A delightful book by an author filled with enthusiasm for the natural world and in possession of just the right touch for...

A STING IN THE TALE

MY ADVENTURES WITH BUMBLEBEES

What you never knew about bumblebees, from a man who is both passionate and knowledgeable.

Bumblebee Conservation Trust founder Goulson (Biological and Environmental Sciences/Univ. of Stirling) has been fascinated with nature since his childhood. His tales of collecting insects, raising frogs and snakes, dissecting roadkill and even teaching himself taxidermy as a child serve as a light, engaging introduction to this often humorous but deadly serious account. During his lifetime, wild bumblebees have been disappearing at an alarming rate, and Goulson makes clear why this has happened and why we should care about it. He examines their mating behaviors, life cycle, genetics, nesting habits (unlike honeybees, they don’t build hives), foraging techniques (smelly footprints help them tell which flowers have been recently drained of nectar), navigation skills and their many enemies. The extreme measures he and his research assistants take to study bumblebees will astonish—attaching antennas to bees is a tricky business, and collecting their feces is even more difficult. Even finding bees can be a challenge, as the author relates in stories about attempts to restore Great Britain’s short-haired bumblebee population by capturing queen bees in New Zealand, to which the species had been exported in the 19th century. The success of another project—releasing bees imported from Sweden into an area around Dungeness—remains to be determined. Goulson also relates his adventures turning a dilapidated French farm into a thriving bumblebee reserve. Educating the public about bumblebees and encouraging creation of habitats beneficial to them are two of the goals of the BBCT, and they are surely the impetus behind Goulson’s impressive debut.

A delightful book by an author filled with enthusiasm for the natural world and in possession of just the right touch for sharing it with others.

Pub Date: May 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-250-04837-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Picador

Review Posted Online: March 12, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2014

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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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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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