Author(s): William Bryant Logan
Air sustains the living. Every creature breathes to live, exchanging and changing the atmosphere. Water and dust spin and rise, make clouds and fall again, fertilizing the dirt. Twenty thousand fungal spores and half a million bacteria travel in a square foot of summer air. The chemical sense of aphids, the ultraviolet sight of swifts, a newborn's awareness of its mother's breast all take place in the medium of air. Ignorance of the air is costly: The artist Eva Hesse died of inhaling her fiberglass medium. Thousands were sickened after 9/11 by supposedly safe air. The African Sahel suffers drought in part because we fill the air with industrial dusts. With the passionate narrative style and wide-ranging erudition that have made William Bryant Logan's work a touchstone for nature lovers and environmentalists, Air is like the contents of a bag of seaborne dust that Darwin collected aboard the Beagle - a treasure trove of discovery.
Logan explores a wide range of topics surrounding the bountiful, yet tragically under-appreciated, presence that is air. In Air, such diverse subjects as atmospheric convection currents, palynology, aircraft flight, secretive weather-weaponisation programs, super-storms, inter-continental insect displacement (just as amazing as it sounds) and cliff-edge hang-gliding are brought to the fore by Logan’s illuminating and accessible language. Although the subject matter seemed guaranteed to be dry, I immediately became absorbed within the unique viewpoint presented as Logan recounted personal experience, historical disasters and remarkable feats of survival; all interspersed with a goofy wit and vivid imagery. This book adds to the developing sub-genre of single-subject non-fiction, complementing Logan’s other work Oak as well as the likes of Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky and the morbidly intriguing Stiff: The Curious lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach. A worthwhile read that has the ability to awaken your awareness of the everyday mystery that is air. - Dougal