THE EDGES OF THE CIVILIZED WORLD

A JOURNEY IN NATURE AND CULTURE

Poet Deming (Temporary Homelands, 1994) heads selectively for sundry outbacks in the hope of tapping wisdom from them on the prospects for our wild and open lands. What is this thing we call civilization, she wonders, and how may it alter the fate of the earth? Is civilization basically an expression of optimism? Or is it mainly a destructive power? And can art—most notably poetry, for Deming a bastion of the “local, peculiar, off-kilter and half seen”—help to resolve so unwieldy a matter as the terms of our existence? To probe these not exactly petite questions, Deming stakes out patches on the wild and fragile edges of civilization—along the Sea of Cortez, in southern Mexico, on Hawaii—fault lines “where pressure constantly builds, where the impingement of economic necessity abrades against nature.” These are places “rich in life forms and survival strategies.” Said strategies often involve one of Deming’s nemeses: tourism, eco and otherwise. The author views tourism variously as a form of neocolonialism, forcing locals to serve outsiders— whims and desires; as a path leading away from resource destruction and toward global economic integration; as a fusion of each. While sojourning in her chosen outposts, she takes the measure of their gestalt. Deming’s verbal big pictures can also include a glimpse of the spirit passing across the land, most easily grasped when she has come upon a sacred place that calls on all her senses. A writer of skillful means and economy, Deming doesn’t enter such terrain lightly, nor does she trifle with it: —What I am calling for is an ecology of culture in which we look for and foster our relatedness across disciplinary lines without forgetting our differences.” (Author tour)

Pub Date: Nov. 30, 1998

ISBN: 0-312-19543-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Picador

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1998

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A quirky wonder of a book.

WHY FISH DON'T EXIST

A STORY OF LOSS, LOVE, AND THE HIDDEN ORDER OF LIFE

A Peabody Award–winning NPR science reporter chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century scientist and how her quest led to significant revelations about the meaning of order, chaos, and her own existence.

Miller began doing research on David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) to understand how he had managed to carry on after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his work. A taxonomist who is credited with discovering “a full fifth of fish known to man in his day,” Jordan had amassed an unparalleled collection of ichthyological specimens. Gathering up all the fish he could save, Jordan sewed the nameplates that had been on the destroyed jars directly onto the fish. His perseverance intrigued the author, who also discusses the struggles she underwent after her affair with a woman ended a heterosexual relationship. Born into an upstate New York farm family, Jordan attended Cornell and then became an itinerant scholar and field researcher until he landed at Indiana University, where his first ichthyological collection was destroyed by lightning. In between this catastrophe and others involving family members’ deaths, he reconstructed his collection. Later, he was appointed as the founding president of Stanford, where he evolved into a Machiavellian figure who trampled on colleagues and sang the praises of eugenics. Miller concludes that Jordan displayed the characteristics of someone who relied on “positive illusions” to rebound from disaster and that his stand on eugenics came from a belief in “a divine hierarchy from bacteria to humans that point[ed]…toward better.” Considering recent research that negates biological hierarchies, the author then suggests that Jordan’s beloved taxonomic category—fish—does not exist. Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence.

A quirky wonder of a book.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6027-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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IN MY PLACE

From the national correspondent for PBS's MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour: a moving memoir of her youth in the Deep South and her role in desegregating the Univ. of Georgia. The eldest daughter of an army chaplain, Hunter-Gault was born in what she calls the ``first of many places that I would call `my place' ''—the small village of Due West, tucked away in a remote little corner of South Carolina. While her father served in Korea, Hunter-Gault and her mother moved first to Covington, Georgia, and then to Atlanta. In ``L.A.'' (lovely Atlanta), surrounded by her loving family and a close-knit black community, the author enjoyed a happy childhood participating in activities at church and at school, where her intellectual and leadership abilities soon were noticed by both faculty and peers. In high school, Hunter-Gault found herself studying the ``comic-strip character Brenda Starr as I might have studied a journalism textbook, had there been one.'' Determined to be a journalist, she applied to several colleges—all outside of Georgia, for ``to discourage the possibility that a black student would even think of applying to one of those white schools, the state provided money for black students'' to study out of state. Accepted at Michigan's Wayne State, the author was encouraged by local civil-rights leaders to apply, along with another classmate, to the Univ. of Georgia as well. Her application became a test of changing racial attitudes, as well as of the growing strength of the civil-rights movement in the South, and Gault became a national figure as she braved an onslaught of hostilities and harassment to become the first black woman to attend the university. A remarkably generous, fair-minded account of overcoming some of the biggest, and most intractable, obstacles ever deployed by southern racists. (Photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-374-17563-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1992

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