Like Pan, Ackerman is an unpredictable sensualist in the garden, and one with lots of facts. A more gladdening companion...

READ REVIEW

CULTIVATING DELIGHT

A NATURAL HISTORY OF MY GARDEN

A rapt and lovely seasonal pilgrimage, perfectly attuned, through Ackerman’s (Deep Play, 1999, etc.) home garden to points beyond.

Time pools as Ackerman takes readers through the gardens around her home in Ithaca, New York. She enjoys simply hanging out, is highly distractible, spontaneously journeys off to big thoughts—beauty, mortality, fear—as she deadheads the asters, and like a Romantic garden, she comes with lots of surprises. She is highly observant (“There’s a cricket head lying on the flagstone, probably left by a toad”) and seems to know the life story and cultural history behind every plant in her landscape, redbud to leucothoe to her legions of roses. The outdoors feeds her—“Wonder is a bulky emotion; when it fills the heart and mind there’s little room for anything else. We need the intimate truths of daylight and deer”—and has very much filled her mind with wondrous imagery: hummingbird nests of lichen and spider silk, roses that break their necks in a blooming fury, “apple trees ripe as a gin mill.” Ackerman likes to reveal nature’s intricate machinery: How does a bird know which one has been fed in a nest full of gaping mouths? Why is that cardinal shivering in June? This she balances with all the mystery that remains in the garden, in particular the workings of fate, as when she is bitten hard by the disappearance of a wren family after their birdhouse took a fall. Each season brings its stamp, but spring has got Ackerman in her pocket—“the air tastes tinny and sweet”—and, good Northeasterner that she is, she measures its progress against the buffetings of winter as if holding on for dear life: “Spring travels north at about thirteen miles a day, which is 47.6 feet per minute. I start looking for subtle clues and signs.”

Like Pan, Ackerman is an unpredictable sensualist in the garden, and one with lots of facts. A more gladdening companion would be hard to imagine.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2001

ISBN: 0-06-019986-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2001

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Ackerman writes with a light but assured touch, her prose rich in fact but economical in delivering it. Fans of birds in all...

THE GENIUS OF BIRDS

Science writer Ackerman (Ah-Choo!: The Uncommon Life of Your Common Cold, 2010, etc.) looks at the new science surrounding avian intelligence.

The takeaway: calling someone a birdbrain is a compliment. And in any event, as Ackerman observes early on, “intelligence is a slippery concept, even in our own species, tricky to define and tricky to measure.” Is a bird that uses a rock to break open a clamshell the mental equivalent of a tool-using primate? Perhaps that’s the wrong question, for birds are so unlike humans that “it’s difficult for us to fully appreciate their mental capabilities,” given that they’re really just small, feathered dinosaurs who inhabit a wholly different world from our once-arboreal and now terrestrial one. Crows and other corvids have gotten all the good publicity related to bird intelligence in recent years, but Ackerman, who does allow that some birds are brighter than others, points favorably to the much-despised pigeon as an animal that “can remember hundreds of different objects for long periods of time, discriminate between different painting styles, and figure out where it’s going, even when displaced from familiar territory by hundreds of miles.” Not bad for a critter best known for bespattering statues in public parks. Ackerman travels far afield to places such as Barbados and New Caledonia to study such matters as memory, communication, and decision-making, the last largely based on visual cues—though, as she notes, birds also draw ably on other senses, including smell, which in turn opens up insight onto “a weird evolutionary paradox that scientists have puzzled over for more than a decade”—a matter of the geometry of, yes, the bird brain.

Ackerman writes with a light but assured touch, her prose rich in fact but economical in delivering it. Fans of birds in all their diversity will want to read this one.

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59420-521-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Exemplary writing about the world and a welcome gift to readers.

HORIZON

Distinguished natural history writer and explorer Lopez (Outside, 2014, etc.) builds a winning memoir around books, voyages, and biological and anthropological observations.

“Traveling, despite the technological innovations that have brought cultural homogenization to much of the world, helps the curious and attentive itinerant understand how deep the notion goes that one place is never actually like another.” So writes the author, who has made a long career of visiting remote venues such as Antarctica, Greenland, and the lesser known of the Galápagos Islands. From these travels he has extracted truths about the world, such as the fact that places differ as widely as the people who live in them. Even when traveling with scientists from his own culture, Lopez finds differences of perception. On an Arctic island called Skraeling, for instance, he observes that if he and the biologists he is walking with were to encounter a grizzly feeding on a caribou, he would focus on the bear, the scientists on the whole gestalt of bear, caribou, environment; if a native of the place were along, the story would deepen beyond the immediate event, for those who possess Indigenous ways of knowledge, “unlike me…felt no immediate need to resolve it into meaning.” The author’s chapter on talismans—objects taken from his travels, such as “a fist-size piece of raven-black dolerite”—is among the best things he has written. But there are plentiful gems throughout the looping narrative, its episodes constructed from adventures over eight decades: trying to work out a bit of science as a teenager while huddled under the Ponte Vecchio after just having seen Botticelli’s Venus; admiring a swimmer as a septuagenarian while remembering the John Steinbeck whom he’d met as a schoolboy; gazing into the surf over many years’ worth of trips to Cape Foulweather, an Oregon headland named by Capt. James Cook, of whom he writes, achingly, “we no longer seem to be sailing in a time of fixed stars, of accurate chronometers, and of reliable routes.”

Exemplary writing about the world and a welcome gift to readers.

Pub Date: March 20, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-394-58582-6

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 26, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2018

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more