SONG FOR THE BLUE OCEAN

ENCOUNTERS ALONG THE WORLD'S COASTS AND BENEATH THE SEAS

A fact-finding tour of troubled waters. Marine scientist and first-time author Safina, founder of the Audubon Society's Living Oceans Program, ranges far afield to substantiate fears that something has gone badly wrong in the oceans. The fault, of course, lies with humans. A commission has determined, for instance, that the number of bluefin tuna in the north Atlantic has declined by 90 percent in recent years. Not every one agrees. ``Fishermen tell me,'' Safina adds, ``that the scientists grossly underestimate the numbers.'' Along the Grand Banks off Canada, the legendary great shoals of cod have been decimated, causing the government of Canada to suspend the once vast cod-fishing industry. On the Pacific coast, salmon are fast disappearing, the victims of silted rivers, dams, and overfishing. And far out in the Pacific, sharks and rays, swordfish and skates are declining in number. Safina visits all these places, giving little lectures on fish ecology along the way (readers might otherwise never have known that in water of 57 degrees Fahrenheit, a swordfish maintains a cranial temperature of 84 degrees). He allows that the decline of fish has multiple causes; as one of his informants, a California farmer, remarks, ``It's not just the farmers or fishermen. It is water transfers, ocean temperatures, toxic pollutants, timbering, all these things.'' On the matter of those toxic pollutants Safina has much to say: He is rightly appalled that in many Pacific nations fish are caught by poisoning the waters with cyanide, a process that kills not only the fish but also fragile coral reefs, among the world's most endangered ecosystems. Industrialized nations, he notes, and especially Japan, aren't doing much to help matters, arguing over quotas and territorial limits instead of recognizing that without severe restrictions on fishing the oceans may not be much of a larder in years to come. A valuable account of the devastation we have wrought on what Safina calls ``planet Ocean''—and, thanks to the author's down-to-earth style, a pleasure to read.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-8050-4671-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1997

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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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Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

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LAB GIRL

Award-winning scientist Jahren (Geology and Geophysics/Univ. of Hawaii) delivers a personal memoir and a paean to the natural world.

The author’s father was a physics and earth science teacher who encouraged her play in the laboratory, and her mother was a student of English literature who nurtured her love of reading. Both of these early influences engrossingly combine in this adroit story of a dedication to science. Jahren’s journey from struggling student to struggling scientist has the narrative tension of a novel and characters she imbues with real depth. The heroes in this tale are the plants that the author studies, and throughout, she employs her facility with words to engage her readers. We learn much along the way—e.g., how the willow tree clones itself, the courage of a seed’s first root, the symbiotic relationship between trees and fungi, and the airborne signals used by trees in their ongoing war against insects. Trees are of key interest to Jahren, and at times she waxes poetic: “Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.” The author draws many parallels between her subjects and herself. This is her story, after all, and we are engaged beyond expectation as she relates her struggle in building and running laboratory after laboratory at the universities that have employed her. Present throughout is her lab partner, a disaffected genius named Bill, whom she recruited when she was a graduate student at Berkeley and with whom she’s worked ever since. The author’s tenacity, hope, and gratitude are all evident as she and Bill chase the sweetness of discovery in the face of the harsh economic realities of the research scientist.

Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-87493-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

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