Valuable environmental insight—a conservationist’s delight.

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Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond, Volume 1, 2nd Edition


Lancaster’s (Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond, 2007, etc.) combination reference manual, how-to guide and environmental manifesto offers a wealth of information about “water stewardship” for gardens, landscaping and everyday household use.

Novices need not be intimidated by this revised edition’s abundance of charts and diagrams or its lengthy appendices: The material is simple to understand, and Lancaster’s friendly, conversational tone is accessible for all readers. Using eight common-sense principles as a guide—e.g., “Always plan for an overflow route, and manage that overflow water as a resource”—the author makes a cogent case for water conservation; namely, it’s ethical, and it saves money. He also details integrated permaculture practices, including the importance of understanding the sun’s angles for passive cooling and heating. According to Lancaster, it’s always best to plan drainage at the highest point of a watershed and then work down, allowing the water to spread to optimal locations—a method that can be achieved through thoughtful observation of the land. Careful planting of native vegetation also plays a crucial role, and the author suggests that “water-needy” fruit trees be placed close to the house, as they can easily be nourished by roof runoff or graywater from sinks, showers and washing machines. Readers who live in wet climates may feel underrepresented in this book—Lancaster lives on an eighth of an acre in Tucson, Ariz., and uses an average of less than 12 inches of rainfall annually—but his principles can be adapted to fit any terrain or climate. Though there are many practical ideas contained within these pages, readers shouldn’t expect A to Z gardening instructions laid out in an easy-to-flip format; instead, Lancaster presents design ideas and plenty of engaging food for thought, including some personal worksheets in Appendix 5, as well as photos and real-life examples of people who have successfully harvested water for sustainable use. For example, Zephaniah Phiri Maseko, an African farmer, feeds his family in a drought-prone area thanks to his handmade reservoirs and “fruition pits.” Likewise, the Howells of New Mexico have lived on rainwater alone for over 20 years. While not everyone will want to live completely off the grid, readers interested in preserving natural resources can apply Lancaster’s time-tested ideas to any lifestyle.

Valuable environmental insight—a conservationist’s delight.

Pub Date: July 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-0977246434

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Rainsource Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 20, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2013

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A quirky wonder of a book.



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. 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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



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: Feb. 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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