Friday, August 22, 2008

Booklist gives SMOGTOWN a Starred Review

The September 1 issue of Booklist offers a rave starred review of Smogtown: The Long-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles, by Chip Jacobs and William J. Kelly:

"Remember those great 1950s horror movies, when some superpowerful creature menaced a city while the citizens panicked, law enforcement officials bumbled, politicians pontificated, and plucky scientists worked at a fever pitch to find something, anything, to kill the monster? That’s pretty much the feel of this remarkably entertaining and informative chronicle of the birth and—so far—inexorable evolution of smog. On July 8, 1943, smog attacked Los Angeles without warning (well, not much warning). People didn’t know what to make of this gray mist that blanketed the city, and when it didn’t go away (or went away and then came back), the citizenry began to react in strange ways: there were rumors, for example, that this smelly cloud was some sort of chemical attack by the Japanese—less than a year after Pearl Harbor, this claim didn’t sound so silly. By 1947, when it looked like smog was here to stay, the governor of California created the country’s first smog agency. The following year, a documentary about smog was released in theaters, animated by some guy named Walt Disney, and a Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter was writing investigative pieces about the stinky mist. Later, smog helped launch Ralph Nader’s crusading career, and today it’s a central theme in the environmentalism movement. This book is just amazing, a gripping story well told, with the requisite plucky scientists (including Arie Haagen-Smit, a Dutch biochemist who was “the Elvis of his field”), hapless politicians, and a nebulous biochemical villain who just will not be stopped."

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