A gem of environmental writing fitting alongside the work of Doug Peacock, Roger Caras, and other champions of wildlife and...

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DOWN FROM THE MOUNTAIN

THE LIFE AND DEATH OF A GRIZZLY BEAR

A thoughtful story of bears, humans, and their tragic interactions.

“Mouse-brown fur covered their strangely human bodies. Their eyes opened, seeing nothing for a time, then spring’s white light.” Montana-based conservationist Andrews (Badluck Way: A Year on the Ragged Edge of the West, 2013) writes without sentimentality or undue anthropomorphizing of a pair of grizzly cubs whose mother, Millie, was brutally murdered, leaving the cubs orphaned and helpless. “Millie’s story…bothered everyone who heard about it,” writes Andrews, having told an elegant story in which he himself encountered the trio. As a conservationist, he is in full sympathy with the bears; as someone living on the land, he recognizes the perils for all concerned when bears, hungry in a landscape with less and less game on it, come down into the cornfields below the high country. “My father asked what I thought about the farmer growing corn so close to the mountains,” writes the author. “I said that it was complicated.” Andrews introduces readers to numerous men and women who figure in the quest both to track down the poachers involved and to keep the cubs alive. One, the game warden for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, is a quiet warrior for the bears even as others demand that they be kept away from human settlements. As the author notes, the collision course was set not just by hunger, but also by the ever encroaching human presence, even in vast Montana, and on a changing climate in which spring arrives a full month earlier than it did half a century ago, altering the long-established schedules of bears and people alike. In the end, Andrews writes, dispiritingly, “it seems that I could spend a lifetime building cornfield fences, worrying over cubs, and shipping elk meat to Maryland, and make no headway against our epidemic lack of restraint.”

A gem of environmental writing fitting alongside the work of Doug Peacock, Roger Caras, and other champions of wildlife and wild land.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-328-97245-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Feb. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2019

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Ackerman writes with a light but assured touch, her prose rich in fact but economical in delivering it. Fans of birds in all...

THE GENIUS OF BIRDS

Science writer Ackerman (Ah-Choo!: The Uncommon Life of Your Common Cold, 2010, etc.) looks at the new science surrounding avian intelligence.

The takeaway: calling someone a birdbrain is a compliment. And in any event, as Ackerman observes early on, “intelligence is a slippery concept, even in our own species, tricky to define and tricky to measure.” Is a bird that uses a rock to break open a clamshell the mental equivalent of a tool-using primate? Perhaps that’s the wrong question, for birds are so unlike humans that “it’s difficult for us to fully appreciate their mental capabilities,” given that they’re really just small, feathered dinosaurs who inhabit a wholly different world from our once-arboreal and now terrestrial one. Crows and other corvids have gotten all the good publicity related to bird intelligence in recent years, but Ackerman, who does allow that some birds are brighter than others, points favorably to the much-despised pigeon as an animal that “can remember hundreds of different objects for long periods of time, discriminate between different painting styles, and figure out where it’s going, even when displaced from familiar territory by hundreds of miles.” Not bad for a critter best known for bespattering statues in public parks. Ackerman travels far afield to places such as Barbados and New Caledonia to study such matters as memory, communication, and decision-making, the last largely based on visual cues—though, as she notes, birds also draw ably on other senses, including smell, which in turn opens up insight onto “a weird evolutionary paradox that scientists have puzzled over for more than a decade”—a matter of the geometry of, yes, the bird brain.

Ackerman writes with a light but assured touch, her prose rich in fact but economical in delivering it. Fans of birds in all their diversity will want to read this one.

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59420-521-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

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Exemplary writing about the world and a welcome gift to readers.

HORIZON

Distinguished natural history writer and explorer Lopez (Outside, 2014, etc.) builds a winning memoir around books, voyages, and biological and anthropological observations.

“Traveling, despite the technological innovations that have brought cultural homogenization to much of the world, helps the curious and attentive itinerant understand how deep the notion goes that one place is never actually like another.” So writes the author, who has made a long career of visiting remote venues such as Antarctica, Greenland, and the lesser known of the Galápagos Islands. From these travels he has extracted truths about the world, such as the fact that places differ as widely as the people who live in them. Even when traveling with scientists from his own culture, Lopez finds differences of perception. On an Arctic island called Skraeling, for instance, he observes that if he and the biologists he is walking with were to encounter a grizzly feeding on a caribou, he would focus on the bear, the scientists on the whole gestalt of bear, caribou, environment; if a native of the place were along, the story would deepen beyond the immediate event, for those who possess Indigenous ways of knowledge, “unlike me…felt no immediate need to resolve it into meaning.” The author’s chapter on talismans—objects taken from his travels, such as “a fist-size piece of raven-black dolerite”—is among the best things he has written. But there are plentiful gems throughout the looping narrative, its episodes constructed from adventures over eight decades: trying to work out a bit of science as a teenager while huddled under the Ponte Vecchio after just having seen Botticelli’s Venus; admiring a swimmer as a septuagenarian while remembering the John Steinbeck whom he’d met as a schoolboy; gazing into the surf over many years’ worth of trips to Cape Foulweather, an Oregon headland named by Capt. James Cook, of whom he writes, achingly, “we no longer seem to be sailing in a time of fixed stars, of accurate chronometers, and of reliable routes.”

Exemplary writing about the world and a welcome gift to readers.

Pub Date: March 20, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-394-58582-6

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 26, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2018

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