Category Archives: Book review

“Meltdown: Terror at the Top of the World” — new book exploits polar bear attack to sell fear of sea ice decline

The polar bear attack that was all over the news last summer is now an ebook about global warming. The Maine lawyer who was mauled by a bear while on a hiking trip to Labrador (and lived to tell the tale) has allowed his story to be co-opted by an activist journalist to promote fears of sea ice decline, polar bear extinction, and man-made global warming.

Melt-down_Terror at the Top of the World_Nov 12 2014 press release book cover

The press release issued yesterday by the news group that published the book and employs author Sabrina Shankman (InsideClimateNews), described it this way:

“A riveting new e-book about the battle between man, beast and Nature in a warming world. Called Meltdown: Terror at the Top of the World, the e-book tells the story of the hikers’ harrowing encounter with a polar bear; of the plight of the polar bear in general, facing starvation and extinction as the sea ice melts and its habitat disappears; and of the Arctic meltdown, the leading edge of man-made climate change.”

I have little doubt the man mauled by the bear was indeed terrified and that his companions were as well. However, that horror is exploited shamelessly in this book as a means to promote anxiety over the future survival of polar bears and instill panic over a prophesied Arctic “meltdown.”
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Another polar bear advocate writes a book: Derocher and Lynch 2012

Polar Bears: A Complete Guide to their Biology and Behavior (2012) Text by Andrew E. Derocher, Photographs by Wayne Lynch, in association with Polar Bears International. Johns Hopkins University Press 264 pp. 153 color photos, 4 maps. 978-1-4214-0305-2    $39.95 hardcover

Here is the promotional description of this book:

“Derocher and Lynch have spent decades following polar bears, and this book offers the most comprehensive and readable review of their biology, ecology, behavior, and conservation.” From the JHUPress catalogue

This statement suggested to me that I would find Andrew Derocher’s new book upbeat and primarily concerned with explaining the biology, behavior and life history of polar bears, as the title suggests. I’d buy a book like that, I thought.

I was also eager to see how Derocher’s effort compared with Ian Stirling’s book that came out last year (2011), which I reviewed in July. The title of Stirling’s book – Polar Bears: The Natural History of a Threatened Species – did at least hint at the advocacy found within.

Would Derocher’s book be substantially different, despite his strident advocacy on display just last month in the press “Bleak future for polar bears, U of A scientists say” and in his most recent co-authored scientific paper (Stirling and Derocher 2012, now in print), that I discussed briefly in my first post? Continue reading

Ian Stirling’s new polar bear book: a review

This review was originally posted June 30, 2012 at my evolution blog here

It was picked up as a guest post at Hilary Ostrov’s blog “The View from Here” July 1, 2012 under the title Of polar bears, polemics and climate warming

THE ORIGINAL REVIEW, RE-POSTED BELOW WITH MY EMPHASIS, HAS AN UPDATE ADDED JULY 26 2012, FOUND BELOW THE REFERENCE LIST

I recently came across a review of Ian Stirling’s latest book Polar Bears: The Natural History of a Threatened Species (2011, Fitzhenry & Whiteside) in the March 2012 issue of the journal Arctic, written by Arctic biologist Steven Ferguson. What is remarkable about Ferguson’s review is not what he says about the book but what he does not: lavish praise for Stirling’s polar bear stories but barely a mention of the book’s dismal predictions for the future. To be fair, all of the photographs in this book are outstanding (some are truly stunning) and the polar bear stories and life history information make for a fascinating read.

However, in reality this is not just a book about polar bears but a polemic discussion about the future of Arctic sea ice. Readers of Ferguson’s review might be surprised to find that there is an entire chapter dedicated to “climate warming” (“the game changer in polar bear conservation” according to Stirling). The climate warming chapter is as eye-catching in its own way as the rest of the book: who could miss the enormous, scary-looking graph predicting summer sea ice declining to zero within the next 90 years (described as a “NSIDC & NASA sea ice decay projection,” taken from Stroeve et al. 2007)? Or the two large photos, from different angles, of a bear that died in 1989 when its winter den collapsed? Oddly, such in-your-face photos and graphics seem not to have impressed Ferguson enough to warrant more than a few words in a list of topics covered (“models of future Arctic change”).

In contrast to Ferguson’s benign and somewhat fawning overview, my impression of the book was quite different.
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