Sunday, November 29, 2009

Review Monday: Diane Ackerman's Dawn Light

Diane Ackerman,
Dawn Light: Dancing with Cranes and Other Ways to Start the Day
W.W. Norton & Company; 2009
240pp; $24.95

Reviewed by Nina Amato

It’s hard to imagine poetry intermingling with science. The two are not common bed fellows. Yet Diane Ackerman’s Dawn Light: Dancing with Cranes and Other Ways to Start the Day is a poetic celebration of nature and science. The book is so beautifully written, we may not even realize that we’re learning something. Did you know that bees sleep in on autumn mornings? Or that birds tailor their songs to their landscape? Were you aware that city lights increase breast cancer rates by 50 percent? Or that children in Norway develop slower, intellectually and physically, during the long winter due to reduced sunlight and subsequent vitamin D deficiency? Ackerman presents these and other facts about our world with delightfully engineered prose.

Dawn Light is a book about the world. The world at dawn. Ackerman wants us to appreciate everything about dawn; the beauty and the science.

The chapter, Water, Water Everywhere, is about, not surprisingly, water. Water in the oceans. Water in the clouds. Water at dawn. We are entranced by the topic with the chapter’s first stunning sentence, “In the sapphire hours before sunrise, ice floes on the lake crack the mirror reflection of trees.” Ackerman goes beyond this exquisite imagery, bringing our attention past water’s evident beauty to its imperative role in our existence. “Eccentric right down to our atoms, we’d be impossible without water’s weird bag of tricks. The litany of we’re only here because begins with this chilling one: We’re only here because ice floats.” This is science reported by a poet.

Ackerman’s gorgeous observations of the world at dawn are described with such splendor that reading the book is almost as uplifting as actually viewing a sunrise. “As the sun drives gold nails through the shadows, a dull red dawn, the color of deer and rust, soars up the sky.” Few could construct such a beautiful picture of dawn using only words. The whole book is lovely verbal photograph, full of history, science, and poetry.
Harried by deadlines, overcome with stress, it is easy to forget the world that surrounds us. Other creatures are busy too. Cranes are coupling up to raise their young together, just as people do. Early birds are catching their worms, possibly because drowsy half-asleep worms are easier to catch. Bees, farmers by occupation, are tending their crops in the summer based on the waking schedule of each flower.
Dawn Light is a beautiful reminder to pause and admire the world around us. The world is a marvelous place; especially at dawn.

Reviewer Nina Amato wishes she had a job to list in this bio. Sympathetic employers can view her work at

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