NAMING NATURE

THE CLASH BETWEEN INSTINCT AND SCIENCE

New York Times “Science Times” writer Yoon debuts with a wondrous history of taxonomy—the science of ordering and naming living things—and how it has disconnected us from the natural world.

As she lucidly describes how different cultures have named plants and animals through history, the author uncovers the sharp disjuncture between folk taxonomy—the similar, appearance-based ways in which ordinary people have always named living things—and the science of classification, which has dominated our thinking about nature since Carl Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist and author of Systema Naturae (1735), set the rule that every species must have a two-part name, or Latin binomial. Yoon traces the rise of various schools of scientific taxonomy—evolutionary, numerical and molecular—each of which emphasizes different factors of classifying living things. She also examines the work of leading figures in the field, from the German ornithologist Ernst Mayr to Austrian biologist Robert Sokal, and describes the near-rabid infighting over methodology. Against all of this she posits the power of the human umwelt (a German word for the environment or “surrounding world”), a hard-wired way of perceiving the living world that has allowed humans since the ancient hunter-gatherers to recognize things and survive. The umwelt, writes the author, accounts for the fact that different cultures give similar names, such as fish, to wildlife—and has long served as humanity’s most intimate connection to the natural world. By bowing to the rationality of a scientific view of the natural order, we have undermined our understanding of the world. Yoon’s accounts of brain-damaged individuals who cannot recognize and name living things—and of young children’s unquenchable interest, even before they can walk or talk, in the natural world—bring to life the marvel of our intuitive umwelt abilities. We must cling to these abilities if we are to preserve nature, the author argues. Brightly blending scientific expertise with personal experience, Yoon is an outstanding science writer who takes a seemingly dull topic and rivets unsuspecting readers to the page.

Superb.

Pub Date: Aug. 24, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-393-06197-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2009

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

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

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

more