de Villiers, Marq 1940-
de Villiers, Marq 1940-
Born 1940, in Bloemfontein, South Africa; son of Rene and Moira de Villiers; married Sheila Hirtle (a writer), March 20, 1965. Education: University of Cape Town, B.A., 1959; London School of Economics, diploma in international relations, 1961. Politics: "Changeable."
Home—Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada. Agent—Westwood Creative Artists, 94 Harbord St., Toronto, Ontario M5S 1G6, Canada.
Writer and journalist. Reporter and writer for South African newspapers, 1959-60; Toronto Telegram, reporter and editorial writer, 1962-65, became feature writer, 1967, went to Moscow Bureau, 1969-71; Reuters Wire Service, reporter in London and Spain; Toronto Life, executive editor, 1978-82, became editor, 1982, publisher, 1992-93; WHERE Magazines International, editorial director, 1993—.
Alan Paton Award, 1987, for White Tribe Dreaming; Governor-General's Award nominee, 1993, for The Heartbreak Grape: A California Winemaker's Search for the Perfect Pinot Noir; Governor-General's Award, 1999, for Water: The Fate of Our Most Precious Resource.
White Tribe Dreaming: Apartheid's Bitter Roots As Witnessed by Eight Generations of an Afrikaner Family, Viking (New York, NY), 1987, also published as White Tribe Dreaming: Apartheid's Bitter Roots: Notes of an Eighth-Generation Afrikaner, Macmillan (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1987.
Down the Volga in a Time of Troubles: A Journey Revealing the People and Heartland of Post-Perestroika Russia, HarperCollins (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1991, also published as Down the Volga: A Journey through Mother Russia in a Time of Troubles, Viking (New York, NY), 1992.
The Heartbreak Grape: A California Winemaker's Search for the Perfect Pinot Noir, HarperCollins West (San Francisco, CA), 1994.
(With Garth Drabinsky) Closer to the Sun: An Autobiography, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1995.
(With wife, Sheila Hirtle) Blood Traitors, HarperCollins (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1997.
(With Sheila Hirtle) Into Africa: A Journey through the Ancient Empires, Key Porter (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1997.
Water: The Fate of Our Most Precious Resource, Stoddart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1999, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2001.
Guide to America's Outdoors: Eastern Canada, National Geographic (Washington, DC), 2001.
(With Sheila Hirtle) Sahara: A Natural History, Walker (New York, NY), 2002.
(With Sheila Hirtle) Sable Island: The Strange Origins and Curious History of a Dune Adrift in the Atlantic, Walker & Company (New York, NY), 2004.
Windswept: The Story of Wind and Weather, Walker & Company (New York, NY), 2006.
Witch in the Wind: The True Story of the Legendary Bluenose, Thomas Allen Publishers (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2007.
Journalist Marq de Villiers has distinguished himself with his ability to translate complex histories and scientific ideas into readable accounts. Whether writing about his own family history in South Africa, Russia's heartland along the Volga River, a California vintner's thirty-year quest to make the perfect wine, the use and abuse of the earth's water resources, or the history of the Sahara region of Africa, de Villiers gives texture and meaning to these various settings. De Villiers has worked as an editor and publisher of Toronto Life and as editorial director of WHERE Magazines International.
In Down the Volga in a Time of Troubles: A Journey Revealing the People and Heartland of Post-Perestroika Russia, de Villiers describes his 3,500-kilometer journey through Russia's heartland in the summer of 1990. Informed by an "air of melancholy," according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer, the book details the plight of the present-day people who live along the Volga River. De Villiers adds depth to his account by supplying historical details about the region, including references to the Huns and Tartars, the Cossacks, the Revolution, and World War II. A Russian speaker and former Moscow correspondent, de Villiers had access to parts of Russia rarely seen by tourists. Meeting with the local people, "he discerned widespread nostalgia for a noble dream corrupted, then abandoned," according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer. The reviewer considered the book "serious-minded, probing," and "knowledgeable." A Kirkus Reviews critic admired de Villiers's "smooth, well-written prose," concluding that Down the Volga in a Time of Troubles is "a rich and deeply sympathetic look into parts of Mother Russia rarely visited by tourists."
Similarly, in The Heartbreak Grape: A California Winemaker's Search for the Perfect Pinot Noir, de Villiers encapsulates an entire culture in a detailed contemporary account. From vine to bottle, de Villiers traces the development of the Pinot Noir produced by California's Calera winery. Despite obstacles, which include annual droughts, damage from wildlife, and altercations with unsympathetic bureaucrats and more established winemakers, "yearly droughts, [and] suspicious neighbours, master vintner Josh Jensen of the Calera winery persists in his quest to develop fine wine from "heartbreak" grapes, which are named for their fickleness. Upon publication, the book met with critical praise and was nominated for the prestigious Governor's General Award in Canada. A Kirkus Reviews critic praised de Villiers's "great wit about the poetics of sensation." Drinking wine for de Villiers is an emotional experience. He wrote, "I closed my eyes and inhaled deeply, and the aroma went directly to the vaults in the brain where nostalgic memories are stored."
During 1998 de Villiers delved deeply into the important issues surrounding the earth's water supply, publishing his findings the following year in Water: The Fate of Our Most Precious Resource. A self-styled "water collector," de Villiers surveys global water use, presenting case histories from throughout the world. With over fifty percent of the world's rivers so polluted that they cannot be used for drinking or agriculture, the ensuing water shortages, contamination, and waste have caused many problems worldwide, including crop failures, epidemics, poverty, and the migration of some twenty-five million "water refugees." After noting that humans have not valued water as they should, de Villiers discusses the steps that must be taken to avert future disaster. He describes existing and potential water technologies and policies, in "science and engineering chapters [that] together support and inform excellent chapters on water politics," noted Tom Fyles on the Natural Science Book Review Web site. According to Fyles, the author "builds a persuasive case that water politics will dominate international and domestic agendas for at least the next decades." De Villiers's combination of "lyrical description" and "tough-minded analysis" of a crucial topic, to quote Canadian Geographic reviewer Stephen Hume, earned Water accolades and the Canadian Governor-General's award. Among the work's enthusiasts were Margaret Aycock of Library Journal, who praised the de Villiers's "entertaining yet thought-provoking narrative style," and a Publishers Weekly critic, who dubbed Water an "important, compelling, highly readable report." Moreover, in his Business Economics review, John J. Casson wrote, "Marq de Villiers is to be commended for providing an absorbing and informative account of issues that deserve a great deal of attention." Although the subject matter is serious and the future possibly dire, de Villiers ends the work optimistically by noting that world population growth is slowing, new technologies are coming on line, and people are learning water-conserving techniques. "Reading about water can be, paradoxically, dry, but de Villiers does an excellent job of rendering his oceans of data digestible," punned Los Angeles Times reviewer Tony Cohan. "Lucid and thorough, Water is a good place to tap into this subject, vast as the spreading Sahara yet intimate as your dripping kitchen faucet."
With his next book, written with his wife, Sheila Hirtle, de Villiers moved onto dry land, the Sahara desert of northern Africa. Sahara: A Natural History is a combination travel memoir, archaeological dig, and history written in an "evocative blend of reportage and concise historical overview," to quote a Publishers Weekly critic. The authors focus on the humans and places found in the three million square miles of desert, telling of the various peoples who have traveled this land throughout the ages and the tribes, such as Tauregs, Berbers, Moors, and Tubu, who continue to live there. Library Journal reviewer Tim Markus praised the work for its comprehensiveness and pointed out what he called the "fascinating account of a caravan crossing the desert." Indeed, a Kirkus Reviews commentator summed up the book as a "fully versed and admiring portrait" of a harsh land.
Similar praise greeted publication of Sable Island: The Strange Origins and Curious History of a Dune Adrift in the Atlantic, another collaboration between de Villiers and Hirtle. The book recounts the ecological and human history of Sable Island, a twenty-five-mile wide crescent of sand that lies 179 miles southeast of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Known to the earliest Atlantic mariners, the island occupies a perilous place; more than 500 ships are known to have been wrecked there, and though the island enjoys conditions favorable for habitation, few have chosen to endure its daunting weather and storms and by the early 2000s the site was home only to wildlife, including a herd of feral horses descended from animals introduced by human settlers. Laurence A. Marschall, writing in Natural History, deemed Sable Island a "highly readable and intelligent account of … the island," while Booklist contributor Gilbert Taylor hailed it as an "evocative portrait of Sable's winds, waves, and tragedies."
In Windswept: The Story of Wind and Weather de Villiers explores the mythology and science of the wind. Structuring the book around the story of Hurricane Ivan, a category-5 storm that was the worst of the 2004 season and that, in weakened form, reached as far north as Nova Scotia, de Villiers discusses ancient theories about air and wind as well as current knowledge about atmospheric composition, wind patterns, hurricane mechanics, weather forecasting, and the role of wind in shifting pollution around the planet. He also analyzes wind's potential as an alternative energy source. Library Journal reviewer Nancy R. Curtis found the book "engrossing," noting that readers would likely enjoy de Villiers's engaging voice and his numerous personal anecdotes about extreme weather. For a Publishers Weekly contributor, a particular pleasure of the book is its "entertaining did-you-know nuggets," such as the fact that a 1703 windstorm that hit London made windmill blades turn so fast that they exploded in flames from the resulting friction.
"Simply as a catalog of statistics," wrote William Grimes in the New York Times Book Review, "Windswept is a grabber." Grimes cited several facts from the book that he found especially compelling, including that a moderate hurricane, in just one day, releases energy equivalent to that in 400 twenty-megaton nuclear bombs; if this could be harnessed as electricity, it would provide New England with enough power for an entire decade. The critic praised de Villiers for his lucid explanations of the science of wind and for his voracious appetite for personal observation.
De Villiers tells the story of a Canadian icon in Witch in the Wind: The True Story of the Legendary Bluenose. Bluenose was a racing schooner that was launched in Nova Scotia in 1921 and enjoyed a seventeen-year career without a single defeat.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
de Villiers, Marq, The Heartbreak Grape: A California Winemaker's Search for the Perfect Pinot Noir, HarperCollins West (San Francisco, CA), 1994.
Audubon, November-December, 2006, Melissa Mahony, review of Windswept: The Story of Wind and Weather, p. 86.
Booklist, February 1, 1988, review of White Tribe Dreaming: Apartheid's Bitter Roots As Witnessed by Eight Generations of an Afrikaner Family, p. 902; December 15, 1993, review of Down the Volga in a Time of Troubles: A Journey Revealing the People and Heartland of Post-Perestroika Russia, p. 731; November 1, 2004, Gilbert Taylor, review of Sable Island: The Strange Origins and Curious History of a Dune Adrift in the Atlantic, p. 456; March 15, 2006, Gilbert Taylor, review of Windswept, p. 11.
Books in Canada, September 1, 1993, review of Down the Volga in a Time of Troubles, p. 52.
Business Economics, January 1, 2001, John J. Casson, review of Water: The Fate of Our Most Precious Resource, p. 71.
Canadian Geographic, May 1, 1999, Stephen Hume, review of Water, p. 89; May 1, 2000, review of Water, p. 83.
CHOICE: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, December 1, 2006, D.W. Shin, review of Windswept, p. 680.
Economist (London, England), September 18, 1999, review of Water, p. S9.
Geography, April 1, 2000, R.J. Knapp, review of Water, p. 187.
Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), May 1, 1999, review of Water, p. D16; July 3, 1999, "Into Africa," p. D15.
Kirkus Reviews, November 1, 1991, review of Down the Volga in a Time of Troubles, p. 1383; December 15, 1993, review of The Heartbreak Grape, p. 1564; July 1, 2002, review of Sahara: A Natural History, pp. 928-929; September 15, 2004, review of Sable Island, p. 899.
Kliatt Young Adult Paperback Book Guide, November 1, 2001, review of Water, p. 33.
Library Journal, November 15, 1991, review of Down the Volga in a Time of Troubles, p. 45; July 1, 2000, Margaret Aycock, review of Water, p. 132; March 1, 2001, review of Water, p. 48; August 1, 2002, Tim Markus, review of Sahara, p. 136; November 1, 2004, Margaret Rioux, review of Sable Island, p. 116; February 15, 2006, Nancy R. Curtis, review of Windswept, p. 142.
Los Angeles Times, October 5, 2000, Tony Cohan, review of Water, p. E-3.
Natural History, March 1, 2005, Laurence A. Marschall, review of Sable Island, p. 66.
Nature, September 16, 1999, Robert Gottlieb, review of Water, pp. 212-213.
New Scientist, August 7, 1999, review of Water, p. 50.
New York Times Book Review, April 17, 1988, review of White Tribe Dreaming, p. 18; April 28, 2006, William Grimes, "From Soft Breezes to Sandblasting Gales."
Publishers Weekly, January 8, 1988, review of White Tribe Dreaming, p. 70; November 8, 1991, review of Down the Volga in a Time of Troubles, p. 58; January 10, 1994, review of The Heartbreak Grape, p. 54; June 12, 2000, review of Water, p. 63; July 8, 2002, review of Sahara, p. 42; October 4, 2004, review of Sable Island, p. 80; January 2, 2006, review of Windswept, p. 43.
Quill & Quire, September, 1993, review of Down the Volga in a Time of Troubles, pp. 57-58; May, 1999, review of Water, p. 29.
School Library Journal, October 1, 2006, Susan Salpini, review of Windswept, p. 190.
SciTech Book News, December 1, 2006, review of Windswept.
Time, August 14, 2000, Eugene Linden, review of Water, p. 78.
Times (London, England), July 29, 1999, Colin Tudge, "Low Tide in the Affairs of Men," review of Water, p. 45.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), October 28, 2001, review of Water, p. 6.
University of Denver Water Law Review, spring, 2002, Rachel M. Sobrero, review of Water, pp. 554-556.
Washington Post, July 23, 2000, Mark Hertsgaard, "Splish Splash," review of Water, p. X01.
Washington Post Book World, August 19, 2001, review of Water, p. 11.
Gulf of Maine Web Times,http://www.gulfofmaine.org/ (February 27, 2008), "A Dune Adrift: The Strange Origins and Curious History of Sable Island."
Natural Science Book Review,http://naturalscience.com/ (September 24, 2002), Tom Fyles, review of Water.
Writers' Federation of Nova Scotia,http://www.writers.ns.ca/ (February 27, 2008), Marq de Villiers profile.