A well-written, enjoyable, and thoroughly researched summary of everything that brought humans to the present day.

WHY ARE WE HERE?

A debut science book offers a history of life in the universe, particularly on Earth.

In the beginning of this comprehensive work, Brodie examines the creation of the universe. Subsequent chapters explore the fundamentals of physics and the development of the solar system, and then the author turns his attention to his home planet. After an overview of Darwinian and Lamarckian theories of evolution, the account moves through the development of life, from the first prokaryotes and eukaryotes to what it means to be human. The volume touches lightly on a multitude of subjects, educating readers without overwhelming them, while providing plenty of material for further study (a substantial glossary and encyclopedic list of citations make up much of the back matter). The book is both informational and highly engaging, in the tradition of Bill Bryson’s A Brief History of Nearly Everything, and works equally well for pleasure reading and as a substitute for a science textbook. Brodie is particularly adept at summarizing and synthesizing existing research, making the works of Stephen Jay Gould, E.O. Wilson, and Yuval Noah Harari integral components of his text. The narrative is well organized, with a logical flow from one chapter to the next, and manages to be challenging and engrossing while illuminating topics that are familiar territory, if not always as clearly presented. Brodie has a gift for pithy phrases (“We humans require hierarchy but yearn for our egalitarian heritage”) that render the text deceptively simple while making it a joy to read. In the Preface, he explains that the volume, which includes diagrams and photographs, is the product of more than seven years of research. The effort put into the detailed work is evident throughout, as is the inclusion of recent developments like CRISPR gene-editing technology. Readers who are interested in refreshing their knowledge of science fundamentals will find the volume a useful overview while those who join Brodie in asking the title question will have plenty of fodder for further discussion.

A well-written, enjoyable, and thoroughly researched summary of everything that brought humans to the present day.

Pub Date: May 23, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5320-4854-8

Page Count: 446

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: Oct. 4, 2019

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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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A quirky wonder of a book.

WHY FISH DON'T EXIST

A STORY OF LOSS, LOVE, AND THE HIDDEN ORDER OF LIFE

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. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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