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.
Elizabeth Rush is the author of The Quickening: Creation and Community at the Ends of the Earth; Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; and Still Lifes from a Vanishing City: Essays and Photographs from Yangon, Myanmar. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Harper’s, Orion, Granta, Guernica, and elsewhere. A recipient of fellowships from the National Science Foundation, National Geographic, the Andrew Mellon Foundation, the Howard Foundation, and the Metcalf Institute, Rush lives with her husband and son in Rhode Island, where she teaches at Brown University.
"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."
– Elizabeth Kolbert, author of Under a White Sky
"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!"
– Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature
"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."
– Bathsheba Demuth, author of Floating Coast: An Environmental History of the Bering Strait
"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."
– Meera Subramanian, author of A River Runs Again: India's Natural World in Crisis, from the Barren Cliffs of Rajasthan to the Farmlands of Karnataka