Paul Bogard teaches creative nonfiction at James Madison University and is the editor of the anthology Let There Be Night: Testimony on Behalf of the Dark. This intriguing book about darkness, light, cities, the starry sky, night, and migrations of birds is a masterwork about the beauties and the challenges of reclaiming naturally dark nights. As it now stands, 99% of people living in the United States are among 2/3 of the world's population that have no experience of this glorious delight. Over the past 20 years, artificial light has spread from cities to suburbs and to rural towns where it is getting harder to see stars in the night skies.
In 1888, the artist Vincent Van Gogh said, "It often seems to me that the night is much more alive and richly colored than the day." In cities all over the world, the greatest sources of lights come from parking lots and streetlights. Bogard reports that Las Vegas is the brightest spot in the world, as seen from space. Its lights are visible from at least eight national parks.
With great precision and focus, Bogard shows how our exposure to light affects our sleep; causes problems with night-vision; exposes night-shift workers to cancer; disorients birds, bats, and moths; and has little impact on the increase of crime despite those who still see darkness as evil. We were both entertained and edified by Bogard's journeys to France where he speaks with Paris' lighting engineer; to New Mexico where we learn about the significance of the night sky in ancient civilizations; to Concord, Massachusetts, where he reflects on the adverse effects of light pollution on wildlife; and to Sark in the United Kingdom where he visits the world's first International Dark Sky Island.
By the time we finished this awesome book, we had a fresh appreciation of the Wendell Berry poem which Bogard carried with him during his travels:
"To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings."