A superb work of environmental reportage and reflection.

THE VIEW FROM LAZY POINT

A NATURAL YEAR IN AN UNNATURAL WORLD

Literate wanderings in a tormented world full of wounds, led by accomplished traveler, writer and Blue Ocean Institute founder Safina (Voyage of the Turtle: In Pursuit of the Earth's Last Dinosaur, 2006, etc.).

"We are not just consumers but citizens, not just citizens but members of a living family, miracles of evolution, manifestations of the awesome mystery of creation, singularly able to perceive and consider the universe, our place in it, and our role." So writes the author, with appropriate reverie but without a trace of treacle, in his latest, which enfolds two contradictory impulses: the one to stay home and tend to one's garden, and the other to travel the planet and chronicle all the damage we're doing to it. Safina manages to strike a balance. In these pages, he spends a good amount of time at home on the easternmost stretches of Long Island, at a boggy, overgrown, insect-rich place long considered "worthless land." Yet, rejecting the closed-in-ness of another beach book, Henry Beston'sThe Outermost House (1928), Safina stretches his legs and makes his way to distant points. One is high up on the Chukchi Sea of northwestern Alaska, where the local people are watching the polar ice melt and the sea level rise, washing away their communities and softening the permafrost. Another is the barrier coral reef off Belize, a disappearing place that makes the author "burdened by foreboding." Along the way, Safina ponders what the planet will look like when, as it's expected to do as early as 2050, the human population grows to nine billion and our resources are strapped even further—for we all like to drive to a well-stocked store, as he notes, and now twice as many of us will be clamoring to do so. Most of the author's arguments, as such, are familiar. The form of his delivery is not, however, combining solid science and excellent storytelling.

A superb work of environmental reportage and reflection.

Pub Date: Jan. 4, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9040-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: John Macrae/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Sept. 3, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2010

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Unsentimental nature writing that sheds as much light on humans as on eels.

THE BOOK OF EELS

OUR ENDURING FASCINATION WITH THE MOST MYSTERIOUS CREATURE IN THE NATURAL WORLD

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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The book is not entirely negative; final chapters indicate roads of reversal, before it is too late!

SILENT SPRING

It should come as no surprise that the gifted author of The Sea Around Us and its successors can take another branch of science—that phase of biology indicated by the term ecology—and bring it so sharply into focus that any intelligent layman can understand what she is talking about.

Understand, yes, and shudder, for she has drawn a living portrait of what is happening to this balance nature has decreed in the science of life—and what man is doing (and has done) to destroy it and create a science of death. Death to our birds, to fish, to wild creatures of the woods—and, to a degree as yet undetermined, to man himself. World War II hastened the program by releasing lethal chemicals for destruction of insects that threatened man’s health and comfort, vegetation that needed quick disposal. The war against insects had been under way before, but the methods were relatively harmless to other than the insects under attack; the products non-chemical, sometimes even introduction of other insects, enemies of the ones under attack. But with chemicals—increasingly stronger, more potent, more varied, more dangerous—new chain reactions have set in. And ironically, the insects are winning the war, setting up immunities, and re-emerging, their natural enemies destroyed. The peril does not stop here. Waters, even to the underground water tables, are contaminated; soils are poisoned. The birds consume the poisons in their insect and earthworm diet; the cattle, in their fodder; the fish, in the waters and the food those waters provide. And humans? They drink the milk, eat the vegetables, the fish, the poultry. There is enough evidence to point to the far-reaching effects; but this is only the beginning,—in cancer, in liver disorders, in radiation perils…This is the horrifying story. It needed to be told—and by a scientist with a rare gift of communication and an overwhelming sense of responsibility. Already the articles taken from the book for publication in The New Yorker are being widely discussed. Book-of-the-Month distribution in October will spread the message yet more widely.

The book is not entirely negative; final chapters indicate roads of reversal, before it is too late!  

Pub Date: Sept. 27, 1962

ISBN: 061825305X

Page Count: 378

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1962

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