An August 2023 Indie Next Pick, selected by booksellers
A Vogue Most Anticipated Book of 2023
A WBUR Summer Reading Recommendation
A Next Big Idea Club’s August 2023 Must-Read Books
An astonishing, vital book about Antarctica, climate change, and motherhood from the author of Rising, finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction.
In 2019, fifty-seven scientists and crew set out onboard the Nathaniel B. Palmer. Their destination: Thwaites Glacier. Their goal: to learn as much as possible about this mysterious place, never before visited by humans, and believed to be both rapidly deteriorating and capable of making a catastrophic impact on global sea-level rise.
In The Quickening, Elizabeth Rush documents their voyage, offering the sublime—seeing an iceberg for the first time; the staggering waves of the Drake Passage; the torqued, unfamiliar contours of Thwaites—alongside the workaday moments of this groundbreaking expedition. A ping-pong tournament at sea. Long hours in the lab. All the effort that goes into caring for and protecting human life in a place that is inhospitable to it. Along the way, she takes readers on a personal journey around a more intimate question: What does it mean to bring a child into the world at this time of radical change?
What emerges is a new kind of Antarctica story, one preoccupied not with flag planting but with the collective and challenging work of imagining a better future. With understanding the language of a continent where humans have only been present for two centuries. With the contributions and concerns of women, who were largely excluded from voyages until the last few decades, and of crew members of color, whose labor has often gone unrecognized. The Quickening teems with their voices—with the colorful stories and personalities of Rush’s shipmates—in a thrilling chorus.
Urgent and brave, absorbing and vulnerable, The Quickening is another essential book from Elizabeth Rush.
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Praise and Prizes
“The Quickening, Elizabeth Rush’s new work of nonfiction, reframes the end of the world—geographical and climatological. [. . .] Alongside recitations of the science as well as meditations of a much more personal nature, the intrepid reader is treated to prose that lifts Rush’s work far above standard journalism.”
“Elizabeth Rush’s The Quickening is one part memoir, one part reporting from the edge—think Elizabeth Kolbert's The Sixth Extinction—a book that feels as though it was written from the brink. In this case the extreme scenario is literal: Rush, a journalist, joins a crew of scientists aboard a ship headed for a glacier in Antarctica that is, like much of the poles, rapidly disappearing. The book brings the environmental crisis into a personal sphere, asking what it means to have a child in the face of such catastrophic change. [. . .] Rush writes with clarity and precision, giving a visceral sense of everything from the gear required to traverse an arctic landscape to the interior landscape of a woman facing change both global and immediate.”
“[The Quickening is] a distinctive addition to the Antarctic canon. [. . .] Rush centers women’s voices in her exploration of motherhood and the Earth, gliding between her personal reflections, descriptions of life aboard the ship and stories of what comes after. Simultaneously lyrical and analytical, The Quickening depicts Rush’s search for meaning while rejecting easy answers.”
“[The Quickening] offers an exploration story that is also a literature of community, as attentive to the cooks and the marine techs as it is to the scientists whose work they support. [. . .] Ultimately Rush determines that the work of parenting, like the floating village of people studying the glacier, is paving the way for other, better futures.”
“Elizabeth Rush, Pulitzer Prize finalist for Rising, is no stranger to chronicling difficult narratives about climate change, and conveys profound urgency without ever descending into panic. In The Quickening, she turns that skill to a most daunting task: joining the crew of the Nathaniel B. Palmer and the team of scientists attempting to gather data from Antarctica's never-before-explored Thwaites Glacier. [. . .] As impressive as the structure is, it's at the sentence level that Rush's artistry shines, each description a pearl, and the string of them a thing of undeniable beauty. Rush is a journalist, with a scientist's curiosity and powers of observation, but she is also a poet, and sentences like this one demonstrate her formidable skills: 'I get the sense that all afternoon, I have been eavesdropping on a conversation that has been taking place over hundreds of years, a conversation whose language is material, written in ice and rock and bone.”
“In The Quickening, Elizabeth Rush takes readers to the precipice of the climate crisis. Aboard the Nathaniel B. Palmer, an American icebreaker, Rush and a crew of scientists, journalists, and support staff set bow and stern in front of Thwaites Glacier for the first time in history [. . .] The Quickening is a poignant, necessary addition to the body of Antarctic literature, one that centers—without glorifying—motherhood, uncertainty, community, vulnerability, and beauty in a rapidly melting world.”
“Elizabeth Rush takes readers along as she documents the 2019 Thwaites Glacier expedition in Antarctica. The voyage had 57 scientists, researchers and recorders onboard to document the groundbreaking glacier, which has never been visited by humans. [. . .] Rush ties her findings of the Thwaites Glacier expedition to raising kids and living in a quickly changing world.”
“The fascinating inside story of climate science at the edge of Antarctica [. . .] In this follow-up to Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore, Rush shows us how data collection happens, capturing the intriguing details of climate science in the field [. . .] The scientists are not the only heroes of Rush’s book, which emphasizes above all the collaborative and interdependent nature of such voyages, where so much depends on the staff and crew. In addition to her own poetic voice, the author incorporates the voices of everyone on the ship, highlighting women and racial and ethnic minorities, who have been overlooked in the canon of Antarctic literature.”
“Rush’s reporting is top-notch, and her personal reflections make this an unusually intimate account of climate change. Readers will find plenty to ponder.”
“The Quickening took me on an immersive journey through both exterior and interior landscapes, deftly crossing the boundaries between the frigid Antarctic and the warm heart. Elizabeth Rush’s writing is multilayered, from fascinating scientific accounts to intimate human stories and deep examinations of how we live deliberately in a melting world.”
“In The Quickening, Elizabeth Rush chronicles a months-long journey to the Thwaites glacier in Antarctica with scientists who are conducting research that will help us better understand how global warming is reshaping our planet. As with Rising, this book is beautifully written, deeply felt, and thoroughly researched. [. . .] Antarctica is a mysterious, terrifying, vast place and Rush captures all of it with genuine curiosity and intelligence. This book is at once a love letter and a meditation and a gentle warning—and we very much need all three.”
“The Quickening is the Antarctic book I've been waiting for—an immersive modern day expedition tale, a reflection on science and knowledge-making, a confrontation with gendered histories, and a brilliant writer's spellbinding meditation on human mistakes, distant goals, and courage.”
“The Quickening is about the end of a great glacier and the beginning of a small life. It is a book about imagining the future, and it is a book of hope.”
“Going to the Antarctic is an adventure, big science is an adventure, having a child is an adventure—and all of these adventurers are shaded by the great and tragic adventure of our time, the plunge into an ever-warmer world. So, this is an adventure story for the ages!”
“An Antarctic book like no other, this mesmerizing account of a writer contemplating motherhood tagging along on a scientific voyage to the literal bottom of the world is the best writing I have read about climate change yet. The poetically personal account, mixed with the chorus of the scientists’ statements of purpose, catches the reader’s attention in a way no dry facts could.”
“One of the most insightful expeditions I have read in quite some time. Not only does Elizabeth Rush sail into the Southern Ocean and Antarctica, but she also elegantly navigates the difficult questions of meaning and purpose that hold together the center of our communities and selves. Rush’s narration is one that will find an audience of questioners and explorers, both of the world and the soul, for years to come.”
“A phenomenal book that’s part travelogue, part memoir, and part climate change call to action, The Quickening is an essential read. Rush’s first-hand account of Antarctic melting and climate change pushes against her reckoning with motherhood and what it means to bring new life into a changing world, creating a book that is vulnerable, urgent, and not to be missed.”
“Elizabeth Rush is a proven chronicler of our changing planet, and in The Quickening, she turns her perspicacious gaze to the complex entwining of birth and loss. Told in a chorus of voices, this is a vital addition to the literature of the climate emergency.”
“At one point in The Quickening, Rush makes the point that we know more about the moon than we do about the Antarctic ocean, which feels impossible and isn’t. This whole book was like that, bringing fantastical truths about the natural world into sharp focus alongside our personal, everday decision-making. As Rush witnesses firsthand the effects of climate change on the glacier Thwaites while hoping to become a mother, we’re able to focus on hope even as we reckon with our impact on the planet.”
“Rush’s previous book, Rising, was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2018. It focused on the rising seas and is an excellent read. The Quickening is an outstanding outline of our human circumstances and the impact we have on nature. The biggest surprise for me isn’t that Rush is an excellent writer, it is that she leaves you feeling surprisingly hopeful in the face of everything. I recommend that you experience the adventure!”
“Ranging from glaciers to what grows within, this journey to Antarctica is like none you’ve read before—delightful and devastating, profound and grounded, but most of all shimmering with life. The Quickening is a mesmerizing ode to the power of melting ice and the necessity of creation amid world-altering change. I cried and laughed from cover to cover.”
“The Quickening masterfully weaves the great scale of Earth’s largest, coldest, and most remote geological entities with the most intimate and personal desires one can have: the decision to bring a child into this world. This is a story that could only have been told during this time in history, when the fate of a glacier is directly connected to the lifespan of a child. A dazzling, warm, and enlightening book, bringing Antarctica closer to our hearts.”
“In The Quickening, Elizabeth Rush offers readers a symphony of voices from the people who stand at the forefront of climate investigations, woven with the singular lyrical story about a woman’s embodied hope for the future. On a ship bound for the uncharted edge of the fragile Thwaites Glacier, experience an Antarctic voyage you’ve never heard before, about a warming world breaking apart, even as new life begins.”
"An astonishing, vital book about Antarctica, climate change, and motherhood from the author of Rising, finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction."
"In 2019, a group of scientists set out for Thwaites Glacier, which has the ominous nickname of Doomsday Glacier, in the Antarctic. It had never been visited before by humans, and the goal was to gather as much information as possible. The glacier itself is suspected to be deteriorating, which could have catastrophic effects on sea levels. Rush not only documents the scientific journey and gives voice to various crew members, but also explores what it means to bring a new life into the world, as she starts to contemplate motherhood in the time of climate change."