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A cetologist chronicles her 25 field-season summers studying generations of Atlantic spotted dolphins.

Beginning in 1985, Herzing, then in her early 30s, traveled to an area in the Bahamas, a known home to families of friendly dolphins, and began tracking them, analyzing behavioral traits and the courting and mating habits of what she believes to be “one of the most advanced nonhuman intelligence on the planet.” Initially taking an anthropological approach, she quickly realized that an interactive, participatory methodology would play a more critical role in her research. So she dove in, equipped with scuba gear, cameras and a “hydrophone” for video-recording the dolphins’ highly expressive underwater vocalizations and behavior. Herzing passionately writes of her first summer cautiously immersed in the marine mammal’s world of clicks and whistles, their playtime and foreplay and in naming the dolphins and ultimately reconstructing elaborate family trees. Though it would take her five years to establish some semblance of shared trust and solace with the apprehensive dolphin pods, the many summers that followed only served to reinforce the author’s enthusiasm and perseverance for the wide-eyed observation of mothers and calves, their babysitting mystique, intricate interspecies relations (humans included) and elaborate communication coding. The author’s liberal use of “anthropomorphizing” (ascribing emotions to the dolphins) only adds to the exploration’s allure, especially when threatening elements like storms, dangerous water currents and hungry sharks enter the picture. Herzing’s fervent work became disrupted, however, by three hurricanes the 2004-5 seasons, which displaced many of the dolphins she’d been meticulously documenting. Inspired by the pioneering work of Jacques Cousteau, Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey, Herzing’s focused, captivating account concludes with moving animal-rights arguments centered around the injustices foisted upon defenseless cetaceans and the many other species senselessly killed or held in cruel captivity.  


Pub Date: July 5, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-312-60896-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 3, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2011

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Absorbing and thought-provoking.

Seventeenth-century England forms the tumultuous backdrop for science journalist Zimmer’s account of the handful of thinkers who established that the brain, not the heart, was the seat of the soul.

The author singles out as his hero Thomas Willis, a name best known today among anatomy students for the “circle of Willis,” a ring of blood vessels at the base of the brain. A poor boy educated in medicine at Oxford, Willis eventually removed to London to become a rich and famous society physician. But it was his Oxford days, at the center of a circle of scholars that included Christopher Wren, Robert Hooke, and Robert Boyle that marked the revolution that dethroned Aristotle and Galen. Meticulous autopsies of Willis’s patients and multiple experiments on animals dead and living (PETA would weep) established that it was the brain and the system of nerves carrying “spirits” to and fro that accounted for thoughts, emotions, and actions. Moreover, the dissections were also able to point to brain specialization, linking diseased parts to symptoms suffered by the deceased. Willis and his peers were not ready to surrender all to a mechanistic view. They posited a dual soul: a sensitive, material soul subject to disease and a “rational” soul deep in the brain that was immaterial and immortal. And for all Willis’s acute observations of patients’ signs and symptoms, his treatments stuck to the potions, purges, emetics, and bloodletting that were standard care at the time. Zimmer details all of these developments, along with brief bios of the principals, against the chaos and calamities of the English civil war, the beheading of Charles I, the rise of Cromwell, the Restoration, the Irish rebellion, the devastating plague of 1664–5, the great London fire of 1666, and enough bloody religious battles to satisfy the Taliban. Indeed, the many parallels that can be drawn between politics, religion, science, and human behavior then and now add unexpected dividends to this engaging narrative.

Absorbing and thought-provoking.

Pub Date: Jan. 6, 2004

ISBN: 0-7432-3038-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2003

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A history more splendid than any maharaja’s golden howdah. (b&w illustrations throughout)

A celebration of the Indian elephant, though the animal’s current precarious circumstances make this a cautionary tale as well.

While Alter (All the Way to Heaven, 1998, etc.) has spent many years in the subcontinent, this work stems from a series of journeys he made throughout India during 2001–02, ranging from Assam to Dehradun to the southern tip. It’s a story well and fondly told, of myth and art and great Indian masterworks, with a smattering (which is all that’s really known) of natural history about the Indian elephant’s behavior and biology. Alter notes that only a small percentage of Indian elephants live in national parks; the majority roam in forest reserves and private land, leaving them vulnerable to habitat encroachment and poaching. Dividing his time equally between scouring ancient texts and observation in the field, the author finds a close braiding of intimate knowledge of the elephant with the creature’s mythological status. In some instances they are portly, playful gods, in others emblems of authority, such as war elephants. As scholarly as Alter can be, he also has a knack for describing the elephants’ landscape: a gilded-green river under a saffron sky, flowers and birds flashing orange and turquoise, groves of bamboo and ordered ranks of teak trees. He works the animal’s contradictory status as both “an emblem of desire, the image of gajagamini—a woman whose walk is as seductive as an elephant’s,” and as a marauding raider, ruining a farmer’s crop in a night. The elephant’s survival cannot be assured solely by creating sanctuaries, Alter warns: it requires a “sustained commitment” from state and citizen alike.

A history more splendid than any maharaja’s golden howdah. (b&w illustrations throughout)

Pub Date: May 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-15-100646-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2004

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