Review of An Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells

The Uninhabitable Earth: A Story of the Future

I originally posted this as a far briefer review – which is unfair to the author and the material raised. Consequently – like Wallace-Wells’ transformation of an essay into a full-length book – I revisit this review to expand on my initial comments.
There is no disputing that the topic of this book is a worthy engagement. I certainly felt a human responsibility to entertain the subject matter and to give it my attention. I will admit that I undertook to read the material thoughtfully and to reflect on the issues and evidence raised to give An Uninhabitable Earth a fair read. Unfortunately and ultimately, to me, this a very random walk through a broad area and an attempt to define the issue, sub-issues as well as human perceptions and reactions to these. Writing this book was clearly no small task and possibly (and quite probably) much too much for a single book.
Structurally, Wallace-Wells adopts a logical approach. However, although I found the book very pithy and well constructed at the sentence level beyond this, at a larger scale it becomes very disconnected within paragraphs, between paragraphs within sections and feels rambling. There is a wealth of facts, figures, and fractural evidence presented inline to support the sentences. In the Kindle edition, assertions are not directly linked to footnotes, and this makes it somewhat difficult to question their integrity. Notes are grouped by chapter, and I might suggest I found that they read better than the text in fairness. This challenge placed by the author to easily interrogate the evidence and the sources disconnects and leaves the reader with unhealthy scepticism. This is not to say that one would not want to accept the evidence or naturally reject the sources, but the isolation of references from one another (they seem to stand alone with disconnected sentences) contributes to a sense of an incoherent (or cherry-picked ) evidence base.
The skeleton established by the chapters and sections shows potential and gives a slight metanarrative, but for me, it is not enough to save the experience. As a reader, I feel the book would have benefited from extensive editing to draw together the narrative and present a steady and logically coherent argument.
Now, that being said if you sat quietly and pondered and reflected after each sentence you’d probably find this an optimal experience. However, that would demand a lot from the reader – but maybe the gravity of the meta concept being explored asks for nothing less. Am I just a lazy reader and not up to the author’s challenge?
There has been some discussion over the genesis of this book as a lengthy (and well-received) essay. My impression of this book – coloured by this precondition – is that it is simply unrefined following a lengthy embellishment of the original work. What may have worked structurally for the essay did not necessarily translate into an appropriate frame of discussion to carry the reader through the far lengthier work. This leaves the reader asking – how much is gained from the enlargement from essay to book? Was this a book too far or a book stillborn?
There is wonderfully rich, compelling, engaging and dare I say essential information and data presented in this book. I wanted to be informed and enlightened, and there was much discovery for me in this work. I would have been better served was I able to quickly and efficiently verify sources for assertions and to read further.
As a coherent collection of well researched and substantive thoughts, this work fails for me as it lacks the minimum narrative string to assist, engage and ultimately persuade the reader. In that, for me, it is the product of a researcher and not an author.

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