A spry exercise in popular science. Can you dig it?

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THE EVOLUTION UNDERGROUND

BURROWS, BUNKERS, AND THE MARVELOUS SUBTERRANEAN WORLD BENEATH OUR FEET

Explosions, fires, asteroid collisions, predators: there are good reasons to go underground for critters of many descriptions, as this lightly written, pleasant survey reveals.

Many are the payoffs of knowing how to hide, as the old Monty Python gag goes. One is survival—not necessarily of the fittest but of those capable of digging the deepest. Some 66 million years ago, a massive asteroid hit the Earth, causing a huge wave of extinctions. As a result, writes paleontologist Martin (Geosciences/Emory Univ.; Dinosaurs Without Bones: Dinosaur Lives Revealed by Their Trace Fossils, 2014, etc.), “all of the dinosaurs that did not have the good sense to be birds died.” Many of the critters that did survive the cataclysm had the good sense to dwell under the surface, where they had some measure of protection from the elements. Just so, Martin writes in a closing reverie, when Mount St. Helens went up in a plume of ash and fire 36 years ago, only 14 of the 55 mammal species on the mountain survived—and guess which ones? Yep: burrowing rodents, along with a tiny shrew. Martin, known for having discovered an ancient burrowing dinosaur, examines the world underground and the evolutionary advantages attendant in knowing how to get around down there (and, as he notes, even some birds burrow). The tone is amiable and unchallenging, pitched at the level of a nature documentary (“given that our fine feathered friends of today are descended from Mesozoic theropod dinosaurs, we must look to those dinosaurs for clues”). Though Martin sometimes stretches for relevance, as when he clumsily works The Shawshank Redemption into the proceedings, the narrative is generally straightforward and enjoyable. And given the undeniable advantages of sheltering where no one can see you—no one but snakes and alligators, that is—it seems well in this fraught world to read up on how pocket gophers have built their successful subterranean empires.

A spry exercise in popular science. Can you dig it?

Pub Date: Feb. 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-68177-312-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pegasus

Review Posted Online: Dec. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2016

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An intriguing meditation on the nature of the universe and our attempts to understand it that should appeal to both...

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SEVEN BRIEF LESSONS ON PHYSICS

Italian theoretical physicist Rovelli (General Relativity: The Most Beautiful of Theories, 2015, etc.) shares his thoughts on the broader scientific and philosophical implications of the great revolution that has taken place over the past century.

These seven lessons, which first appeared as articles in the Sunday supplement of the Italian newspaper Sole 24 Ore, are addressed to readers with little knowledge of physics. In less than 100 pages, the author, who teaches physics in both France and the United States, cogently covers the great accomplishments of the past and the open questions still baffling physicists today. In the first lesson, he focuses on Einstein's theory of general relativity. He describes Einstein's recognition that gravity "is not diffused through space [but] is that space itself" as "a stroke of pure genius." In the second lesson, Rovelli deals with the puzzling features of quantum physics that challenge our picture of reality. In the remaining sections, the author introduces the constant fluctuations of atoms, the granular nature of space, and more. "It is hardly surprising that there are more things in heaven and earth, dear reader, than have been dreamed of in our philosophy—or in our physics,” he writes. Rovelli also discusses the issues raised in loop quantum gravity, a theory that he co-developed. These issues lead to his extraordinary claim that the passage of time is not fundamental but rather derived from the granular nature of space. The author suggests that there have been two separate pathways throughout human history: mythology and the accumulation of knowledge through observation. He believes that scientists today share the same curiosity about nature exhibited by early man.

An intriguing meditation on the nature of the universe and our attempts to understand it that should appeal to both scientists and general readers.

Pub Date: March 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-18441-3

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

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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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