Sparkling prose conveys an urgent message.

SOUNDS WILD AND BROKEN

SONIC MARVELS, EVOLUTION'S CREATIVITY, AND THE CRISIS OF SENSORY EXTINCTION

A joyous celebration of the music of life, from the acclaimed author of The Forest Unseen and The Songs of Trees.

Seamlessly melding history, ecology, physiology, philosophy, and biology, Haskell exults in the delightful cacophony created by birds and insects, wind and sea, human voices and musical instruments as he engages in the practice of “attentive listening” in his travels around the world. “Every vocal species,” he writes, “has a distinctive sound. Every place on the globe has an acoustic character made from the unique confluence of this multitude of voices.” This multitude of sound, though, is being threatened by noise pollution and habitat extinction, dire consequences of human behavior. Sound, Haskell reveals, is a fairly new development in the planet’s history, made possible by the manifestation, 1.5 billion years ago, of cilia, tiny hairs on the cell membrane that help cells move—and also, as in our own inner ears, to sense sonic vibrations. “For more than nine-tenths of its history, Earth lacked any communicative sounds,” writes the author. “No creatures sang when the seas first swarmed with animal life or when the ocean’s reefs first rose. The land’s primeval forests contained no calling insects or vertebrate animals.” Flowering plants ushered in life forms such as insects, which filled the air with trills and buzzes, and birds, for whom sound-making “mediates breeding, territoriality, and the alliances and tensions of animal social networks.” Haskell’s capacious purview includes the origins of musical instruments, some 40,000 years ago; the possibility that dinosaurs made low bugling sounds; the particular cries of birds living above the tree line; and the way sounds, including those made by humans, are adapted to environment and even shaped by diet. He mounts a compelling warning about “the silencing of ecosystems,” which “isolates individuals, fragments communities, and weakens the ecological resilience and evolutionary creativity of life.” Like “cultural knowledge,” Haskell asserts, “sound is unseen and ephemeral” and too precious to lose.

Sparkling prose conveys an urgent message.

Pub Date: March 1, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-984881-54-0

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2022

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An oft-ignored but fully convincing argument that “we cannot prevent the next pandemic without creating a healthy world.”

THE CONTAGION NEXT TIME

The Covid-19 pandemic is not a one-off catastrophe. An epidemiologist presents a cogent argument for a fundamental refocusing of resources on “the foundational forces that shape health.”

In this passionate and instructive book, Galea, dean of the Boston University School of Public Health, writes that Covid emerged because we have long neglected basic preventative measures. “We invest vast amounts of money in healthcare,” he writes, “but comparatively little in health.” Readers looking to learn how governments (mainly the U.S.) mishandled the pandemic have a flood of books to choose from, but Galea has bigger issues to raise. Better medical care will not stop the next epidemic, he warns. We must structure a world “that is resilient to contagions.” He begins by describing the current state of world health, where progress has been spectacular. Global life expectancy has more than doubled since 1900. Malnutrition, poverty, and child mortality have dropped. However, as the author stresses repeatedly, medical progress contributed far less to the current situation than better food, clean water, hygiene, education, and prosperity. That’s the good news. More problematic is that money is a powerful determinant of health; those who have it live longer. Galea begins the bad news by pointing out the misleading statistic that Covid-19 kills less than 1% of those infected; that applies to young people in good health. For those over 60, it kills 6%, for diabetics, over 7%, and those with heart disease, over 10%. It also kills more Blacks than Whites, more poor than middle-class people, and more people without health insurance. The author is clearly not just interested in Covid. He attacks racism, sexism, and poverty in equal measure, making a plea for compassion toward stigmatized conditions such as obesity and addiction. He consistently urges the U.S. government, which has spared no expense and effort to defeat the pandemic, to do the same for social injustice.

An oft-ignored but fully convincing argument that “we cannot prevent the next pandemic without creating a healthy world.”

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-19-757642-7

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2021

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A lucid (in the sky with diamonds) look at the hows, whys, and occasional demerits of altering one’s mind.

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THIS IS YOUR MIND ON PLANTS

Building on his lysergically drenched book How to Change Your Mind (2018), Pollan looks at three plant-based drugs and the mental effects they can produce.

The disastrous war on drugs began under Nixon to control two classes of perceived enemies: anti-war protestors and Black citizens. That cynical effort, writes the author, drives home the point that “societies condone the mind-changing drugs that help uphold society’s rule and ban the ones that are seen to undermine it.” One such drug is opium, for which Pollan daringly offers a recipe for home gardeners to make a tea laced with the stuff, producing “a radical and by no means unpleasant sense of passivity.” You can’t overthrow a government when so chilled out, and the real crisis is the manufacture of synthetic opioids, which the author roundly condemns. Pollan delivers a compelling backstory: This section dates to 1997, but he had to leave portions out of the original publication to keep the Drug Enforcement Administration from his door. Caffeine is legal, but it has stronger effects than opium, as the author learned when he tried to quit: “I came to see how integral caffeine is to the daily work of knitting ourselves back together after the fraying of consciousness during sleep.” Still, back in the day, the introduction of caffeine to the marketplace tempered the massive amounts of alcohol people were drinking even though a cup of coffee at noon will keep banging on your brain at midnight. As for the cactus species that “is busy transforming sunlight into mescaline right in my front yard”? Anyone can grow it, it seems, but not everyone will enjoy effects that, in one Pollan experiment, “felt like a kind of madness.” To his credit, the author also wrestles with issues of cultural appropriation, since in some places it’s now easier for a suburbanite to grow San Pedro cacti than for a Native American to use it ceremonially.

A lucid (in the sky with diamonds) look at the hows, whys, and occasional demerits of altering one’s mind.

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-29690-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

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