Rare, well-delivered positive news about animals and the natural world.

TENACIOUS BEASTS

WILDLIFE RECOVERIES THAT CHANGE HOW WE THINK ABOUT ANIMALS

Inspiring stories of wildlife resilience and recovery.

Many animals headed for extinction are recovering nicely, writes science writer and teacher Preston, who delivers a satisfying account of a dozen successes without minimizing the difficulties involved. He opens with news that four foxes entered British homes over recent years and bit their inhabitants. These victims aside, most people celebrate the fact that British foxes (and American coyotes) are thriving in suburbia. The author also discusses bears, wolves, bison, bobcats, bald eagles, and many species of whale. Formerly slaughtered as pests, food, or merchandise, they are flourishing—so much so that humans will have to adopt different approaches and ethical attitudes and exercise tolerance and a conservationist mindset. Traveling the world, Preston interacted with researchers, activists, and Indigenous people working to restore animals to their former ecosystems, most of which now contain far more humans than before. Some—whooping crane, California condor—were on the verge of extinction. Others remained plentiful but through hunting (beavers) or technology such as dams (salmon), have disappeared from huge areas to the detriment of the environment. North American rivers without beavers become dysfunctional, and their biodiversity plummets. Salmon support a complex food web in their upstream spawning grounds that vanishes when dams shut them out. As Preston shows in this page-turning account, many iconic animals are extinct where they roam freely because they breed with domestic animals. That includes American bison, which interbreed with cattle. Ongoing captive breeding programs aim to produce a genetically pure species, and because farmers and ranchers often hate predators and “pests,” returning animals require permanent and expensive conservation efforts featuring stricter laws, anti-poaching enforcement, insurance, subsidized fencing, and ongoing political and activist pressure. Some readers will note that Preston confines his enthusiasm to prosperous North America and Europe. Conservationists are working hard in Africa and Asia, but there is apparently little to cheer about.

Rare, well-delivered positive news about animals and the natural world.

Pub Date: Feb. 21, 2023

ISBN: 9780262047562

Page Count: 328

Publisher: MIT Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 8, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2022

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Unsentimental nature writing that sheds as much light on humans as on eels.

THE BOOK OF EELS

OUR ENDURING FASCINATION WITH THE MOST MYSTERIOUS CREATURE IN THE NATURAL WORLD

An account of the mysterious life of eels that also serves as a meditation on consciousness, faith, time, light and darkness, and life and death.

In addition to an intriguing natural history, Swedish journalist Svensson includes a highly personal account of his relationship with his father. The author alternates eel-focused chapters with those about his father, a man obsessed with fishing for this elusive creature. “I can’t recall us ever talking about anything other than eels and how to best catch them, down there by the stream,” he writes. “I can’t remember us speaking at all….Because we were in…a place whose nature was best enjoyed in silence.” Throughout, Svensson, whose beat is not biology but art and culture, fills his account with people: Aristotle, who thought eels emerged live from mud, “like a slithering, enigmatic miracle”; Freud, who as a teenage biologist spent months in Trieste, Italy, peering through a microscope searching vainly for eel testes; Johannes Schmidt, who for two decades tracked thousands of eels, looking for their breeding grounds. After recounting the details of the eel life cycle, the author turns to the eel in literature—e.g., in the Bible, Rachel Carson’s Under the Sea Wind, and Günter Grass’ The Tin Drum—and history. He notes that the Puritans would likely not have survived without eels, and he explores Sweden’s “eel coast” (what it once was and how it has changed), how eel fishing became embroiled in the Northern Irish conflict, and the importance of eel fishing to the Basque separatist movement. The apparent return to life of a dead eel leads Svensson to a consideration of faith and the inherent message of miracles. He warns that if we are to save this fascinating creature from extinction, we must continue to study it. His book is a highly readable place to begin learning.

Unsentimental nature writing that sheds as much light on humans as on eels.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-296881-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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A rich trove of science and contemporary culture.

THIS IS THE VOICE

An expert popular science account of human speech.

In his latest, New Yorker staff writer Colapinto provides an intensely researched, tightly focused, lucidly written story that is long but not too long. As the author points out, to call human speech a “miraculous feat” understates the case. All other animals “use their voices to make in-the-now proclamations about immediate survival and reproductive concerns, including expressions of fear, anger, hunger and mating urges.” Evolved perhaps 200,000 years ago, human language allows us to refer to events in the past or future and to make plans that we share with others, “to build the villages, towns, cities and nations that have given us primacy over the Planet and everything on it.” Even before birth, infants listen, their brains absorbing a dazzling array of tone, phonetics, syntax, patterns, and rules. Despite what early experts taught, language is not pre-installed in the brain at birth; babies learn it, usually accumulating a “mental dictionary” of 60,000 words by age 18. They achieve this because words are not random assemblages of digits. They carry meaning, and we are a species that craves meaning. Midway through the book, Colapinto moves from the mechanism of speech to its purpose. Darwin compared the changes languages undergo to natural selection, but the author disagrees. Over time, he maintains, changes in articulation, accent, and vocabulary have not increased but hobbled their efficiency, creating a Babel of incomprehensible tongues that pushes us apart. Observers claimed that the spread of media, from radio to the internet, would homogenize American speech, but the opposite occurred. Instant communication has combined with bitter ideological, economic, and cultural clashes to accelerate the creation of new American speech patterns. In the final chapter, Colapinto discusses political oratory, which has united Americans in the past. He gives high marks to the rhetoric of presidents such as Lincoln, Kennedy, and Reagan; however, like the majority of Americans, he considers Trump a divisive force.

A rich trove of science and contemporary culture.  

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982128-74-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2020

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