An absolutely captivating nature book.



An exploration of the history and biology of mollusks.

As environmental journalist Barnett notes, humans have long been captivated by seashells (“the work of marine mollusks”), collecting and using them for art, jewelry, and currency. In this well-researched, consistently illuminating work, the author smoothly combines environmental science and cultural history to trace the origins and decline of mollusks. The book is divided into chapters based on a particular species—among others, the chambered nautilus, the lightning whelk, the money cowrie, the lettered olive, and the queen conch. In each chapter, Barnett discusses the biology of the species, including the formation of its shell, as well as related culture and history. She also explores the factors that have led to the declines of all of these species, including climate change and overfishing. Barnett discusses observations and writings of other naturalists and scientists that she has found significant. Among them are Leonardo da Vinci, who wrote about visible fossils in the hillsides of Italy, testifying to changes the Earth has experienced across millennia; Julia Ellen Rogers, who authored The Shell Book (1908), which “brought the world of seashells to Americans during the national zeal for nature as a hobby”; and Thomas Say, the "father of American Conchology.” Barnett explores the many ways that Native Americans used shells in their daily lives—as tools, in trade, and for ceremonial purposes—as well as the various historically significant shell mounds that have been discovered throughout the U.S. The author also takes us around the world: to the Maldives, where ancient folktales of queens and a “cowrie monopoly” are vanishing; the Lowcountry coast of the Carolinas and Georgia, home of Gullah Geechee tradition; Andros Island in the Bahamas, where Barnett investigated the effects of the annual Conch Fest; and Florida’s Sanibel Island, where “every tide brings a treasure hunt.” Fans of Rebecca Giggs’ excellent Fathoms will find much to savor here as well.

An absolutely captivating nature book.

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-393-65144-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2021

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A straightforward, carefully detailed presentation of how ``fruit comes from flowers,'' from winter's snow-covered buds through pollination and growth to ripening and harvest. Like the text, the illustrations are admirably clear and attractive, including the larger-than-life depiction of the parts of the flower at different stages. An excellent contribution to the solidly useful ``Let's-Read-and-Find-Out-Science'' series. (Nonfiction/Picture book. 4-9)

Pub Date: Jan. 30, 1992

ISBN: 0-06-020055-3

Page Count: 32

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1991

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A quirky wonder of a book.



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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