May 4, 2006

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Chasing Spring: An American Journey Through a Changing Season, by Bruce Stutz (Scribner, 2006, 256 pages)

I didn’t get very far in this book before getting really, really mad.

Not because I’m a militant environmentalist angered by the effects of global warming brought on by overindustrialization and short-term economic thinking. Because the author is either an uneducated simpleton or made himself look like one to drop a name.

On page 12, he casually mentions that he’s off to see his pal, Neil Tyson. That would be Neil deGrasse Tyson, one of the most famous astronomers of our time. Their intellectual lunch conversation is a dazzling, purple-prosed lesson in Why There Are Seasons.

Excuse me? Were you asleep in grade school? Every picture book about the solar system shows Earth tilted on its axis. Tilted away from sun, we get winter. Toward, summer. You need a Princeton-educated scientist, a People-magazine-named “Sexiest Astrophysicist Alive” (2000), a guy with his own planetarium, for gosh sakes, to explain seasons to you?

Stutz spends much of the rest of the book in that affected tone of awe and wonder about the most banal mysteries of the universe. He also formats the book like a diary, using dates as headings with the amount of sunlight on each day as a subhead. As he takes a journey across America in a 20-year-old Chevy — very environmentally friendly, there, acclaimed nature writer — I try to imagine him copying a 200-word passage from a Pentagon report entitled “An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and Its Implications for United States National Security” into a bedraggled journal. The image just doesn’t work. It’s contrived.

That’s not to say there’s not good information in the book. It’s well researched, and there is an amusing page or two when Stutz leaves his car’s headlights on in a wide-open county of Oregon and waits hours for someone with jumper cables to happen by. I like it when annoying writers suffer. C

—John “JaQ” Andrews


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