Natural history is one of the few sciences that lends itself to enjoyably larking about ideas and hypotheses as well as...

WHY ELEPHANTS HAVE BIG EARS

UNDERSTANDING PATTERNS OF LIFE ON EARTH

Provocative stabs at answering the really big questions regarding wildlife biology, the ones seemingly skipped over when the Victorians tidied up their discipline of natural history.

What are the answers to some of the obvious questions regarding the evolution of creatures (such as why mammals dominate the savanna and reptiles the swamps)? Why are the cold bloods more successful in the struggle for life in a small scale, and why are birds small, and why are there ostriches at all? Lavers (Geography/Univ. of Nottingham) approaches all these unanswered mysteries through the lens of garnering and rationing energy, and his results chime true. Size and energy use figure prominently here, be it regarding gas-guzzling elephants or turbo-charged hummingbirds. Lavers follows the journey from cold-bloodedness to warm-bloodedness, “souping up the metabolic engines.” Yet there are clearly times when cold-bloodedness wins out, as for those creatures that must endure long periods of drought and starvation. Along the way, Lavers introduces readers to a host of wild oddments, from the utterly rude naked mole-rat to creatures that were weird even for being dinosaurs. As for birds, he suggests that they are small because they buy the power of flight relatively cheaply, allowing them to “forage over wide areas, exploit three-dimensional habitats such as forests, escape the attention of ground-living predators, migrate” and flee at little metabolic cost. Of course, you might say, but answers to such questions have never been so conveniently deployed as this. Also, Lavers’s prose is as comfortable as flannel sheets on a cold night and as crisp as starlight. Elephants, by the way, have big ears because it allows them to efficiently shed body heat.

Natural history is one of the few sciences that lends itself to enjoyably larking about ideas and hypotheses as well as having its sober sides, and Lavers takes full advantage of its propensity for entertaining erudition.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-312-26902-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2001

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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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A quirky wonder of a book.

WHY FISH DON'T EXIST

A STORY OF LOSS, LOVE, AND THE HIDDEN ORDER OF LIFE

A Peabody Award–winning NPR science reporter chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century scientist and how her quest led to significant revelations about the meaning of order, chaos, and her own existence.

Miller began doing research on David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) to understand how he had managed to carry on after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his work. A taxonomist who is credited with discovering “a full fifth of fish known to man in his day,” Jordan had amassed an unparalleled collection of ichthyological specimens. Gathering up all the fish he could save, Jordan sewed the nameplates that had been on the destroyed jars directly onto the fish. His perseverance intrigued the author, who also discusses the struggles she underwent after her affair with a woman ended a heterosexual relationship. Born into an upstate New York farm family, Jordan attended Cornell and then became an itinerant scholar and field researcher until he landed at Indiana University, where his first ichthyological collection was destroyed by lightning. In between this catastrophe and others involving family members’ deaths, he reconstructed his collection. Later, he was appointed as the founding president of Stanford, where he evolved into a Machiavellian figure who trampled on colleagues and sang the praises of eugenics. Miller concludes that Jordan displayed the characteristics of someone who relied on “positive illusions” to rebound from disaster and that his stand on eugenics came from a belief in “a divine hierarchy from bacteria to humans that point[ed]…toward better.” Considering recent research that negates biological hierarchies, the author then suggests that Jordan’s beloved taxonomic category—fish—does not exist. Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence.

A quirky wonder of a book.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6027-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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