Another good and provocative work from Quammen, sure to engage past admirers and earn new ones.

MONSTER OF GOD

THE MAN-EATING PREDATOR IN THE JUNGLES OF HISTORY AND THE MIND

A somber elegy for the last of the world’s “alpha predators.”

Big, fierce beasts have haunted the human mind since time’s beginning, writes natural historian Quammen (The Boilerplate Rhino, 2000, etc.), and the relationship between predatory mammals and their human prey “has played a crucial role in shaping the way we humans construe our place in the natural world.” He’s surely on to something: given that the natural tendency of humans is to exterminate any predators that threaten them—indeed, some would argue that exterminating them is “basic to the enterprise of civilization”—then it makes sense that our species should have been so hell-bent for so long on reshaping and taming the environments where nasty critters hang out. In a narrative that is better controlled and less footnote-heavy than The Song of the Dodo (1996), Quammen travels to tropical places, wild and on the verge of being tamed, to observe alpha predators in action. He delivers wonderfully wrought, undeniably scary tales of 13-foot-long Nile crocodiles in whose bellies reside the pulped remains of unfortunate Turkana villagers, people who consider their hunter “the punishing agent of a capricious God who was by turns benevolent and vindictive—like the Lord in the book of Job, only worse”; of Siberian tigers whose kind once stalked the inhabitants of the taiga, but that have since been hunted nearly to extinction, ever more rapidly since the end of the Soviet Union and the arrival of a particularly rapacious form of capitalism; of embattled Indian lions and their more adaptable fellow jungle denizens, leopards, far more adaptable to “degraded habitats, forest edges, and agricultural intrusions into wild landscapes.” Scary, yes, but for Quammen the real fright is in a future in which a world of ten billion humans can find no room for such keystone species—a world that he fears is approaching all too close.

Another good and provocative work from Quammen, sure to engage past admirers and earn new ones.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-393-05140-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2003

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 13

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

NO ONE IS TOO SMALL TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE

A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more