Flooding off these pages is a man who loves his life, brimming with curiosity and deeply respectful of the creatures and...

RACING THE ANTELOPE

WHAT ANIMALS CAN TEACH US ABOUT RUNNING AND LIFE

An intriguing and entertaining exploration into the things that runners can learn from animals.

Heinrich is best known for his studies of ravens in the Maine woods (The Mind of a Raven, 1999, etc.), but he is a crackerjack ultramarathoner as well as a deservedly award-winning nature writer. Here he taps into his research on the metabolism of animals, from bumblebees to camels, to glean some hints on how to improve his performance in an upcoming 100-kilometer race. First, he brings us back to his youth, where running was one of those pure and simple things that he could readily understand: the primal, unadorned joy of the movement. Like the monarch butterfly and the goose (for whom movement is “in their makeup. It is their way of coping”), running came naturally to Heinrich. As he traces his path to ultramarathoning, he brings readers up to speed with such running arcana as VO2 max, muscle fiber types, oxygen transport, and anaerobic energy burns. Then he turns his attention to specific animals and how they contend with economizing their energy: the power outputs of antelope, the prodigious aerobic pacing of frogs, why a camel protects itself from the sun, the smooth and efficient stride of the cockroach. He takes what he can from these and many more examples as he becomes “increasingly aware of my own breathing, heart rate, sweating, energy stores, stride, and running pace.” Heinrich delves into evolution to fashion his own training regime for the 100K race, which he relates in detail at the close of his account. And believe it, you’ll be pulling for him all the way.

Flooding off these pages is a man who loves his life, brimming with curiosity and deeply respectful of the creatures and environment around him. (Line drawings by the author)

Pub Date: May 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-06-019921-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2001

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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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Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

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LAB GIRL

Award-winning scientist Jahren (Geology and Geophysics/Univ. of Hawaii) delivers a personal memoir and a paean to the natural world.

The author’s father was a physics and earth science teacher who encouraged her play in the laboratory, and her mother was a student of English literature who nurtured her love of reading. Both of these early influences engrossingly combine in this adroit story of a dedication to science. Jahren’s journey from struggling student to struggling scientist has the narrative tension of a novel and characters she imbues with real depth. The heroes in this tale are the plants that the author studies, and throughout, she employs her facility with words to engage her readers. We learn much along the way—e.g., how the willow tree clones itself, the courage of a seed’s first root, the symbiotic relationship between trees and fungi, and the airborne signals used by trees in their ongoing war against insects. Trees are of key interest to Jahren, and at times she waxes poetic: “Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.” The author draws many parallels between her subjects and herself. This is her story, after all, and we are engaged beyond expectation as she relates her struggle in building and running laboratory after laboratory at the universities that have employed her. Present throughout is her lab partner, a disaffected genius named Bill, whom she recruited when she was a graduate student at Berkeley and with whom she’s worked ever since. The author’s tenacity, hope, and gratitude are all evident as she and Bill chase the sweetness of discovery in the face of the harsh economic realities of the research scientist.

Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-87493-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

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