A moving and informative account of the plight of trained elephants in the U.S. and the efforts of those who have created an...

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LAST CHAIN ON BILLIE

HOW ONE EXTRAORDINARY ELEPHANT ESCAPED THE BIG TOP

A behind-the-scenes look at the life of circus and zoo elephants.

While centered on the story of one performance elephant, Billie, Bradley (Saving Gracie: How One Dog Escaped the Shadowy World of American Puppy Mills, 2010) exposes the seedy, harsh world that all circus and zoo elephants endure in order to learn the unnatural tricks that entertain the public. Vivid descriptions of the history and evolution of the performing elephant world, where brutality by human trainers, substandard living conditions and isolation have forced elephants into submission, merge with the personal storyline of Billie, who was captured as an infant. First used to provide rides to children, Billie soon entered the circus world, where she was trained to do tricks along with four other elephants. "For five months,” writes the author, “Billie had divided her time between the back of a truck, a makeshift yard outside the circus arena and, for a few minutes a day, performing." As the years passed and Billie was trundled back and forth across the United States, she became testy or "snappy." Bradley identifies other elephants that also became angry and turned on the bullhook-wielding trainers, who were badly injured and sometimes killed. During the 1990s, animal rights activists and a few elephant trainers became angry at the cramped and unhealthy living conditions of elephants across the country, and Bradley enlightens readers on the development of the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, a nonprofit reserve that harbors aging elephants. With the sanction of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Billie and many other “retired” elephants were moved to the sanctuary, which provides them with a safe and peaceful place to live their remaining years. Graphic details of animal abuse may offend some readers, but the overall story is worth enduring those passages.

A moving and informative account of the plight of trained elephants in the U.S. and the efforts of those who have created an asylum for them.

Pub Date: July 22, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-250-02569-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: June 5, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2014

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An authoritative, engaging study of plant life, accessible to younger readers as well as adults.

THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY OF PLANTS

A neurobiologist reveals the interconnectedness of the natural world through stories of plant migration.

In this slim but well-packed book, Mancuso (Plant Science/Univ. of Florence; The Revolutionary Genius of Plants: A New Understanding of Plant Intelligence and Behavior, 2018, etc.) presents an illuminating and surprisingly lively study of plant life. He smoothly balances expansive historical exploration with recent scientific research through stories of how various plant species are capable of migrating to locations throughout the world by means of air, water, and even via animals. They often continue to thrive in spite of dire obstacles and environments. One example is the response of plants following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Three decades later, the abandoned “Exclusion Zone” is now entirely covered by an enormous assortment of thriving plants. Mancuso also tracks the journeys of several species that might be regarded as invasive. “Why…do we insist on labeling as ‘invasive’ all those plants that, with great success, have managed to occupy new territories?” asks the author. “On a closer look, the invasive plants of today are the native flora of the future, just as the invasive species of the past are a fundamental part of our ecosystem today.” Throughout, Mancuso persuasively articulates why an understanding and appreciation of how nature is interconnected is vital to the future of our planet. “In nature everything is connected,” he writes. “This simple law that humans don’t seem to understand has a corollary: the extinction of a species, besides being a calamity in and of itself, has unforeseeable consequences for the system to which the species belongs.” The book is not without flaws. The loosely imagined watercolor renderings are vague and fail to effectively complement Mancuso’s richly descriptive prose or satisfy readers’ curiosity. Even without actual photos and maps, it would have been beneficial to readers to include more finely detailed plant and map renderings.

An authoritative, engaging study of plant life, accessible to younger readers as well as adults.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-63542-991-6

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 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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