THE RAREST OF THE RARE

VANISHING ANIMALS, TIMELESS WORLDS

Intimate, savory portraits of imperiled animals and environments, by the author of A Natural History of Love (1994), etc. Extinction is a natural part of evolution, often "unmalicious, intentionless, random." We humans too are part of the natural matrix and may wish to explain our agency in the extinction process as such—natural, evolutionary. But it is well to remember, advises Ackerman, that mass extinctions—like what is happening right this minute—tend to wipe out the culprits as well, and that means you and me. Ackerman finds our role in the destruction of creatures and places reprehensible; she states, "As a member of the species responsible for their downfall, I feel an urgent need to witness and celebrate them before they vanish." And celebrate them she does, beautifully, in six finely crafted evocations: monk seals and golden lion tamarins, the Florida scrublands and the Amazon, the migration of monarch butterflies. Ackerman drinks in the whole picture; she went to the remote, storm-tossed island of Torishima, off Japan, to observe the short-tailed albatross ("vibrant white, with radiant yellow heads and coral-pink bills tipped in blue"), but she is just as attentive to the landscape, "a glacier of crushed lava . . . ground singed with bright yellow sulphur salts and hot black scabs." As always, she likes her nature raw, "dizzyingly sensuous and deeply spiritual," reveling in the promiscuity of it all, and as for her oft-mentioned anthropomorphism, she has a neat response to the chiding she takes at the tamarin camp: "As a higher primate female, I'm hard-wired to respond to the young of all mammalian species as cute. . . . Think of it as part of my evolutionary program." Smart and polished and totally entertaining, Ackerman is a pure pleasure.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1995

ISBN: 0679776230

Page Count: 206

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1995

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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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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

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