The stories are plain engrossing—in their elucidation, their breadth of examples, and their barely contained sense of awe...

WINTER WORLD

THE INGENUITY OF ANIMAL SURVIVAL

An array of ways to beat the cold when central heating isn’t an option, from National Book Award nominee Heinrich (Racing the Antelope, 2001, etc.).

The cleverness of evolutionary design is everywhere on display in this look at how animals cope with winter. Like the good teacher he must be at the University of Vermont, Heinrich takes pains to be clear, laying a groundwork of information for what follows. He starts at the molecular level, explaining the properties of water and the difference between heat and temperature, then providing an outline of various life-maintenance techniques used by creatures from insects to bears—methods that include aestivation and brumation, freezing point depression, antifreeze, ice-nucleation sites, thermal hyteresis, and supercooling, all allowing these organisms to survive the “regularly occurring famine” that winter brings on its heels. Heinrich’s description of snow’s thermal qualities makes it understandable that a broad range of animals use it for insulation, but what he clearly delights in are the startling discoveries resulting from fieldwork undertaken by both himself and others. We learn about the differing bill morphologies of birds, about the spring peepers and chorus frogs that freeze solid after suffusing their cells with glucose, the arctic ground squirrels that heat up from their torpor to get a little REM sleep, and the chronobiology of flying squirrels as they set their internal clocks without external cues. There’s the role of camouflage, as in the weasel turning white, and the unique architecture of birds’ nests (“the more different or exotic the nest appearances there are for different species, the less any one would stand out to predators”), not to mention the many insects, whose “success is derived from exploiting individual specificity.” Heinrich relates each creature’s method as a story, slowly revealing its canny, outrageous, or dumbfounding aspects—letting the reader sit back and marvel.

The stories are plain engrossing—in their elucidation, their breadth of examples, and their barely contained sense of awe and admiration. (Drawings throughout)

Pub Date: Jan. 10, 2003

ISBN: 0-06-019744-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2002

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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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Unsentimental nature writing that sheds as much light on humans as on eels.

THE BOOK OF EELS

OUR ENDURING FASCINATION WITH THE MOST MYSTERIOUS CREATURE IN THE NATURAL WORLD

An account of the mysterious life of eels that also serves as a meditation on consciousness, faith, time, light and darkness, and life and death.

In addition to an intriguing natural history, Swedish journalist Svensson includes a highly personal account of his relationship with his father. The author alternates eel-focused chapters with those about his father, a man obsessed with fishing for this elusive creature. “I can’t recall us ever talking about anything other than eels and how to best catch them, down there by the stream,” he writes. “I can’t remember us speaking at all….Because we were in…a place whose nature was best enjoyed in silence.” Throughout, Svensson, whose beat is not biology but art and culture, fills his account with people: Aristotle, who thought eels emerged live from mud, “like a slithering, enigmatic miracle”; Freud, who as a teenage biologist spent months in Trieste, Italy, peering through a microscope searching vainly for eel testes; Johannes Schmidt, who for two decades tracked thousands of eels, looking for their breeding grounds. After recounting the details of the eel life cycle, the author turns to the eel in literature—e.g., in the Bible, Rachel Carson’s Under the Sea Wind, and Günter Grass’ The Tin Drum—and history. He notes that the Puritans would likely not have survived without eels, and he explores Sweden’s “eel coast” (what it once was and how it has changed), how eel fishing became embroiled in the Northern Irish conflict, and the importance of eel fishing to the Basque separatist movement. The apparent return to life of a dead eel leads Svensson to a consideration of faith and the inherent message of miracles. He warns that if we are to save this fascinating creature from extinction, we must continue to study it. His book is a highly readable place to begin learning.

Unsentimental nature writing that sheds as much light on humans as on eels.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-296881-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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