THE QUICKENING: Creation and Community at the Ends of the Earth

A NPR Best Book of 2023
A Shelf Awareness Best Nonfiction Book of 2023
An August 2023 Indie Next Pick, selected by booksellers
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.


“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.”—Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of Braiding Sweetgrass

“Books about Antarctica are always about dudes. Brave dudes who went to a cold, scary place and performed feats of strength and endurance in the name of being first or, sometimes, a monarch. This book is the antidote to those. It takes place on a somewhat-claustrophobic research ship bound for Antarctica. Elizabeth Rush mixes science reporting with memoir as she ruminates on her choice to have a child, how it feels to confront climate change and how laborious it is to study Antarctica.”— Rebecca Hersher, reporter, NPR’s Climate Desk “Books We Love 2023”

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.”—Lorraine Berry, Los Angeles Times

“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.”—Vogue, “Most Anticipated Books of 2023”

“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.”—Roxane Gay, Goodreads

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.”Science

“[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.”—Rachel Riederer, Scientific American

“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.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Rush eschews the expected here, interrupting narrative passages with fragmented dialogues lifted from the countless interviews she conducted with those on board–and weaving through it all her own story of becoming a mother. Rush is a journalist, with a scientist’s curiosity and powers of observation, but she is also a poet. 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.” —Sarah Beth West, Self Awareness “Best Books of 2023”

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.”—Megha Majumdar, author of A Burning: A Novel

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

“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 now 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.”—Andri Snær Magnason, author of On Time and Water

“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


“Simply stunning. Much like her previous book, Rising, Rush has this incredible skill to talk about the topic of climate change without necessarily tackling it head-on. Much like how we can sometimes see a faint star better if we look off to the side just a bit. So many layers to this book and the author weaves in and out of them with the skill of some of the greats in the genre. I was often reminded of Barry Lopez and Terry Tempest Williams while reading The Quickening and I feel like this is a book they would be proud to champion. If Rising was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, The Quickening is the book that may win it, and deservedly so.”—Tom Beans, Dudley’s Bookshop Café, Bend, OR

“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.”—Sarah Cassavant, Subtext Books, St. Paul, MN

“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.”—Sam Miller, Carmichael’s Bookstore, Louisville, KY

“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.”—Emerson Sistare, Toadstool Bookstore, Keene, NH

“This beautiful book rings with astounding truth and extraordinary passion for the care and salvation of our planet. An expedition narrative, it follows fifty-seven scientists and crew as they set out on a ship to see the Thwaites Glacier—a natural monument unexplored by humans and rapidly deteriorating. Elizabeth Rush documents the trip and while illustrating the implications of a colossal loss such as this, she also invites us to embrace hope if we wish to imagine a better future. This book defies the typical colonial adventure story and advocates for a new language of community and inclusiveness, of listening to those voices that have been silenced and acknowledging what we can learn from the practice of stewardship, rather than ownership.”—Natalie Both, Changing Hands Bookstore, Tempe, AZ

“Elizabeth Rush is a talented observer who immerses herself in her work. Her latest book, once again, gives us a lot to think about. Not simply global warming and climate change but life itself. The book asks many questions and answers a few while remaining incredibly hopeful about the future of our planet, in spite of ourselves. In writing The Quickening, Elizabeth Rush has provided a lesson and a gift to all who tread this planet. I’ll be putting a copy in the hands of all our expectant parents!”—Bill Reilly, The River’s End Bookstore, Oswego, NY

“A beautifully written, immediately engaging book about exploring a new area of the Antarctic, experiencing climate change on a vast yet immediate scale, and still deciding to bring a child into the world. The author pulls from her experiences as an observer on an exploration vessel to chart a path into the future. Excerpts from her interviews with others aboard the ship—scientists, but also the crew and even the ship’s cooks—bring multiple perspectives into her musings on everything from the breaking ice to birth stories. While the themes of the book are urgent, the messages are hopeful: while there is work for everyone, together, we can accomplish more; and when we mess up, which we all do, own the error and don’t make the same mistake again.”—Ginger Kautz, Quail Ridge Books, Raleigh, NC

“More personal than her previous book RisingThe Quickening is a deeply meditative internal journey into the mind and external journey to the ends of the earth. Rush explores her deeply held desire to become a mother, an emotion that often feels in direct opposition to her work reporting on climate change’s effect on both our natural world and the people living on its edges. It’s thrilling to read an account of an Antarctic expedition not written by a self-aggrandizing man.”—Elayna Trucker, Napa Bookmine, Napa, CA

“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.”—Stephen Sparks, Point Reyes Books, Point Reyes, CA

“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!”—Todd Miller, Arcadia Books, Spring Green, WI

“Three long cold weeks at sea brought Rush’s 2019 Antarctic expedition face-to-face with the rapidly melting Thwaites glacier; struck by both the ice’s beauty against its ‘bruised’ blue sky, and awareness of their own role in its future, Rush and her companions wondered if they witnessed ‘the end of the world or the start of a new one’? Rush’s immersive account weighs the evidence, recounting the whys and hows of core data collection, describing life at sea, letting everyone on board have a say, and charting the rise of econatalism: the ethics of bringing a child into the age of climate change. This question colors everything Rush experiences, from knowing her child ‘will cause . . . 50 square meters of sea ice to melt every year’ he’s alive to hoping he’ll act collectively with others to protect that ice. Hers is a troubling, urgent, and mesmerizing look at where we are now.”—Laurie Greer, Politics & Prose, Washington DC

“Elizabeth Rush’s personal thoughts, observations and actual participation give you a front row seat as she takes you on an incredible journey heading towards Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica. Joined by scientists, students, the media and the crew of the research vessel the Palmer, the author presents a true collaboration necessary for the success of this important study of glacial climate change that affects us all. Parallel to her observations on board are Rush’s intimate thoughts on her own pregnancy. The Quickening reads like a production in four acts with all the crucial characters on a moving stage, presented in their own voice. This vital chronicle just might make you more aware of our changing world.”—Mindy Ostrow, The River’s End Bookstore, Oswego, NY

“In The Quickening, Elizabeth Rush shares unique personal and scientific accounts of climate change on a journey to Antarctica with a crew from all over the world. A beautifully written, compelling, hopeful, and important work that will help us understand how climate change shapes the world and us.”—Lisa Valentino, Ink Fish Books, Warren, RI

“Elizabeth Rush’s story of a scientific mission to Antarctica is as surreal as the times we are living in, true yet unfathomable, and beautiful yet heartbreaking, much like the journey of motherhood she shares.”—Katrina Mendrey, Chapter One Bookstore, Hamilton, MT

“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.”—Ellie Ray, Content Book Store, Northfield, MN

Unlike (Rush’s previous book) RisingThe Quickening is a little more positive and hopeful in its message and approach. You would think that a book about the decline of Antarctic ice shelves would be depressing and scary, and it’s not to say that Rush isn’t when she talks about it; but the contrast of the melting glaciers with the new friendships she forged on her expedition send a different kind of message about how humanity (and all life, really) isn’t doomed. Couple that with the personal battle she faced in her desire to have a child in a world that is quickly becoming hotter, wetter, and less likely to sustain life, and The Quickening becomes a book that will resonate with millennials and younger generations as we navigate the best way to drive our species into the future. The way forward isn’t people cutting back in how we live and survive, but trying to understand what’s happening and holding those in power responsible to prevent it from getting worse.”—Theodore Zarek, Brown University Bookstore, Providence, RI

“’The only way to survive great loss is to care for what remains with even more heart than before.’ The Quickening comes out a week after my second surgery for endometriosis. This time around, I was asked to consider freezing my eggs. I was contemplating motherhood when Rush’s book fell off a bookshelf into my lap. In preparation for my surgery, I was instructed to place a book on my belly to learn how to breathe through my abdomen—pushing the book up with air like waves. With closed eyes, I imagined the hush of the Antarctic Ocean, ectopic pregnancies, little blue boots slipping on ice, glaciers cracking, mud, penguins, seals, enraptured men, camaraderie, lemon curd on frostbitten vanilla ice cream, tangerine scarves, fertility treatment, beech trees, indigo skies, and Thwaites. This book taught me how to breathe by reminding me there is so much life around and within us to care for.”—Elanna Conn, P&T Knitwear Bookstore, New York City, NY