A challenging notion that fails to adequately address the implicit downgrading of our broader responsibilities as citizens.




Science deputy news editor Grimm (Journalism/Johns Hopkins Univ.) looks at the pros and cons of granting citizenship to our pets—a far-out idea, to be sure, but one gaining traction with some on the fringe of the animal rights movement.

At issue is the evolving status of the cats and dogs who have traveled a long road with our species, from camp followers in our hunter-gatherer days to treasured family members today, helping to shape our civilization while being themselves transformed. “Nearly a third of all Americans and half of all singles say that they rely more on their pets than on other people for companionship,” writes the author. They fill the void in our lives “created by technology and our disintegrating relationships,” and we spent a mind-boggling $55 billion on them last year, up 2.5 times from our expenditure in 2000. This state of affairs is reflected in the growing number of laws protecting animals from abuse and the efforts of animal rights activists to shut down puppy mills, stop the confinement of chickens in factory farms and abolish the use of animals for medical experiments. While some advocate direct action, others support the Animal Defense Fund, which models itself on the NAACP and draws an analogy between our treatment of animals and the treatment of black slaves—a comparison that some may well consider offensive. The ADF is taking legal cases that give them “a shot at chipping away at the property status of animals,” and animal rights litigation is becoming a recognized legal specialty taught at leading universities. Grimm also reports the views of opponents of the ADF, who question putting animal abuse on par with child abuse, veterinarians who object to frivolous malpractice suits, and other critics. He does not subscribe to giving animals citizenship, but he does believe “that the quest for inclusion defines us all, animal and man.”

A challenging notion that fails to adequately address the implicit downgrading of our broader responsibilities as citizens.

Pub Date: April 8, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-61039-133-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Feb. 13, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2014

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...


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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Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

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Award-winning scientist Jahren (Geology and Geophysics/Univ. of Hawaii) delivers a personal memoir and a paean to the natural world.

The author’s father was a physics and earth science teacher who encouraged her play in the laboratory, and her mother was a student of English literature who nurtured her love of reading. Both of these early influences engrossingly combine in this adroit story of a dedication to science. Jahren’s journey from struggling student to struggling scientist has the narrative tension of a novel and characters she imbues with real depth. The heroes in this tale are the plants that the author studies, and throughout, she employs her facility with words to engage her readers. We learn much along the way—e.g., how the willow tree clones itself, the courage of a seed’s first root, the symbiotic relationship between trees and fungi, and the airborne signals used by trees in their ongoing war against insects. Trees are of key interest to Jahren, and at times she waxes poetic: “Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.” The author draws many parallels between her subjects and herself. This is her story, after all, and we are engaged beyond expectation as she relates her struggle in building and running laboratory after laboratory at the universities that have employed her. Present throughout is her lab partner, a disaffected genius named Bill, whom she recruited when she was a graduate student at Berkeley and with whom she’s worked ever since. The author’s tenacity, hope, and gratitude are all evident as she and Bill chase the sweetness of discovery in the face of the harsh economic realities of the research scientist.

Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-87493-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

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