It is a rare and beautiful thing, Quammen's entertaining, challenging, and sustained brilliance. No wonder he needed a break...

THE BOILERPLATE RHINO

NATURE IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER

The only downside to this collection of Quammen's (Wild Thoughts from Wild Places, 1997, etc.) natural history essays—and it is a painful one—is the reminder that he no longer writes them on a monthly basis.

Here is Quammen doing what he does like no other, knocking about in nature, one eye skinned for the curious organisms through which he explores big questions, the other on the lookout for a suitable opportunity to stick his finger in the eye of our speciesspecific complacency and selfdelusion. Like the cats (Felis sylvestris) he so admires, Quammen walks alone. He is an odd fellow, not selfconsciously so, but rather for the fresh and unexpected take he brings to such puzzles as ``what drives the evolution of bizarre forms of penis'' and ``does the female sea horse take foolish pride in the size of her thing''? Or why Tyrannosaurus rex ought to be the state bird of Montana. Or why two oneeyed poets are masters of the exigent art of seeing. Or what motivates the plague of defenestrated cats. Through such probings, improbable as it may seem, Quammen raises other grander questions—and infers a direction in which answers may lie—about the ``confusion of good logic and bad logic, earned emotion and specious emotion.'' If at times he pursues in his work ``a fascinating scientific question that might lend itself rather well to vulgarization and mockery,'' more often he discovers something jarring and demanding: ``a chimpanzee, confronting its own reflected image, is capable of selfrecognition. But humans look in a mirror and see only God.''

It is a rare and beautiful thing, Quammen's entertaining, challenging, and sustained brilliance. No wonder he needed a break from the monthly grind; it must have been like giving blood one too many times.

Pub Date: April 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-684-83728-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2000

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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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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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