A warm, intelligent yeoman’s guide to the progress of life.

WRITTEN IN STONE

EVOLUTION, THE FOSSIL RECORD, AND OUR PLACE IN NATURE

A highly instructive tour of the fossil record, from New Jersey State Museum research associate Switek.

“[E]very single bone has a story to tell about the life and evolution of the animal it once belonged to,” writes the author in this easily digestible survey of paleontological history. Some of the scientists reading the evidence brought the quirks and contingencies of their times to the stories they told, trying, for example, to corroborate science with scripture, while others sallied into new and blasphemous realms. Switek invests all of them with a wonderful engagement as they try to make sense of the stone bones. The author weds the geological conjectures of James Hutton to the comparative anatomy of Georges Cuvier, and shows how the tinkerings of Charles Lyell influenced French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck. Charles Darwin enters the picture along with Alfred Russell Wallace, allowing Switek to examine inherited variation, advantageous traits and natural selection. In his discussion of Thomas Huxley’s skirmishes with reptile-bird relationships, the author conveys the heroic nature of field science—“In order to approximate the dinosaurian physiology, the…scientists carried out the unenviable task of sticking thermometers in the cloacae of American alligators”—while also pondering the self-contained life of the amniotic egg, the energy and perseverance of scientists like Albert Koch and his sea monsters and Hugh Falconer’s tribulations with prehistoric elephants. Switek ranges across an astonishingly diverse variety of topics, including the evolution whales in Pakistan and the connection between jaw and ear bones in early mammals. The author brings all the branching patterns into focus, even when the language threatens to overwhelm, in a way that permits readers to fill the gaps in the circumstantially incomplete fossil record.

A warm, intelligent yeoman’s guide to the progress of life.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-934137-29-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Bellevue Literary Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 30, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2010

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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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Drawings, words, and a few photos combine to convey the depth of a tragedy that would leave most people dumbstruck.

A FIRE STORY

A new life and book arise from the ashes of a devastating California wildfire.

These days, it seems the fires will never end. They wreaked destruction over central California in the latter months of 2018, dominating headlines for weeks, barely a year after Fies (Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow?, 2009) lost nearly everything to the fires that raged through Northern California. The result is a vividly journalistic graphic narrative of resilience in the face of tragedy, an account of recent history that seems timely as ever. “A two-story house full of our lives was a two-foot heap of dead smoking ash,” writes the author about his first return to survey the damage. The matter-of-fact tone of the reportage makes some of the flights of creative imagination seem more extraordinary—particularly a nihilistic, two-page centerpiece of a psychological solar system in which “the fire is our black hole,” and “some veer too near and are drawn into despair, depression, divorce, even suicide,” while “others are gravitationally flung entirely out of our solar system to other cities or states, and never seen again.” Yet the stories that dominate the narrative are those of the survivors, who were part of the community and would be part of whatever community would be built to take its place across the charred landscape. Interspersed with the author’s own account are those from others, many retirees, some suffering from physical or mental afflictions. Each is rendered in a couple pages of text except one from a fellow cartoonist, who draws his own. The project began with an online comic when Fies did the only thing he could as his life was reduced to ash and rubble. More than 3 million readers saw it; this expanded version will hopefully extend its reach.

Drawings, words, and a few photos combine to convey the depth of a tragedy that would leave most people dumbstruck.

Pub Date: March 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4197-3585-1

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Abrams ComicArts

Review Posted Online: Nov. 26, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2018

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