Generally well-researched and -written, but somewhat unfocused and repetitive.

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GOLD RUSH IN THE JUNGLE

THE RACE TO DISCOVER AND DEFEND THE RAREST ANIMALS OF VIETNAM'S "LOST WORLD"

A science journalist’s on-the-ground observations about the threatened wildlife of Vietnam and efforts to discover hitherto-unknown species and to protect rapidly disappearing ones.

In his debut, Drollette chronicles his experiences in Vietnam, describing not a mineral gold rush, but a biological one. He interviewed wildlife biologists currently working there, quotes earlier researchers and delves into the history and present conditions of the once–war-torn country. His primary focus is the Endangered Primate Rescue Center, run by Tilo Nadler, a German zoologist, and his Vietnamese wife. A prologue sets the scene, describing the rare mammals recently found in Vietnam and raising questions for which Drollette seeks answers: How did they survive there? What will happen to them under such present stresses as economic progress, population growth, deforestation and poaching? The author first visited Vietnam in 1998, an experience that he briefly covers in the first part, but his return more than a decade later provides the book’s core. He finds that Vietnam’s unique and once-hidden animal life is now vulnerable to exploitation, and their numbers are dwindling; there are, however, signs of progress that give hope: Nadler’s work on protecting langurs, for example, has expanded greatly since Drollette’s previous visit. Besides trying to uncover the effects of Agent Orange and other chemicals dumped on Vietnam during the war, the author exposes the massive illegal marketing of wild animal parts much in demand for use in Asian medicines. Drollette also reports on efforts to protect turtles in a lake in Hanoi and of the work of Hawaii’s National Tropical Garden in preserving rare plants. These accounts are certainly informative, but they seem misplaced here. The book’s principle flaw is that at times it reads more like a patchwork of previously published feature articles than a single cohesive work.

Generally well-researched and -written, but somewhat unfocused and repetitive.

Pub Date: April 16, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-307-40704-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2013

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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...

THE GENIUS OF BIRDS

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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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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