Title: The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Night
Author: Paul Bogard
A deeply panoramic tour of the night, from its brightest spots to the darkest skies we have left. A starry night is one of nature’s most magical wonders. Yet in our artificially lit world, three-quarters of Americans’ eyes never switch to night vision and most of us no longer experience true darkness. In THE END OF NIGHT, Paul Bogard restores our awareness of the spectacularly primal, wildly dark night sky and how it has influenced the human experience across everything from science to art. From Las Vegas’ Luxor Beam–the brightest single spot on this planet–to nights so starlit the sky looks like snow, Bogard blends personal narrative, natural history, science, and history to shed light on the importance of darkness–what we’ve lost, what we still have, and what we might regain–and the simple ways we can reduce the brightness of our nights tonight (from Goodreads).
Thoughts: With the advent of artificial light, the night sky changed forever. A 75 watt light bulb is one hundred times brighter than a candle. And so, as we used lights to extend day in our homes, businesses, and streets, the night grew lighter as well. Today, 80% of people in the United States will never live in an area where they can see the Milky Way. This is not because of geography, but because the lights in our towns and cities are so bright at night that they literally blot out the sky; instead of seeing the thousands upon thousands of stars right above them, most people in cities today only see a couple dozen, a phenomena entirely caused by the brightness of our lights, their overabundance of night, and poor lighting fixtures that allow light to cast about with no direction. And this just doesn’t happen in the city and towns; the gleaming light from urban areas gather and cast their light into the country side, in the case of cities up to dozens of miles, cresting a ‘sky glow’ in rural areas- a lighter patch of the night sky on the horizon- that blots out the sky and its stars miles away from the original light source. Bogard travels the country, and the world, from the brightest single spot on the planet- the Luxor Beam in Las Vegas- to London, Paris, Arizona, and Minnesota, looking for places that use light in a responsible way, enabling their communities to actually see and enjoy the night sky, and looking for the darkest night in the United States.
Although I took an astronomy class in college and enjoyed it, I admit that I have never thought much about the night sky . Until hearing about this book, I had no idea about the concept of ‘light pollution’, and that there was a whole movement dedicated to redesigning urban lighting with not just less light, but lighting fixtures with shields that minimize glare and ‘light trespass’ which would facilitate better vision at night. The sad truth of the matter is that we use way more light at night then we need to see properly. Our nights are twice as bright as they were 30 to 40 years ago but the process has happened so slowly that the vast majority of the population has not noticed not only the increase of light but the absence of 98% of the starts from the night sky above them as well.
For opening my eyes to an issue I didn’t even know existed, and for encouraging me to turn my head up at the sky at night, I am grateful for this book. Unfortunately, in regards to the content and organization of the book itself I confess to being disappointed. In my mind the book was in desperate need of restructuring and a re-edit. There seemed to be no plan for the book; information was presented haphazardly- one minute we were walking through London and the next through Arizona with no sembelance continuity in the information being presented. I felt like he included too many interviews with too many people on too many different issues, never going into depth and the result being a huge gap of discontinuity between scenes in the chapters.
Most of the chapters consisted of a page or two of information, interviews, or scenes of the night wherever Bogard happens to be, and then a jump to a new location and, all too often, a different subject. The fact of the matter was that all too often I felt like I wasn’t reading a book about the night sky and the issues facing it, but instead unconnected vignettes about the night sky in different areas, memories of night from Bogard’s childhood, and short interviews with scientists, activists, and park rangers on the state of the night sky in different areas. For example, in one chapter he spends the first 10 pages visiting native ruins in the Southwest, talking about their astronomical orientation and interviewing a Native American about the place of the sky in native cultures, and then the chapter takes a strange turn as he talks about and interviews people on the topic of the melancholy of night and night and its spiritual connections. There was simply no continuity within the chapter and the information presented which made for very disjointed reading.
The tightest written chapter in the book was also the most successful, at least in my opinion. In a chapter concerning the role of exposure to artificial light and health issues, Bogard focuses on night workers and their higher risks for certain diseases and other health problems. In this chapter, Bogard only visits two places: a university campus at night where he talks to the night shift of custodial workers, and a hospital, interviewing the night staff. He sticks to one topic, doesn’t veer of course, and only interviews two different groups of people on the same issue: working at night and the stress it puts on your body. Throughout, he relays relevant information in terms of scientific studies, statistics, and other pertinent findings. This sort of coherent narrative was what I expected from the rest of the book, which I unfortunately did not find outside of this chapter.
Another big source of contention with me in regards to this book was the notes on each chapter located at the end. I am one of these people who reads the end notes while I am reading the book. Usually endnotes are indicated in the text with a star so that you then know to turn to the back to read the relative information. Boagrd did not include stars or any other indicator in the main text when there was a relative endnote. I can understand his not including stars or other indicators in an effort to not make his text seem overly complicated or off-putting. However, I am sorry to say, but that his endnotes were a mess. Each chapter has about two to three pages of endnotes in a smaller font then the main text with no indication as to where individual notes in a chapter began or ended. The information in the notes seemed like text he originally included in the book and then took out but because he still wanted to keep these passages he put them in the back. In most instances this was additional information about a subject that was not needed or additional quotes from and interview or full passages from literature that he paraphrased in the text. In one case I remember he quotes from an interview that is never discussed or alluded to in the main text! He also gives his citations here instated of a bibliography, saying the information for ‘blah blah blah’ came from this book or this website. His notes where not needed in most cases and frustrating to read because their was no break between the notes of a chapter besides a paragraph break, which did not help as some notes on some subjects within a chapter took up several paragraphs. His endnotes where just a reflection of a book that was published before it was ready; it should have been restructured, reoutlined, and maybe even rewritten.
I know I have sounded harsh in this review but part of the reason I was so frustrated was that the information presented was so interesting and because Bogard is obviously a talented writer. I had never thought about the quality, or the amount, of light that we emit at night or how or the use of artificial light at night effected our view of the stars, the Milky Way, or our sense of grandeur when we look up at the night sky. I enjoyed reading this book and I am glad for the questions and issues it brought to my attention but I can’t ignore how the book was structured and presented and how it affected my enjoyment in reading it. Final word: an interesting book with great information about a topic too few people are aware of but not worth the $27.00 price tag. The cover however is gorgeous though so I won’t entirely regret seeing it among my other books on the shelves. 🙂