consensus that titles this review was reached.

This edition goes deeper into both the research and politics of climate change, trying to understand why many "reasonable laymen" have come to question the rigorous scientific scrutiny regarding this dangerous phenomenon.

In this edition, there is a new chapter on possible solutions for dealing with this global event. These include adaptation, mitigation, and geo-engineering.

There is no bibliography for this book. Since the author is a respected MIT atmospheric scientist, he can be regarded as an authority on the subject.

Finally, my only complaint is that this book has no index. Considering the nature of the subject and to make it easier to access important information, I think an index would have been beneficial.

In conclusion, for those that want a quick, up-to-date but authoritative overview of "what we know about climate change," this is the book to get!!

(this second edition published 2012; preface; 8 chapters; main narrative 95 pages; notes; about the author; about Boston Review Books)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>

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