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

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

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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

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