Though reminding us of the cruelties still visited upon animals and insisting that we respect them anew—not merely as pets...

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THE INTIMATE BOND

HOW ANIMALS SHAPED HUMAN HISTORY

Fagan (Emeritus, Anthropology/Univ. of Calif., Santa Barbara; The Attacking Ocean: The Past, Present, and Future of Rising Sea Levels, 2013, etc.) brings consummate skill to this frequently horrifying study of humanity's interaction with animals.

The author considers his book a purely historical inquiry, not simply an account of how our relationships to Earth's other inhabitants have changed over 2.5 million years, but how our interdependent relationships with eight mammals—dogs, goats, sheep, donkeys, pigs, cattle, camels and horses—have profoundly shaped human history. Fagan notes that the very word “animal” has roots in the Latin term anima, or “soul.” He then reveals how early humans defined their world in terms of the animals that were potent ritual partners and discusses how animals went from being respected as individuals to the modern commodification of select species as work animals and food. Eventually, traditional hunting, subsistence farming and husbandry yielded to systematic agriculture, large-scale herding, permanent settlements, cities and the Industrial Revolution. But the story is subtler and more involved than a partnership-to-exploitation narrative, involving not only Western concepts of animals as human possessions, but also a fundamental, distancing shift in humankind's relationship to the natural environment. Fagan ably explains the various mentalities and contradictions inherent in that story, and he studies a priceless archive of memory, embodied in legend and folklore, regarding associations between animals and people before wholesale domestication became subjugation. Still, our understanding of the factors that transformed wild creatures into domestic beasts owes much to conjecture and interpretation, something Fagan is keen to point out. His analysis, however, is sound, the product of an accomplished archaeological and anthropological background.

Though reminding us of the cruelties still visited upon animals and insisting that we respect them anew—not merely as pets or idealized creatures of the wild—Fagan offers no resolutions to our conflicting attitudes toward them, but his compelling, cohesive book calls for further enlightenment.

Pub Date: April 14, 2015

ISBN: 978-1620405727

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Jan. 19, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2015

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Whether you call this a personal story or nature writing, it’s poignant, thoughtful and moving—and likely to become a...

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H IS FOR HAWK

An inspired, beautiful and absorbing account of a woman battling grief—with a goshawk.

Following the sudden death of her father, Macdonald (History and Philosophy/Cambridge Univ.; Falcon, 2006, etc.) tried staving off deep depression with a unique form of personal therapy: the purchase and training of an English goshawk, which she named Mabel. Although a trained falconer, the author chose a raptor both unfamiliar and unpredictable, a creature of mad confidence that became a means of working against madness. “The hawk was everything I wanted to be: solitary, self-possessed, free from grief, and numb to the hurts of human life,” she writes. As a devotee of birds of prey since girlhood, Macdonald knew the legends and the literature, particularly the cautionary example of The Once and Future King author T.H. White, whose 1951 book The Goshawk details his own painful battle to master his title subject. Macdonald dramatically parallels her own story with White’s, achieving a remarkable imaginative sympathy with the writer, a lonely, tormented homosexual fighting his own sadomasochistic demons. Even as she was learning from White’s mistakes, she found herself very much in his shoes, watching her life fall apart as the painfully slow bonding process with Mabel took over. Just how much do animals and humans have in common? The more Macdonald got to know her, the more Mabel confounded her notions about what the species was supposed to represent. Is a hawk a symbol of might or independence, or is that just our attempt to remake the animal world in our own image? Writing with breathless urgency that only rarely skirts the melodramatic, Macdonald broadens her scope well beyond herself to focus on the antagonism between people and the environment.

Whether you call this a personal story or nature writing, it’s poignant, thoughtful and moving—and likely to become a classic in either genre.

Pub Date: March 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0802123411

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

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An authoritative, engaging study of plant life, accessible to younger readers as well as adults.

THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY OF PLANTS

A neurobiologist reveals the interconnectedness of the natural world through stories of plant migration.

In this slim but well-packed book, Mancuso (Plant Science/Univ. of Florence; The Revolutionary Genius of Plants: A New Understanding of Plant Intelligence and Behavior, 2018, etc.) presents an illuminating and surprisingly lively study of plant life. He smoothly balances expansive historical exploration with recent scientific research through stories of how various plant species are capable of migrating to locations throughout the world by means of air, water, and even via animals. They often continue to thrive in spite of dire obstacles and environments. One example is the response of plants following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Three decades later, the abandoned “Exclusion Zone” is now entirely covered by an enormous assortment of thriving plants. Mancuso also tracks the journeys of several species that might be regarded as invasive. “Why…do we insist on labeling as ‘invasive’ all those plants that, with great success, have managed to occupy new territories?” asks the author. “On a closer look, the invasive plants of today are the native flora of the future, just as the invasive species of the past are a fundamental part of our ecosystem today.” Throughout, Mancuso persuasively articulates why an understanding and appreciation of how nature is interconnected is vital to the future of our planet. “In nature everything is connected,” he writes. “This simple law that humans don’t seem to understand has a corollary: the extinction of a species, besides being a calamity in and of itself, has unforeseeable consequences for the system to which the species belongs.” The book is not without flaws. The loosely imagined watercolor renderings are vague and fail to effectively complement Mancuso’s richly descriptive prose or satisfy readers’ curiosity. Even without actual photos and maps, it would have been beneficial to readers to include more finely detailed plant and map renderings.

An authoritative, engaging study of plant life, accessible to younger readers as well as adults.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-63542-991-6

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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