Light on hard information and weakened by straining for poetic effect, but nonetheless a briskly companionable account of...



An awestruck yet intelligent study of the great sea bird and its environs, by award-winning ocean ecologist Safina (Song for the Blue Ocean, 1998).

Basing himself on a Hawaiian atoll called French Frigate Shoals, the author observes the activities of Amelia, a Laysan Albatross. She’s nesting as the book opens, and it is not long before her chick is hatched. Amelia and her long-term mate flash off on food runs, some as long as 2,500 miles (she has been rigged with a transmitter to track her movements). Safina tries to get into the bird’s head as she reads the ocean’s surface on her long glide for food. For the most part, this strategy produces an enjoyable travelogue layered with material on albatross biology and behavior, plus perhaps more material than necessary about its role as a literary metaphor. The goods on Amelia aren’t really enough to sustain an entire book, so Safina embellishes the proceedings with accounts of time spent with scientists and fishermen in pursuit of seals, sharks, turtles, halibut, sablefish, and other members of the albatross’s extended environmental family. His pacing is right, and the various narrative strands are well intertwined. Faults include ill-considered lyrical forays (“Beneath the daily overburden, our truer nature is this wandering spirit on expansive wings, hungering for a chance to search new horizons, hurtle along”) and an irksome tendency to consecrate the albatross (“Being near these birds touches people with something so profound it seems spiritual”). But Safina’s condemnation of the myriad factors contributing to the destruction of its habitat, from egg and feather hunters to global warming, is right on target. A scene in which an albatross chokes on a plastic toothbrush points the finger of shame squarely off the page.

Light on hard information and weakened by straining for poetic effect, but nonetheless a briskly companionable account of days in the albatrosses’ midst.

Pub Date: May 14, 2002

ISBN: 0-8050-6228-9

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2002

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A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

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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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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: March 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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