Definitely one for dyed-in-the-wool bird lovers.

WHITE FEATHERS

THE NESTING LIVES OF TREE SWALLOWS

A search for the answer to a seemingly trivial question—why do tree swallows line their nests with white feathers?—reveals much about the nesting behavior of these wild birds but even more about the lifestyle of a dedicated scientist.

Heinrich (Emeritus, Biology/Univ. of Vermont; The Naturalist's Notebook: Tracking Changes in the Natural World Around You, 2017, etc.), a prolific author and naturalist, is no casual observer of nature. Each spring from 2010 to 2018, the now-retired professor sat quietly for hours watching tree swallows, counting, measuring, recording, and conducting experiments. He focused on a single pair of tree swallows, first in Vermont and then from his cabin in Maine. Rising sometimes before dawn, he recorded to the minute the birds’ behaviors: “Finally, at 6:46 a.m., he landed on the box, peeked in, and flew back up to perch quietly on the locust tree until 7:12 a.m.” Heinrich kept precise tabs on when the migrating birds returned, mated, built a nest, and laid eggs as well as when the eggs hatched, how often the chicks were fed, and when they fledged. The affinity of tree swallows for white feathers puzzled him, and he conducted experiments with feathers of various sizes and colors, even with strips of toilet paper when no feathers were available. The answer to the white feather puzzle he offers here is appealing but one that he admits needs further testing. As he writes, “eight years observing ‘my’ swallows’ behaviors related to white feathers yielded both fascination and frustration.” The author provides more information about the nesting behavior of tree swallows than most general readers will want to know, but the picture that emerges of a naturalist at work is impressive. Illustrations include eight pages of his own black-and-white close-up photographs and a scattering of delightful drawings of trees, nests, birds, feathers, and eggs.

Definitely one for dyed-in-the-wool bird lovers.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-328-60441-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Oct. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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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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