The Death and Life of the Great Lakes

“I live just a few blocks from Lake Michigan and I’m not sure I would have move back to Wisconsin after living in Utah and Idaho after college if it the lake wasn’t here,” says Dan Egan, a senior water policy fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s School of Freshwater Sciences. “Milwaukee wouldn’t be Milwaukee without Lake Michigan.”

“The Great Lakes are a trove of freshwater like nowhere else,” says Dan Egan, author of the New York Times bestseller The Death and Life of the Great Lakes. “They contain one-fifth of the world’s fresh water, and there are about 40 million people who live in the Great Lakes basin. The lakes matter to us for many reasons—economically, culturally and, for me, emotionally.”

Dan Egan

              Indeed, for Egan, a journalist for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel who has covered the Great Lakes for over a decade, it’s not just a job or the realization that these bodies of water are important for commerce but also because they define a region.

              “I live just a few blocks from Lake Michigan and I’m not sure I would have move back to Wisconsin after living in Utah and Idaho after college if it the lake wasn’t here,” says Egan, a senior water policy fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s School of Freshwater Sciences. “Milwaukee wouldn’t be Milwaukee without Lake Michigan.”

              For those of us who grew up in Northwest Indiana, that same feeling prevails. Lake Michigan is part of our history and our present from the industries that lined its shores and made this area a powerhouse in manufacturing and shipping to the beauty of the dunes and beaches and all the recreational opportunities they offers, it’s all encompassing. But Egan sees the Great Lakes as being more fragile than we realize.

              “When you look out at the lake, you see this beautiful body of water but there’s so much going on that you don’t see,” he says.

              From the alewives that plagued the beaches back in the 1970s to new dangers, Egan says many of the difficulties with the Great Lakes began when they were opened up to the ocean by building the St. Lawrence Seaway, allowing large ships to bring in such invasive organisms as zebra and quagga mussels. Each year, it costs millions of dollars to remove these mussels from water intake plants.  

              “No one had ever heard of these before 2000,” he says, noting that while the shipping industry has taken steps to eliminate these unwelcome passengers, the technology is not enough to completely stop them from hitching a ride into our waters.

              In ways, it’s been one crisis after another. The Clean Water Act of 1972 helped clean up the pollution that industries and cities were dumping into the water by holding them accountable. But then came the invasive species.

              “Lake Erie, the smallest of the lakes, is probably in the worse shape,” says Egan, “because of its algae blooms and dead zones. But all the lakes are vulnerable.”

              Interestingly, Egan says that global shipping accounts for less than 5% of the traffic on the Great Lakes which he describes as being equivalent one train a day, yet they are the major cause of the problems impacting the lakes’ ecosystems.

Egan thinks it’s important for people to know the issues putting the lakes in jeopardy.

              “An informed public is an empowered public,” he says. “I hope this book gives a baseline knowledge about these glorious lakes.”


What: Dan Egan talk and book signing

When: Wednesday, January 15 from 6 to 7:30 p.m.

Where: Harold Washington Library Center, 400 S. State St., Chicago, IL 60605

Cost: Free; seating is first come, first served. Books are available for purchase and Egan will be autographing books at the end of the program.

FY: 312-747-4300;

F*ck Your Diet and Other Things My Diet Tells Me

“Our food choices and our image of ourselves are part of our culture.,” says Chloe Hilliard.

        “I didn’t come out of the womb  craving Oreos,” says comedian and journalist Chloe Hilliard, who is launching her new book, F*ck Your Diet and Other Things My Thighs Tells Me, this Monday and Tuesday at Zanies Comedy Night Club in Chicago. “Our food choices and our image of ourselves are part of our culture.”

        Hilliard, who writes about Hip Hop culture and has been featured on C-Span, CNN Headline News, ABC News and Our World with Black Enterprise, has long had an adversarial relationship with food.  Over 6-foot tall at the age of 12, she also wore both a size 12 dress and shoe at that time. In other words, she was different and she knew it.

        “Fitting in was never an option for me,” Hilliard said in a phone interview, noting that she was the loser of the fat trilogy—someone with a slow metabolism, baby weight that didn’t go away and big bones. “Growing up, it was unfair that people said just do this or that to lose weight. But now I understand it’s about acceptance, to be comfortable and to be healthy and okay with who you are.”

        It was a truth that Hilliard came to only after a long time of trying to change her body with the help of fad diets, intense workouts, starving herself and consuming diet pills. Now she looks at her body image in a different way and understands how much our culture negatively impacts the way we perceive ourselves, how corporations including the diet industry also reinforces our image of ourselves. It was enlightening and freeing. But it wasn’t easy.

        “I thought the book was going to be way more lighthearted,” says Hilliard. “I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to write. But it helped me understand where I was at different times in my life.”

        But being Hilliard, who made her national TV debut on NBC’s “Last Comic Standing.” the book is not only informative but laugh out loud funny as well. Afterall, she has a message for readers—you’re okay.

        “I use a lot of facts and figures,” she says. “I didn’t want the book to be voyeuristic, I wanted it to be about how culture effects our relationship with food and our waistline and teaches us that we are nothing without a perfect body. I want to help people get away from that. Be healthy, be fit. It’s a new year but you don’t need to be a new you, just yourself.”


What: Chloe Hilliard is launching her new book and performing at Zanies Comedy Night Club.

When: Monday, January 6 and Tuesday, January 7 at 8 p.m.

Where: Zanies Comedy Night Club, 1548 N Wells St, Chicago, IL  

Cost: General admission is $25.

FYI: 312-337-4027;

Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors and the Drug Company that Addicted America

          “How do you meet a mother at her son’s grave near the football field where he had once made the crowds roar and not want to help her figure out what happened to her kid?” asks Beth Macy, author of the New York bestseller  Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors and the Drug Company that Addicted America (Back Bay Books).

Beth Macy

To answer her question, Macy, an investigative journalist, takes readers into board rooms and pharmaceutical laboratories, dying rural communities and the seemingly perfect lives of those living in suburban McMansions. She visits a prison for a follow-up interview with a convicted drug dealer and meets with parents who have lost their children. She talked to doctors, read trial transcriptions in case of big pharmaceutical companies accused of hiding information about the addictiveness of their drugs and conferred with law enforcement. As she was doing all this research, she had a nagging thought—would it all be out of date by the time her book was published?

“I thought by then there would be a good chance we would have solved the opioid crisis,” says Macy.

 But we hadn’t and still haven’t. Between 1999 and 2017, 702,000 people died from opioid overdoses. According to data from the National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, provisional data for 2018, adjusted for delays in reporting, showed a slight decrease. Unfortunately the decline was so light that it’s questionable whether it’s even the beginning of a trend or just a blip. After all this time the data proves just one thing, opioid death rates are still extremely high.  

“It was all happening fast,” says Macy, noting at times she was typing up her interviews with sources only to learn that they had overdosed and died. “I listened to the stories of how people became addicted–sadly so many stories were typical. People were injured or in pain from surgery, were over-prescribed opioids and became addicted.”

          Indeed, Macy talked to one woman who had lost her job in the coal fields.

“She had gall bladder surgery and became addicted because she was over-prescribed and in the end no doctor would write her a prescription,” says Macy. “Her neighbor had surgery and had also lost her job and needed money to pay for her high blood pressure medicine and her rent, so she sold her medicine to her.”

Over-prescribing often started a downward spiral—lost jobs, broken marriages, families finally worn out from helping addicts over and over again, homelessness and finally death. Mothers told her of daughters who used sex to get meds. Stress communities, those where the addiction and death rates are high, are everywhere though Macy notes that in upper income areas people are “still cloaked in this sense of stigma and shame.”

It’s a crisis that impacts us now but will continue to do so in the future.

“We’ve lost generations in some of these stress communities—there’s a county in Tennessee where I’m told that 90% of the children are being raised by someone else,” she says.

What can be done? Macy says law enforcement officials tell her that educating people is an important part of the solution. And so that has become her goal.

“I want to get the stories out,” she says, “in order to help.”

Dopesick is the winner of the following awards:

The 2019 Library of Virginia People’s Choice Award in Nonfiction

LA Times Book Prize for Science & Technology Winner
American Society of Addiction Medicine Annual Media Award Winner
2018 Kirkus Prize Finalist
2019 Library of Virginia People’s Choice Award for Nonfiction finalist
2019 Ohioana Book Award in nonfiction finalist
Andrew Carnegie Medal shortlist
800-CEO-READ 2018 Business Book Awards Longlist

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