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Reviews of Transient and Strange by Nell Greenfieldboyce

Transient and Strange

Notes on the Science of Life

by Nell Greenfieldboyce

Transient and Strange by Nell Greenfieldboyce X
Transient and Strange by Nell Greenfieldboyce
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     Not Yet Rated
  • Published:
    Jan 2024, 224 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Katharine Blatchford
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About this Book

Book Summary

An astonishing debut from the beloved NPR science correspondent: intimate essays about the intersection of science and everyday life.

In her career as a science reporter, Nell Greenfieldboyce has reported from inside a space shuttle, the bottom of a coal mine, and the control room of a particle collider; she's presented news on the color of dinosaur eggs, ice worms that live on mountaintop glaciers, and signs of life on Venus. In this, her debut book, she delivers a wholly original collection of powerful, emotionally raw, and unforgettable personal essays that probe the places where science touches our lives most intimately.

Expertly weaving her own experiences of motherhood and marriage with an almost devotional attention to the natural world, Greenfieldboyce grapples with the weighty dualities of life: birth and death, constancy and impermanence, memory and doubt, love and aging. She looks for a connection to the universe by embarking on a search for the otherworldly glint of a micrometeorite in the dust, consults meteorologists and storm chasers on the eerie power of tornadoes to soothe her children's anxieties, and processes her adolescent oblivion through the startling discovery of black holes. Inspired throughout by Walt Whitman's invocation to the "transient and strange," she remains attuned to the wildest workings of our world, reflecting on the incredible leap of the humble flea or the echoing truth of a fetal heartbeat.

A beautiful blend of explanatory science, original reporting, and personal experience, Transient and Strange captures the ache of ordinary life, offering resonant insights into both the world around us and the worlds within us.

Introduction

For nearly thirty years, I have made my living by writing about science. Much of that time has been spent working for National Public Radio (NPR). I usually produce two--to--eight--minute audio stories that are designed to inform or delight: neat, tidy sonic tales that convey news about, say, the color of dinosaur eggs, or possible signs of life on Venus, or sharks that swim for centuries beneath the Arctic ice. A workday might involve chatting with a researcher who studies carnivorous plants or flying snakes or gravitational waves that roll through the fabric of space-time. To report my stories, I've climbed into one of NASA's space shuttles (on the ground, thankfully) and onto a boat that was hunting for a Civil War–-era submarine. I've gone down into a coal mine, where deafening machines ripped black rock from the Earth's crust, and into the control room of a particle collider, where magnets accelerated beams of tiny particles to almost the speed of light, smashing...

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Reviews

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While each essay stands on its own, the collection as a whole becomes something greater, with insights from later pieces connecting with and deepening the reader's understanding of earlier parts. The final essay in particular adds an extra dimension to Greenfieldboyce's relationships with her husband and children. The book deals with painful topics such as miscarriage, sexual assault, and parental death in an open, frank way that ultimately feels poignant but hopeful. It does not shy away from the flaws of the world and the people in it, but instead shines light on and finds beauty in them. Greenfieldboyce's writing is fast-paced and straightforward but introspective, even feeling personal and conversational as she is explaining scientific concepts, and often including amusing or emotional asides about the people who made the discoveries she's discussing...continued

Full Review Members Only (576 words)

(Reviewed by Katharine Blatchford).

Media Reviews

Booklist (starred review)
[A] display of inquiry and imagination, inevitability and possibilities.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
This artful debut essay collection from NPR science correspondent Greenfieldboyce mixes scientific anecdotes with intimate personal reflections...The inventive juxtaposition of science with autobiography yields unexpected insights buoyed by evocative prose. Greenfieldboyce dazzles with her auspicious first outing.

Author Blurb Emma Marris, author of Wild Souls
In a perfect blend of science and memoir, Nell Greenfieldboyce imbues objects of study―meteorites, tornadoes, black holes, fleas―with emotional beauty. Transient and Strange is a deeply relatable account of the pleasures and the terrors of being a woman, being a mother, and being deeply curious about the universe.

Author Blurb Michelle Nijhuis, author of Beloved Beasts
For almost twenty years, Nell Greenfieldboyce's reporting on science, technology, and culture has charmed and enlightened her listeners. In these elegant, unforgettable essays, her inimitable voice guides us into more complex and personal territory, asking the questions that haunt us all.

Author Blurb Tim Kreider, author of I Wrote This Book Because I Love You
Nell Greenfieldboyce has a writer's respect for beauty, complexity, and mystery, and a reporter's instinctive intolerance for bullshit. Although she is never sentimental, she does harbor her idiosyncratic adamant passions: a spider that builds a web in her window, a fleck of a meteorite worn as a pendant, the infinitesimal marvel that is the flea, her parents' immortal, miraculous toaster. What hope or solace there is in this universe, and in these essays, does not come easily, or cheap―and it's all the more valuable for it.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Polycystic Kidney Disease

Simple black-and-white illustration of autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease showing cysts in kidneys represented as black dots, with normal kidney for comparison on bottom right In her collection of essays Transient and Strange, Nell Greenfieldboyce shares how her husband's diagnosis of polycystic kidney disease (PKD) affected their lives, especially as they decided to start a family. PKD is a genetic condition involving the growth of high numbers of cysts—fluid-filled sacs—in the kidneys and sometimes other organs. Over time, these cysts can cause kidney enlargement and damage, leading to reduced function and eventually kidney failure.

There are two versions of PKD, depending on whether the mutated gene carrying the disease is dominant or recessive. Every person has two copies of each gene—one from each parent. If a trait is dominant, then only one of these versions of the gene needs to ...

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Read-Alikes

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