TALES FROM THE ANT WORLD

Though somewhat disorganized, the content and quality of the writing is consistently top-notch.

The world-renowned ant expert cleans out his desk, which—no surprise—contains many gems.

Pulitzer Prize–winning author and naturalist Wilson’s writing on broader scientific subjects have won him awards and no lack of controversy. Now 90, largely retired from fieldwork and scholarship but an indefatigable writer, he has assembled scraps of autobiography and anecdotes on his favorite insect. The author provides evidence that the secret of happiness lies in having an obsession rather than money, talent, genius, or even a cheerful disposition. From childhood, passion for natural history consumed him, beginning with all creatures, then focused on insects and, eventually, ants. Other memoirists agonize over dysfunctional parents, questionable friends, disappointment in love, or poor life decisions. Wilson has had his share, but he also has ants, which provide contentment in his life. With regular detours into personal experiences, the author delivers two dozen chapters on their history, ecology, diet, and the organization of the colony (no ant lives alone), without ignoring the dozens of parasites it supports. Ants make up the dominant land carnivore in their size range, and estimates show that “all the living ants weigh about the same as all the living humans.” Though infectiously enthusiastic about ants, Wilson is no sentimentalist; he warns that nothing about an ant’s life provides moral uplift. Males are useless except as sources of sperm for the queen. Females do all the work, and “service to the colony is everything.” Young ants work at safe jobs such as attending the queen. As they grow older, their jobs become riskier—from sentinel to forager to guard to warrior. Put more plainly, “where humans send their young adults into battle, ants send their old ladies.” Workers who encounter a dead ant in the nest dump it “in the colony refuse pile,” unless they eat it. If it’s only injured and dying, they eat it.

Though somewhat disorganized, the content and quality of the writing is consistently top-notch.

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-63149-556-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: May 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020

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ELON MUSK

Alternately admiring and critical, unvarnished, and a closely detailed account of a troubled innovator.

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A warts-and-all portrait of the famed techno-entrepreneur—and the warts are nearly beyond counting.

To call Elon Musk (b. 1971) “mercurial” is to undervalue the term; to call him a genius is incorrect. Instead, Musk has a gift for leveraging the genius of others in order to make things work. When they don’t, writes eminent biographer Isaacson, it’s because the notoriously headstrong Musk is so sure of himself that he charges ahead against the advice of others: “He does not like to share power.” In this sharp-edged biography, the author likens Musk to an earlier biographical subject, Steve Jobs. Given Musk’s recent political turn, born of the me-first libertarianism of the very rich, however, Henry Ford also comes to mind. What emerges clearly is that Musk, who may or may not have Asperger’s syndrome (“Empathy did not come naturally”), has nurtured several obsessions for years, apart from a passion for the letter X as both a brand and personal name. He firmly believes that “all requirements should be treated as recommendations”; that it is his destiny to make humankind a multi-planetary civilization through innovations in space travel; that government is generally an impediment and that “the thought police are gaining power”; and that “a maniacal sense of urgency” should guide his businesses. That need for speed has led to undeniable successes in beating schedules and competitors, but it has also wrought disaster: One of the most telling anecdotes in the book concerns Musk’s “demon mode” order to relocate thousands of Twitter servers from Sacramento to Portland at breakneck speed, which trashed big parts of the system for months. To judge by Isaacson’s account, that may have been by design, for Musk’s idea of creative destruction seems to mean mostly chaos.

Alternately admiring and critical, unvarnished, and a closely detailed account of a troubled innovator.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2023

ISBN: 9781982181284

Page Count: 688

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2023

THE ELEPHANTS OF THULA THULA

A heartwarming and inspiring story for animal lovers.

The third volume in the Elephant Whisperer series.

In this follow-up to An Elephant in My Kitchen, Malby-Anthony continues her loving portrait of the Thula Thula wildlife reserve, which she co-founded in 1998 with her late husband, South African conservationist Lawrence Anthony, who published the first book in the series, The Elephant Whisperer, in 2009. Following his death in 2012, Malby-Anthony sought to honor his legacy by continuing his vision “to create a massive conservancy in Zululand, incorporating our land and other small farms and community land into one great big game park.” At the same time, the elephants gave her “a sense of purpose and direction.” In the Zulu language, thula means quiet, and though the author consistently seeks to provide that calm to her charges, peace and tranquility are not always easy to come by at Thula Thula. In this installment, Malby-Anthony discusses many of the challenges faced by her and her staff, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic. These included an aggressive, 2-ton rhino named Thabo; the profound loss felt by all upon the death of their elephant matriarch, Frankie; difficulty obtaining permits and the related risk of having to relocate or cull some of their animals; the fear of looting and fire due to civil unrest in the region; and the ongoing and potentially deadly struggles with poachers. Throughout, the author also shares many warm, lighthearted moments, demonstrating the deep bond felt among the humans and animals at the reserve and the powerful effects of the kindness of strangers. “We are all working in unity for the greater good, for the betterment of Thula Thula and all our wildlife….We are humbled by the generosity and love, both from our guests and friends, and from strangers all around the world,” writes the author. “People’s open-hearted support kept us alive in the darkest times.”

A heartwarming and inspiring story for animal lovers.

Pub Date: April 25, 2023

ISBN: 9781250284259

Page Count: 320

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 22, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2023

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