Affirms Bowden’s place in the cranky Edward Abbey-Hunter S. Thompson school of Western individualists.



A dark, foreboding meditation on life from the provocative author.

In a postscript, Bowden (A Shadow in the City: Confessions of an Undercover Drug Warrior, 2005, etc.) writes that this unclassifiable blend of memoir, reportage and philosophy, together with his Blood Orchid (1995) and Blues for Cannibals (2002), form an “accidental trilogy” seeking to answer the question, “how can a person live a moral life in a culture of death?” Written in a piercing blur of sharp sentences, the book conjures a landscape of death and loss—from the dead city of New Orleans, where “night comes down like the lid on a garbage can,” to terrorist-bombed Bali—in which people attempt to explain the reality that is all around them. Bowden notes, however, that our ability to express ourselves through writing is often inaccurate, even artificial. “But words are all I have,” he writes, “my skills are limited and the words at best are a veil, maybe even a shroud, between us and this world we touch but cannot embrace, a ball of dirt we stand on but never can really know.” The author embraces all manner of experience, including drink, lovemaking, violence and nature. He declares himself a man at the edge, forever engaged in foolhardy and dangerous activities, always accepting but never submitting. “I have been walking out the door on peace and quiet most of my life,” he writes. We see him trying to make sense of his childhood in Illinois, womanizing in Mexico, at sea on a 600-ton fishing vessel and firing his rifle carelessly at a coal train while driving across a desert in his pickup truck. Undoubtedly an acquired taste, Bowden’s breakneck writing is bracing and irreverent. Yet a zenlike calm lies at the heart of his bleak vision, one that he calls “snake-time,” where he can simply be like the rattlesnake. In the end, he writes, love is the only thing that matters.

Affirms Bowden’s place in the cranky Edward Abbey-Hunter S. Thompson school of Western individualists.

Pub Date: April 9, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-15-101395-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2009

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

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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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Ackerman writes with a light but assured touch, her prose rich in fact but economical in delivering it. Fans of birds in all...


Science writer Ackerman (Ah-Choo!: The Uncommon Life of Your Common Cold, 2010, etc.) looks at the new science surrounding avian intelligence.

The takeaway: calling someone a birdbrain is a compliment. And in any event, as Ackerman observes early on, “intelligence is a slippery concept, even in our own species, tricky to define and tricky to measure.” Is a bird that uses a rock to break open a clamshell the mental equivalent of a tool-using primate? Perhaps that’s the wrong question, for birds are so unlike humans that “it’s difficult for us to fully appreciate their mental capabilities,” given that they’re really just small, feathered dinosaurs who inhabit a wholly different world from our once-arboreal and now terrestrial one. Crows and other corvids have gotten all the good publicity related to bird intelligence in recent years, but Ackerman, who does allow that some birds are brighter than others, points favorably to the much-despised pigeon as an animal that “can remember hundreds of different objects for long periods of time, discriminate between different painting styles, and figure out where it’s going, even when displaced from familiar territory by hundreds of miles.” Not bad for a critter best known for bespattering statues in public parks. Ackerman travels far afield to places such as Barbados and New Caledonia to study such matters as memory, communication, and decision-making, the last largely based on visual cues—though, as she notes, birds also draw ably on other senses, including smell, which in turn opens up insight onto “a weird evolutionary paradox that scientists have puzzled over for more than a decade”—a matter of the geometry of, yes, the bird brain.

Ackerman writes with a light but assured touch, her prose rich in fact but economical in delivering it. Fans of birds in all their diversity will want to read this one.

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59420-521-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

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