Bird on Fire

Andrew Ross could easily have set a study of urban sustainability in a green mecca like Portland or San Francisco, but he instead chose to delve into Phoenix, a semi-arid desert city that faces daunting challenges both natural (scant rain and more than 330 days of bright sunshine a year) and man-made (unfettered growth and its attendant sprawl, industrial pollution, and divisive anti-immigrant policies).


In researching Bird on Fire: Lessons from the World's Least Sustainable City, Ross, professor of social and cultural analysis at New York University, interviewed more than 200 Phoenicians -- politicians, developers, farmers, environmental activists, and many others -- in order to gauge how prepared residents are for "the fast-approaching era of resource scarcity." In this deeply felt book, there is never any doubt as to where Ross's sympathies lie. "I can vouch that my second-grader, who tagged along on some of my interviews, had a more accurate understanding of greenhouse gases than that offered by the majority leader of the Arizona Senate," he writes disdainfully after a meeting with one pol.


With the compelling argument that "the climate crisis is as much a social as a biophysical challenge," Ross says Phoenix's future depends on how well its denizens can cooperate with each other. He makes smart connections between global warming and the recent -- and notorious -- fight over immigration in Arizona, condemning the contradictions of the "eco-apartheid" that sees wealthy residents enjoying clean air and mountain views while the minority-dominant South Phoenix is awash in toxic pollution. He challenges readers to expand their definition of sustainability, arguing that in a city as strapped for resources as Phoenix, small individual gestures towards environmental living don't do enough to alter the status quo. And in a stirring conclusion, he writes, "There is nothing sustainable in the long run about one population living the green American dream while, across town, another is still trapped in poverty and pestilence."

April 24: "[The HST] lifted a curtain from our view of the universe, changing it so profoundly that no human can look at the stars in the same way..."

Kenneth Calhoun (Black Moon) and Lysley Tenorio (Monstress) of the Discover Great New Writers program on B-movies, heritage, and finales.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
In the Light of What We Know

Zia Haider Rahman's mystery of a brilliant Bangladeshi mathematician's past barrels through the Ivy League, London high finance, and spy-haunted Afghanistan in a page-turning tale of exile, intrigue and the price of friendship. A Discover Great New Writers selection.

The People's Platform

Once touted as the foundation for tomorrow's digital democracy, the Internet is increasingly ruled by a few corporate giants, while millions of contributors till its fields for free. Astra Taylor looks at why the web has failed to deliver a communitarian cyberscape, and offers a compelling case for restoring its original vision.

A Private Venus

Dubbed "the Italian Simenon," Giorgio Scerbanenco (1911-1969) began his crime-writing career with books set in the USA, but quickly shifted scene closer to home, the city of Milan.  In this adventure, appearing in English for the first time, his underdog hero Dr. Duca Lamberti finds himself in the middle of a seedy, scantily clad criminal racket, where the presence of an outsider could result in death.