Proceed with caution—enjoy the folklore but beware the folly.



“No life form has had greater impact upon this planet than the human male,” claims Morris in this follow-up to The Naked Woman (2005, etc.)

The author begins with a discussion of the primeval male, who honed his skills, took risks and indulged his curiosity, eventually evolving into a “startlingly efficient prey-killer.” In this manner, females, “too valuable reproductively to be risked in the chase,” became specialized as “cautious, caring, maternally efficient individuals.” The man-the-hunter image still persists today, writes Morris, in competitive sports and games, muscle-building and collecting hobbies, along with the sexual strategies that allow for pair-bonding but also for sowing one’s seeds when opportunity knocks. Following this chapter on evolutionary processes, the author devotes much of the rest of the text to the specifics of male body parts. Here Morris covers body language, clothing styles and adornments that males have adopted to endow body parts with symbolic meaning and significance, much of it gender-associated. Some of this is intriguing (the contradictions that allow both baldness and hairiness to be signs of virility), some is minutiae (the free-type ear lobe is twice as common as the attached type), much is folklore (a precious metal earring would distract the devil from entering the body through the ear) and some is simply Morris’s penchant for Guinness-type records (who has the longest nose, pigtail, etc.) There are neat nuggets like “playing a hunch”—which refers to “making a play at the gaming tables after touching [a] hunchback [person]”—but there is also insufficient information. Weighing the pros and cons of male circumcision, for example, Morris makes no mention that the procedure can lower the odds of contracting HIV. Finally, the author advances the bizarre theory that homosexuality is the result of boys never outgrowing the middle childhood years when girls are shunned.

Proceed with caution—enjoy the folklore but beware the folly.

Pub Date: Aug. 18, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-312-38530-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2009

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A quirky wonder of a book.



A Peabody Award–winning NPR science reporter chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century scientist and how her quest led to significant revelations about the meaning of order, chaos, and her own existence.

Miller began doing research on David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) to understand how he had managed to carry on after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his work. A taxonomist who is credited with discovering “a full fifth of fish known to man in his day,” Jordan had amassed an unparalleled collection of ichthyological specimens. Gathering up all the fish he could save, Jordan sewed the nameplates that had been on the destroyed jars directly onto the fish. His perseverance intrigued the author, who also discusses the struggles she underwent after her affair with a woman ended a heterosexual relationship. Born into an upstate New York farm family, Jordan attended Cornell and then became an itinerant scholar and field researcher until he landed at Indiana University, where his first ichthyological collection was destroyed by lightning. In between this catastrophe and others involving family members’ deaths, he reconstructed his collection. Later, he was appointed as the founding president of Stanford, where he evolved into a Machiavellian figure who trampled on colleagues and sang the praises of eugenics. Miller concludes that Jordan displayed the characteristics of someone who relied on “positive illusions” to rebound from disaster and that his stand on eugenics came from a belief in “a divine hierarchy from bacteria to humans that point[ed]…toward better.” Considering recent research that negates biological hierarchies, the author then suggests that Jordan’s beloved taxonomic category—fish—does not exist. Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence.

A quirky wonder of a book.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6027-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

An intriguing meditation on the nature of the universe and our attempts to understand it that should appeal to both...

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2016

  • New York Times Bestseller


Italian theoretical physicist Rovelli (General Relativity: The Most Beautiful of Theories, 2015, etc.) shares his thoughts on the broader scientific and philosophical implications of the great revolution that has taken place over the past century.

These seven lessons, which first appeared as articles in the Sunday supplement of the Italian newspaper Sole 24 Ore, are addressed to readers with little knowledge of physics. In less than 100 pages, the author, who teaches physics in both France and the United States, cogently covers the great accomplishments of the past and the open questions still baffling physicists today. In the first lesson, he focuses on Einstein's theory of general relativity. He describes Einstein's recognition that gravity "is not diffused through space [but] is that space itself" as "a stroke of pure genius." In the second lesson, Rovelli deals with the puzzling features of quantum physics that challenge our picture of reality. In the remaining sections, the author introduces the constant fluctuations of atoms, the granular nature of space, and more. "It is hardly surprising that there are more things in heaven and earth, dear reader, than have been dreamed of in our philosophy—or in our physics,” he writes. Rovelli also discusses the issues raised in loop quantum gravity, a theory that he co-developed. These issues lead to his extraordinary claim that the passage of time is not fundamental but rather derived from the granular nature of space. The author suggests that there have been two separate pathways throughout human history: mythology and the accumulation of knowledge through observation. He believes that scientists today share the same curiosity about nature exhibited by early man.

An intriguing meditation on the nature of the universe and our attempts to understand it that should appeal to both scientists and general readers.

Pub Date: March 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-18441-3

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet