A welcome addition to any tree hugger’s library.



Affectionate yet scientifically rich look at an essential ingredient of the environment.

When he and his family moved to a 10-acre spread in southeastern Pennsylvania, writes Tallamy, he noted that after decades of hay mowing, there were just a few trees and a concomitant shortage of wildlife. Enter the oak, 500-odd species of which cover the world, trees that “produce enormous root systems over their lifetimes, and these help make them champions when it comes to soil stabilization, carbon sequestration, and watershed management.” Humans need as much help as they can get in such matters, but that doesn’t keep them from felling vast forests of oaks for pasturage, fuel, and other uses. In this guided tour of a year in the life of the oaks around him, Tallamy enumerates all the useful and interesting work that they do. Homeowners, for instance, are likely to cut down oaks on their property because they’re such messy trees, leaving great piles of leaves underneath in season. Yet those leaves form an ecosystem of their own, sheltering insects, seeds, fungi, mycorrhizae, and other desirable things. When they are in mast, oak trees provide “unlimited food for acorn predators,” and oak litter helps battle invasive species on forest floors, such as Japanese stiltgrass. As the author makes clear, preserving oaks and other native tree species is an essential act in supporting migratory bird species, for those tree species, to varying degrees, produce great populations of caterpillars on which the birds feed. “Any birder worth her salt already knows where to look for spring migrants,” he exults, “look to the oaks!” There’s a biology textbook packed away inside these graceful, appreciative essays, full of notes on marcescence, the mating habits of katydids, and the urgent work of saving oaks, once “ancient cornerstones of ecosystems throughout the United States”—and indeed the world.

A welcome addition to any tree hugger’s library.

Pub Date: March 30, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-64326-044-0

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Timber

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2021

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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

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A solid foundational education in a handful of lively scientific topics.


Two science podcasters answer their mail.

In this illustrated follow-up to We Have No Idea: A Guide to the Unknown Universe (2017), Cham, a cartoonist and former research associate and instructor at Caltech, and Whiteson, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of California, Irvine, explain the basic science behind subjects that seem to preoccupy the listeners of their podcast, Daniel and Jorge Explain the Universe. Most of the questions involve physics or astrophysics and take the form of, is such-and-such possible?—e.g., teleportation, alien visitors, building a warp drive, entering a black hole). The authors emphasize that they are answering as scientists, not engineers. “A physicist will say something is possible if they don’t know of a law of physics that prevents it.” Thus, a spaceship traveling fast enough to reach the nearest star in a reasonable amount of time is not forbidden by the laws of physics, but building one is inconceivable. Similarly, wormholes and time travel are “not known to be impossible”—as are many other scenarios. Some distressing events are guaranteed. An asteroid will strike the Earth, the sun will explode, and the human race will become extinct, but studies reveal that none are immediate threats. Sadly, making Mars as habitable as Earth is possible but only with improbably futuristic technology. For those who suspect that we are living in a computer simulation, the authors describe what clues to look for. Readers may worry that the authors step beyond their expertise when they include chapters on the existence of an afterlife or the question of free will. Sticking closely to hard science, they deliver a lucid overview of brain function and the debate over the existence of alternate universes that is unlikely to provoke controversy. The authors’ work fits neatly into the recently burgeoning market of breezy pop-science books full of jokes, asides, and cartoons that serve as introductions to concepts that require much further study to fully understand.

A solid foundational education in a handful of lively scientific topics.

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-18931-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Sept. 7, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2021

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