BY THE LIGHT OF THE GLOW-WORM LAMP

THREE CENTURIES OF REFLECTION ON NATURE

paper 0-306-45992-2 Manguel’s (A History of Reading, 1996, etc.) collection of natural history essays is overburdened with selections from Victorian Englishmen, with a smattering of odd gems to sustain the reader’s interest. Late 19th- and early 20th-century English writings on nature are known for their high coloration and elegiac tone, where nothing is left unsaid and the din of words can obscure the subject. That style evidently appeals to this editor. The anthology—divided into sections on landscape, birds, beasts, and on insects and fish—buzzes with the work of John Clare and Philip Henry Gosse, Richard Jeffries, Henry Seebohm, and Charles Darwin. Edmund Selous’s tone is typical: “If life is, as some hold it to be, a vast melancholy ocean over which ships more or less sorrow-laden continually pass and ply. . . .” begins his essay on bird watching. If you push these gents to the side, though, a number of pleasures bob to the surface. They include Annie Dillard’s meadow nightwatch (“I must have seen a thousand grasshoppers, alarums and excursions clicking over the clover, knee-high to me”) and Maurice Maeterlinck’s wonderfully stuffy tribute to the pismire. We also overhear Vladimir Nabokov deciding whether or not it will be a good day for glimpsing butterflies. Then there are the 18th-century contrarian tweakings of Bedfordshire vicar Charles Abbot, for whom autumn “is the one favorable time to realize how grand a color is a bright green.” Mark Twain and D.H. Lawrence offer terrific, if not exactly unknown, landscape notes. Diane Ackerman elegantly reminds readers to get out and observe while the observing is still to be had. With a few fine exceptions, then, here’s the nature essay at its most quaint and rhapsodic, from empurpled pens.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-306-45991-4

Page Count: 362

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1998

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A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

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NO ONE IS TOO SMALL TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE

A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

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Whether you call this a personal story or nature writing, it’s poignant, thoughtful and moving—and likely to become a...

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H IS FOR HAWK

An inspired, beautiful and absorbing account of a woman battling grief—with a goshawk.

Following the sudden death of her father, Macdonald (History and Philosophy/Cambridge Univ.; Falcon, 2006, etc.) tried staving off deep depression with a unique form of personal therapy: the purchase and training of an English goshawk, which she named Mabel. Although a trained falconer, the author chose a raptor both unfamiliar and unpredictable, a creature of mad confidence that became a means of working against madness. “The hawk was everything I wanted to be: solitary, self-possessed, free from grief, and numb to the hurts of human life,” she writes. As a devotee of birds of prey since girlhood, Macdonald knew the legends and the literature, particularly the cautionary example of The Once and Future King author T.H. White, whose 1951 book The Goshawk details his own painful battle to master his title subject. Macdonald dramatically parallels her own story with White’s, achieving a remarkable imaginative sympathy with the writer, a lonely, tormented homosexual fighting his own sadomasochistic demons. Even as she was learning from White’s mistakes, she found herself very much in his shoes, watching her life fall apart as the painfully slow bonding process with Mabel took over. Just how much do animals and humans have in common? The more Macdonald got to know her, the more Mabel confounded her notions about what the species was supposed to represent. Is a hawk a symbol of might or independence, or is that just our attempt to remake the animal world in our own image? Writing with breathless urgency that only rarely skirts the melodramatic, Macdonald broadens her scope well beyond herself to focus on the antagonism between people and the environment.

Whether you call this a personal story or nature writing, it’s poignant, thoughtful and moving—and likely to become a classic in either genre.

Pub Date: March 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0802123411

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

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