Provocative though unlikely to reach far beyond the choir box.

COWED

THE HIDDEN IMPACT OF 93 MILLION COWS ON AMERICA’S HEALTH, ECONOMY, POLITICS, CULTURE, AND ENVIRONMENT

A condemnatory look at the factory-farming model that has overpopulated the planet with too many cattle, to the detriment of all involved.

Indignant and sometimes with a holier-than-thou tone, the united Hayes, he an Earth Day pioneer and she an environmental lawyer, decry a system that “treats cows barbarously, even as it ruins some of the best soil on the planet, destroys irreplaceable aquifers, fills the air with warming gases, and creates enormous dead zones at the mouths of rivers.” Ground zero for that nefarious activity is Iowa, where the authors do a grim mathematical assessment of the cost in topsoil and corn to keep cows alive and fat long enough to make it to the nearest fast-food restaurant. Cows are necessary, of course; as the authors note, they’re essential to the dairy industry, especially inasmuch as “female bison don’t take kindly to humans handling their small teats.” Necessary or no, the authors attack the systematic mistreatment of cattle on feedlots and in holding pens, with the sentient animals reduced to cogs; cattle enrich us, but their lives are “cruelly diminished in the process.” But maybe they don’t enrich us after all. As the authors point out, pathogens can be killed by cooking beef thoroughly, but antibiotics can resist heat and can wreak havoc on the human ecosystem; if we are what we eat, then we are similarly diminished. Though their argument is sometimes preachy, and perhaps necessarily so, the authors don’t content themselves with jeremiad alone but instead offer positive things one can do. These include spending more on food to buy grass-fed and organic and homegrown, a luxury that of course not everyone can afford, and favoring bison meat over beef, to say nothing of eating less meat to begin with.

Provocative though unlikely to reach far beyond the choir box.

Pub Date: March 9, 2015

ISBN: 978-0393239942

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

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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Whether you call this a personal story or nature writing, it’s poignant, thoughtful and moving—and likely to become a...

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H IS FOR HAWK

An inspired, beautiful and absorbing account of a woman battling grief—with a goshawk.

Following the sudden death of her father, Macdonald (History and Philosophy/Cambridge Univ.; Falcon, 2006, etc.) tried staving off deep depression with a unique form of personal therapy: the purchase and training of an English goshawk, which she named Mabel. Although a trained falconer, the author chose a raptor both unfamiliar and unpredictable, a creature of mad confidence that became a means of working against madness. “The hawk was everything I wanted to be: solitary, self-possessed, free from grief, and numb to the hurts of human life,” she writes. As a devotee of birds of prey since girlhood, Macdonald knew the legends and the literature, particularly the cautionary example of The Once and Future King author T.H. White, whose 1951 book The Goshawk details his own painful battle to master his title subject. Macdonald dramatically parallels her own story with White’s, achieving a remarkable imaginative sympathy with the writer, a lonely, tormented homosexual fighting his own sadomasochistic demons. Even as she was learning from White’s mistakes, she found herself very much in his shoes, watching her life fall apart as the painfully slow bonding process with Mabel took over. Just how much do animals and humans have in common? The more Macdonald got to know her, the more Mabel confounded her notions about what the species was supposed to represent. Is a hawk a symbol of might or independence, or is that just our attempt to remake the animal world in our own image? Writing with breathless urgency that only rarely skirts the melodramatic, Macdonald broadens her scope well beyond herself to focus on the antagonism between people and the environment.

Whether you call this a personal story or nature writing, it’s poignant, thoughtful and moving—and likely to become a classic in either genre.

Pub Date: March 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0802123411

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

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