AT THE WATER'S EDGE

MACROEVOLUTION AND THE TRANSFORMATION OF LIFE

Points to Zimmer, a senior editor at Discover magazine, for tackling unplowed ground in popular paleontology: no less than the movement of life from sea to land (over 350 million years ago) and the later reverse migration as land mammals returned to the sea. These transitions are dubbed ``macroevolution''—big changes, as opposed to the smaller changes of microevolution. The bare bones of current theory has it that we are descended from lobe-finned fishes. During a wet period when plants were creeping toward the water's edge and swamps abounded with life, these fish developed fins with fingers and toes to maneuver on muddy bottoms and pick at plant life while staying mainly in the water. But one thing led to another, and more land-lubbering species emerged. The one thing Zimmer emphasizes is the role of ``Hox'' genes, which control major events in embryogenesis, such as the shape of the basic body pattern and the formation of limbs from tissue ``buds.'' A mutation in timing or patterning of Hox genes can do wonders for changing form and function. The reverse transition from land to sea is an equally complex story and maybe even more controversial. It involves what Zimmer describes as a misfit group of hoofed, long-snouted, carnivorous predators called ``mesonychids'' drawn to the sea for the rich herring and other catches. Subsequent changes over a few million years involved loss of fur, hips, and lower limbs and development of fins and fluke and other essentials of life in the depths. Zimmer uses the latest cladistic diagrams to plot the species splits and changes over time—pointing out that they are at odds with molecular geneticists' DNA analyses, which would have hippos as whales' closest living relatives. Don't hold your breath waiting for resolution on that score. But do credit Zimmer with this scholarly disquisition on two of evolution's most absorbing transformations.

Pub Date: April 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-684-83490-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1998

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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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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