New York Times Bestseller
Winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize
Winner of the J. Anthony Lukas Award
"Nimbly splices together history, science, reporting and personal experiences into a taut and cautiously hopeful narrative.… Egan’s book is bursting with life (and yes, death)." —Robert Moor, New York Times Book Review
The Great Lakes—Erie, Huron, Michigan, Ontario, and Superior—hold 20 percent of the world’s supply of surface fresh water and provide sustenance, work, and recreation for tens of millions of Americans. But they are under threat as never before, and their problems are spreading across the continent. The Death and Life of the Great Lakes is prize-winning reporter Dan Egan’s compulsively readable portrait of an ecological catastrophe happening right before our eyes, blending the epic story of the lakes with an examination of the perils they face and the ways we can restore and preserve them for generations to come.
Egan, a reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, effectively calls attention to the inherent fragility of the Great Lakes in this thought-provoking investigation, providing a modern history of the lakes Erie, Huron, Michigan, Ontario, and Superior and the problems that have plagued them. He takes readers "beneath the lakes' shimmering surface and illuminates an ongoing and unparalleled ecological unraveling." Egan starts the discussion by examining the 1950s construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway, a system of locks, canals, and channels connecting the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean. Supporters had hoped landlocked cities such as Chicago and Cleveland would in time become global commercial ports rivaling New York City and Tokyo. Subsequent chapters deal with some of the project's unintended consequences. Non-native species began showing up in the Great Lakes. Zebra mussels, once found primarily in the Caspian and Black Sea basins, hitchhiked their way across the Atlantic in the ballast tanks of freighters. Able to fuse themselves to hard surfaces and grow "in wickedly sharp clusters," zebra mussels can clog pipes, cause significant damage to boats, and "suck the plankton the life out of the waters they invade." Egan highlights a range of issues that have affected these crucial waterways for decades.