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Non-fiction Book and Documentary Reviews

By Frank Kaminski

Frank Kaminski has been a steady contributor to Mud City Press. His work focuses on reviews of books or documentaries about or pertaining to peak oil or climate change but also includes reviews of novels and films that describe a post-peak oil world. Mud City Press is proud to present this archive of Frank's non-fiction and documentary reviews. See Frank's fiction and film reviews here. His reviews of books written or edited by John Michael Greer are located here.

The Kaminski Archive of Non-fiction Reviews

AN INCONVENIENT APOCALYPSE: Environmental Collapse, Climate Crisis, and the Fate of Humanity
"The goal of AN INCONVENIENT APOCALYPSE isn't to try to convince people of the reality of humankind's environmental and societal crises. The book's authors know that's a fool's errand, given the powerlessness of facts alone to change minds."
BOYS AND OIL: Growing up Gay in a Fractured Land
"Taylor Brorby's memoir BOYS AND OIL is a powerful coming-of-age story, a fascinating intellectual autobiography, a passionate paean to the natural wonders of Brorby's native rural North Dakota and a stark warning about the ecological harms of fossil fuel extraction."
"Emmanuel Cappellin is a fine filmmaker," writes Frank Kaminski, "an eager student of ecology and a fervent environmental activist. ONCE YOU KNOW is his first feature-length documentary, and it's a stunning debut."
ASPHALT: A History
"Historian Kenneth O'Reilly" writes Frank Kaminski, "tells the story of what he persuasively argues is one of humankind's most underappreciated resources. Asphalt, also known as bitumen, is an abundant, versatile, highly concentrated form of petroleum that has been with our species since time immemorial, and has gradually, in O'Reilly's view, come to be taken for granted."
PLASTIC: An Autobiography
"PLASTIC," writes Frank Kaminski, "is a beautifully written, intricate mosaic that weaves memoir, poetry, cultural and scientific history, chemistry, biography, etymology, journalistic reportage and self-reflection into a penetrating rumination on humanity's relationship with plastic."
THE BLACK TEARS OF THE SEA: The Lethal Legacy of Wrecks
"A little-known menace lurks beneath the sea. In oceans around the world, thousands of sunken World War II vessels litter the seafloor, their fuel tanks rusting away and either actively leaking or poised to leak their contents into the environment," writes Frank Kaminski in the opening of his review of the German TV documentary THE BLACK TEARS OF THE SEA.
POWER: Limits and Prospects for Human Survival
Frank Kaminski reviews Richard Heinberg's new book POWER.
THE NEW POSSIBLE: Visions of Our World Beyond Crisis
"THE NEW POSSIBLE," writes Frank Kaminski, "is an eclectic assortment of essays by activists, experts and other prominent figures from around the world. The thread that ties them together is a recognition that, for all the harm it has caused, the COVID-19 pandemic has opened up exciting new possibilities for societal change."
BREAKING BOUNDARIES: The Science of Our Planet
"BREAKING BOUNDARIES," writes Frank Kaminski, "is a well-intentioned but ill-conceived documentary about the ecological destruction currently being wrought by industrial humanity."
LIFE AFTER FOSSIL FUELS: A Reality check on Alternative Energy
Herein lies a powerhouse of deftly conveyed information and insight into our current historical moment with regard to energy.
MY OCTOPUS TEACHER is both a gorgeous wildlife documentary and a moving tale of how a man in crisis found joy and purpose through his immersion in nature and a remarkable relationship with an octopus.
THE ECONOMIC SUPERORGANISM: Beyond the Competing Narratives on Energy, Growth, and Policy
In this aptly titled book, University of Texas research scientist Carey W. King argues that the modern-day global economy is a superorganism.
CAPITALISM AND ENVIRONMENTAL COLLAPSE is an exhaustive summary of today's plethora of existential ecological threats, followed by an equally comprehensive discussion of what author Luiz Marques deems to be the core fallacies at their root.
80° North: Sailing on Top of the World
The docuseries 80° NORTH is part sailing adventure, part beautifully photographed travelogue and part eyewitness account of the environmental threats faced by the Arctic.
10 BILLION is a sci-fi tale of astonishing scope and visual imagination
THE CRASH OF FLIGHT 3804: A Lost Spy, a Daughter's Quest, and the Deadly Politics of the Great Game for Oil
"THE CRASH OF FLIGHT 3804 is a triumph on two fronts," writes Frank Kaminski. "First, it's a comprehensive history of U.S. involvement in the Middle East that manages the uncommon feat of placing this history into its proper context: America's need for Middle Eastern oil. It also serves as an exciting, moving account of author Charlotte Dennett's decades-long journey to expose the truth behind her father's death."
LIVING IN THE LONG EMERGENCY: Global Crisis, the Failure of the Futurists, and the Early Adapters Who Are Showing Us the Way Forward
James Howard Kunstler's latest book, LIVING IN THE LONG EMERGENCY, is a welcome nonfiction follow-up to The Long Emergency.
THE EARTHING MOVIE: The Remarkable Science of Grounding
Immersion in nature has a wide range of human health benefits. It has been found to do amazing things for our mood as well as our nervous, endocrine and immune systems. But as with anything, it's important to bring a critical eye to claims made about nature's healing powers, as some of these claims have been known to stray into the absurd.
"Of all the documentaries that have been made about the dangers of plastic," writes Frank Kaminski, "the one that has stuck with me the most is PLASTIC PLANET."
DisemPOWERed: Puerto Rico's Perfect Storm
Hurricane Maria's takedown of the Puerto Rican power grid in September 2017 brought modern life to a standstill across the island. Many regions remained without electricity for months, and some for nearly a year. Over that period more than 3,000 people died from lack of access to basic necessities. There was, however, one notable haven from the widespread mayhem, a place in the town of Adjuntas called Casa Pueblo, which for the past 20 years has been powered completely by solar energy.
CHASING CORAL: A Documentary Film
"By raising sea temperatures, climate change is eradicating the world's coral. Because coral reefs provide sustenance and protection to vast numbers of humans and marine organisms," writes reviewer Kaminski, "it would be a big deal for them to go extinct." A very big deal.
GROWTH: From Microorganisms to Megacities
Frank Kaminski reviews Vaclav Smil's latest book.
DOWNWIND: A People's History of the Nuclear West
Frank Kaminski reviews Sarah Alisabeth Fox's history of nuclear testing in the United States during the 1950s and 1960s and its impact on the people and the environment.
HUBBERT'S PEAK: The Impending World Oil Shortage
"This is the first of three books that the late geologist Kenneth S. Deffeyes, who passed away a year ago this week, wrote about the coming global oil crisis."
OIL, POWER, AND WAR: A Dark History
"In OIL, POWER, AND WAR," writes reviewer Frank Kaminski, "French journalist Matthieu Auzanneau presents a comprehensive, provocative history of humankind's relationship with oil. His account takes us from the first references to oil in ancient literature and scripture, to its current status as the lifeblood of the industrial economy, to its inevitable future demise as a usable energy source for our society."
Frank Kaminski reviews Adolfo Doring's documentary BLIND SPOT and Josh Tickell's documentary FUEL.
ENERGY RETURN ON INVESTMENT: A Unifying Principle for Biology, Economics, and Sustainability
Frank Kaminski reviews Charles A. S. Hall's ideas on evaluating investments through the lens of energy.
SHRINKING THE TECHNOSPHERE: Getting a Grip on the Technologies that Limit Our Autonomy, Self-sufficiency and Freedom
Frank Kaminski calls Dmitry Orlov's latest publication, SHRINKNG THE TECHNOSPHERE, his "most profound book yet."
ACTIVE PEACE: A Mindful Path to a Nonviolent World
"It's been pointed out countless times that humankind's current ecological crisis stems from our conviction that we're apart from nature," writes Frank Kaminski. "Scott Brown's book ACTIVE PEACE takes a closer look at what lies beneath this mistaken belief, which he contends has deeply wounded all of us psychologically."
BOTANICAL TREASURES: Multi-use Plants for Renewable Resources and a Nature-based Economy
"This lively reference by veteran permaculture designer and eco-forester Joshua Smith looks at a variety remarkable plant species. In the process, it offers great insights and practical advice for those striving to embrace sustainable, nature-based ways of living–and to liberate themselves from the pernicious, ailing technosphere that dictates life for most people in the industrial world. The blessings that these plants could confer on future human and ecological well-being are legion, and Smith covers them comprehensively and engagingly."
PEAK OIL: Apocalyptic Environmentalism and Libertarian Political Culture
"Matthew Schneider-Mayerson's PEAK OIL investigates the ideology and subculture of 'peakists'" writes Frank Kaminski, "and explores how their movement was influenced by the ascendancy of libertarianism into mainstream American politics and the rise of the Internet technology."
"These two books by David Fleming, one of the preeminent environmental authors of recent times," writes Frank Kaminski, "contain many treasures, but perhaps their greatest virtue is the light they shed on the fallacies of thinking that underpin so much modern-day debate."
DARK GOLD: The Human Shadow and the Global Crisis
Frank Kaminski reviews Carolyn Baker's latest book DARK GOLD, an application of the Jungian thesis of "the shadow" to our individual and global confrontation with the ongoing environmental degradation of the planet.
THE ORACLE OF OIL: A Maverick Geologist's Quest for a Sustainable Future
"This is the inaugural biography of the great 20th-century geoscientist Marion King Hubbert," writes Frank Kaminski of this landmark book, "and it sets a high bar. Its author, science journalist Mason Inman, supplies a spirited, page-turning portrait of Hubbert's life, times and ideas. Though previously known mostly for his data-driven journalism–as a writer for periodicals like Science, Nature and National Geographic News–here Inman shows that he has considerable narrative writing muscles as well."
THE AGE OF CONSEQUENCES: A Chronicle of Concern and Hope
"'I consider myself to be a professional daydreamer,' reads the opening line of Courtney White's Internet bio page," writes Frank Kaminski. "And indeed, White–a fine, imaginative thinker and writer who happens to be related to the legendary William Faulkner–has done a prodigious amount of fruitful daydreaming about the future. This dreaming isn't of the blithely pie-in-the-sky variety, though. The term White has coined for the era in which humanity now lives, the 'Age of Consequences,' will have an ominous ring to many ears. Yet his book of the same title brims with such well-founded optimism that potential readers who yearn for the 'hope' promised by its subtitle, A Chronicle of Concern and Hope, won't be disappointed."
THE SCHIZOPHRENIC SOCIETY: Lost in a make-believe world while we destroy the real one
Frank Kaminski reviews the book THE SCHIZOPHRENIC SOCIETY, Roger Boyd's application of the psychological concept of schizophrenia to modern society.
THE SEA GYPSY PHILOSOPHER: Uncommon Essays From a Thoughtful Wanderer
Frank Kaminski reviews this collection of essays by Ray Jason, self-proclaimed SEA GYPSY PHILOSOPHER.
LOVE IN THE AGE OF ECOLOGICAL APOCALYPSE: Cultivating the Relationships We Need to Thrive
Frank Kaminski reviews Carolyn Baker's new book LOVE IN THE AGE OF ECOLOGICAL APOCALYPSE. Baker, writes Kaminiski, "believes we're approaching a rite of passage that will reveal to us our true place in nature, and perhaps even transform us into a new breed of human being." Heady stuff!
AFTERBURN: Society Beyond Fossil Fuels
Frank Kaminski reviews Richard Heinberg's new book AFTERBURN, a collection of essays written by the Peak Oil movement's most influential spokesperson.
THE COLLAPSE PHENOMENON: Michael Ruppert's last book, first starring film role, and ascendancy to National Stage in 2009
Frank Kaminski traces the late Michael Ruppert's asendancy into the national spotlight.
THE LONG EMERGENCY: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-first Century
Frank Kaminski reviews this peak oil classic, James Howard Kunstler's THE LONG EMERGENCY, ten years later.
"THE WORLD AFTER CHEAP OIL," writes Frank Kaminski, "offers an exhaustive, up-to-date dissection of the world oil situation. It looks at the issue from every angle, starting with the looming supply shock for which the world's developed nations are tragically unprepared, and moving on to the concomitant crisis with Earth's climate that our oil use has unleashed."
DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change
"That this book is categorized as psychology rather than environmental science is significant," writes Frank Kaminski. "It's a measure of how intent the author and publisher are on distinguishing it from other books about climate change. The way they make it different is by turning the usual mode of climate change education on its head."
THE MARKET GARDENER: A Successful Grower's Handbook for Small-Scale Organic Farming
"For some years now, author and farmer Jean-Martin Fortier has lived rather comfortably off the proceeds of his market garden in Québec, Canada. He, his wife Maude-Hélène Desroches and their two children generate up to $140,000 in revenue a year and feed more than 200 local families with vegetables raised on a mere acre and a half. And they do so without tractors or other industrial farm equipment. Fortier's terrific success at low-tech growing has earned him an international following and the moniker 'rock star farmer.'"
This documentary, writes reviewer Frank Kaminski, "is presented from an uncommon and intriguing point of view, that of an avid paddleboard athlete and outdoorsman named Norm Hann. In the spring of 2010, Hann traveled 400 kilometers along the B.C. coastline on his stand-up board, tracing a proposed tanker route from Kitimat to Bella Bella."
Frank Kaminski reviews Jeff Orlowski's documentary film on the work of photographer James Balog. Balog's still photos and time-lapse photos of melting Arctic ice serve as sure proof of climate change and what it's doing to our planet.
INTO ETERNITY: A Film for the Future
"There's a growing sense that we modern-day humans are morally obligated to protect our descendants from the hazards of our nuclear waste," writes Frank Kaminski to set up his review of this Finnish documentary. "Yet the task of providing this protection may be a fool's errand. The most obvious way of doing it, which is to leave some sort of warning, could prove completely ineffectual and could even backfire."
Frank Kaminski reviews two new critical examinations of fracking, Richard Heinberg's SNAKE OIL and Bill Powers' COLD, HUNGRY AND IN THE DARK.
"More and more," writes Frank Kaminski in his review of Dmitry Orlov's new book THE FIVE STAGES OF COLLAPSE, "it's starting to seem like the sensible approach is to get out of the awareness-raising business entirely and focus our energies instead on providing practical guidance to those who are willing to use it."
"So the other night I was browsing Netflix's instant view collection for a good, recent zombie movie with which to satiate my doomerish craving for mass societal mayhem and collapse," writes reviewer Frank Kaminski, "when I came upon a film called STATE OF EMERGENCY. My advice to you is that if in coming days you find yourself doing the same thing, don't make the same mistake. The film is egregiously clichéd, foolishly plotted and wildly unbelievable–in short, it's a reanimated turkey of a zombie movie."
SUPPLY SHOCK: Economic Growth at the Crossroads and the Steady State Solution
"Of all the proposed solutions to the conundrum of perpetual growth in a finite world," writes Kaminski in his review of Brian Czech's SUPPLY SHOCK, "one stands out for its straightforwardness and frankness. It is the notion of a steady state economy, or one that strives toward equilibrium rather than continual expansion."
A SMALL AMERICAN CITY: A Podcast Series by Duncan Crary
"For many people, a city means the excitement and the cultural allure–as well as the crowding, pollution and other problems–of an enormous metroplex. Yet that notion of a city is being challenged as more and more people come to appreciate small-city living. The former steel town of Troy, New York offers a case in point. Despite being small, it lays just as much claim to offering true "city" life as does any major world center, from New York City to London to Mumbai. It's simply a different brand of city life.," writes Frank Kaminiski in his review of Duncan Cracy's podcast series.
THE LOCALIZATION READER: Adapting to the Coming Downshift
Frank Kaminski reviews THE LOCALIZATION READER, a collection of essays about preparing for the post-carbon age, edited by Raymond De Young and Thomas Princen.
SHARE OR DIE:Vocies of the Get Lost Generation in the Age of Crisis
"We find ourselves adrift without the old social contracts and economic opportunities enjoyed by previous generations," writes Frank Kaminiski describing the predicament of Generation Y, "and that's the real reason for our underemployment, poverty and protracted parental dependence. Good credentials and a solid work ethic, once the key to success and prosperity, count for so little now."
"James Kunstler has a new work of social criticism titled TOO MUCH MAGIC, his first nonfiction book since The Long Emergency came out in 2005. The book is an inquiry into a skewed, delusional perception of reality that Kunstler thinks has become 'baseline normal for the American public lately.' Americans, he says, have been led astray by the incredible technological advancements of recent times. We've come to believe that any problem we face is solvable—as if by magic–with the application of some new technology."
MOTHER: Caring for Seven Billion
"Christophe Fauchere's documentary film MOTHER: CARING FOR SEVEN BILLION," writes reviewer Frank Kaminski, "takes a penetrating look at overpopulation, what fuels it and why the world has become complacent about the issue after making a good start in addressing it during the late 60s. The film dispels some key myths about overpopulation–chief among them the belief that it's long been solved–even if it stops short of admitting the inevitability of a world population crash as the Earth's resources deplete."
THE KUNSTLERCAST: Conversations with James Howard Kunstler
Duncan Crary's new book, THE KUNSTLERCAST, draws on four years' worth of weekly interviews with James Kunstler—in the course of an eponymous Internet talk show–and lumps them under the tagline "the tragic comedy of suburban sprawl." And Kunstler himself seems to be onboard, describing his diatribes as having "sort of evolved into a comedy act."
Frank Kaminiski reviews two memoirs, Jan Lundberg's SONGS OF PETROLEUM and Amanada Kovattana's DIAMONDS IN MY POCKET.
THE GLOBAL WARMING READER: edited and introduced by Bill McKibben
"Author Bill McKibben is a foremost authority on climate change and the machinations of those who so vehemently refute it. His latest book, THE GLOBAL WARMING READER, is a well-chosen and arranged collection of climate-related writings by the likes of James Hansen, Al Gore and George Monbiot."
LIFE WITHOUT OIL: Why We Must Shift to a New Energy Future
"LIFE WITHOUT OIL," writes Frank Kaminski of this book by Steve Hallet and John Wright, " is an attempt, and not a bad one, to persuade the general public of the need to wean off fossil fuels. It provides an in-depth overview of the issue, arrives at sound conclusions and uses a chatty, largely jargon-free writing style."
END OF GROWTH: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality
"While 'experts' assure us that the economy is slowly emerging from recession," writes Frank Kaminiski in this timely review, "a growing camp of well-informed dissenters thinks not. The scant evidence of recovery, insists this group, is not an anomaly but the sign of a profound sea change. THE END OF GROWTH, one book unequivocally calls it, next to a cover image of a burst balloon and a pin. The book's author, Richard Heinberg, makes his case by far the most eloquently and comprehensively–and though it may be a decidedly unwelcome one for those now struggling, that doesn't detract from its validity."
REINVENTING COLLAPSE: The Soviet Experience and American Prospects–Revised and Updated
"Neither an economist nor a formally trained scholar, Dmitry Orlov is perhaps best described in his own words, as 'more of an eyewitness' to the phenomenon on which he writes. He's a Russian émigré who saw the Soviet Union fall firsthand and has been drawing on this experience in warning of the coming U.S. collapse. He came to fame five years ago with a smash-hit Internet article that won him a loyal following and a subsequent book deal. The book, REINVENTING COLLAPSE, is now in its second edition–and regardless of how well it holds up to scholarly scrutiny, it's admirable in its wit and prodigious street smarts."
"There are two common reactions to news about our species' present-day crisis," writes Frank Kaminski. "One is confusion and bewilderment arising from the fact that even the experts can't seem to agree on which threats are real or what to do about them. The other is despair at the sheer number of crises and the dire implications of each, which can eventually lead to tune-out, apathy and annoyance whenever they're mentioned. Neither response is productive, and thus there's a dawning recognition on the part of experts, activists and educators that the way in which these issues are presented to the public must change if we're to keep people engaged. One person calling for such a change in focus is international security analyst Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed in his USER'S GUIDE TO THE CRISIS OF CIVILIZATION."
DISASTER ON THE HORIZON: High Stakes, High Risks, and the Story behind the Deepwater Well Blowout
In the six months since the Deepwater Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico was sealed, five books have been published on the topic. Frank Kaminski applies his analysis to this one by Bob Cavnar, a man who spent his career in the oil and gas drilling business.
"For several years groups of innovative, environmentally conscious people worldwide have been part of a social change movement called Transition," writes Frank Kaminski reviewing Rob Hopkins' doctoral dissertation. "It strives to create relocalized communities that are resilient to the looming climate and energy crises, and in which 'the future with less oil could be preferable to the present.' It all began humbly enough as a class project six years ago. Since then, it's spawned thousands of communities, inspired a documentary and several books, been awarded millions in grants and vaulted its figurehead, Rob Hopkins, to something like celebrity status in southwestern England. If there's a movement today that can be welcomed as a fulfillment of David Korten's 2006 book The Great Turning, this is it." Read at Energy Bulletin.
TWILIGHT IN THE DESERT: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy
Matthew R. Simmons, one of the most respected commentators on peak oil, died in August of 2010. Frank Kaminski writes a commemorative review of the late Matt Simmon's last book, TWILIGHT IN THE DESERT. It's subtitle tells it all. Read at Energy Bulletin.
THE IMPENDING ENERGY MESS: What It Is and What It Means to You
"In The Maltese Falcon a character tells detective Sam Spade, 'By Gad, sir, you're a character, that you are! Yes, sir, there's never any telling what you'll do or say next, except that it's bound to be something astonishing.' I'm telling Bob Hirsch the same thing," says Kaminski. "There's no denying the man's considerable credentials within the energy industry, nor his contribution to peak oil scholarship as principal author of the first major U.S. government report to take the issue seriously. But neither is there any predicting what outlandish thing he'll propose next in his efforts to spread the message." Read at Energy Bulletin.
Frank Kaminski's selection of books to review is invariably equal to his ability to critique. WHEN OIL PEAKED by Ken Deffeyes is a perfect example–an important new book viewed through Frank's discerning eye. Read at Energy Bulletin.

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