FROM THE FIELD

A COLLECTION OF WRITING FROM NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

A fine, wide-ranging anthology from the pages of one of the world's most popular magazines. National Geographic has for a century cultivated an austere, formal image as a heavily illustrated but scholarly vehicle for conveying knowledge about the planet and its peoples. Its staff, writes former editor-at-large McCarry (Second Sight, 1991) in his good-natured introduction, was considerably less austere, to the point of being eccentric and even somewhat dangerous, qualities that sometimes escaped the printed page. The editors saw to that, imposing the somber personality of the magazine on its contributors; even so, McCarry notes, ``whatever the editorial climate, several generations of Geographic writers doggedly continued to turn out prose that was mostly literate and entertaining.'' After addressing the history of the bare native breast and the quirks of longtime helmsmen Gilbert and Melville Grosvenor (the former instructed an editor never to accept any contribution by one Magoffin, whose ``ways are not our ways''), among other matters, McCarry proceeds to offer a well-considered sampling of material drawn from issues over Geographic's 109-year run. Much of the material is new or very recent, including Barry Lopez's luminous essay on the California desert and David Remnick's perilous travels through the new, mafia-overrun Russia. Other pieces are decades old, but they have historical and literary interest that keeps them from seeming too dated—even when correspondent Theodore Roosevelt refers knowingly to Nairobi, Kenya, as ``a town of perhaps 5,000 to 6,000 people'' and combat journalist David Douglas Duncan easily writes of ``hurling bombs with a mighty shout into Jap faces.'' The mix of old and new, coupled with McCarry's wry commentary, makes for a constantly edifying reader.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-7922-7012-6

Page Count: 472

Publisher: National Geographic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1997

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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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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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