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

TALES FROM THE ANT WORLD

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 3, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

An oft-ignored but fully convincing argument that “we cannot prevent the next pandemic without creating a healthy world.”

THE CONTAGION NEXT TIME

The Covid-19 pandemic is not a one-off catastrophe. An epidemiologist presents a cogent argument for a fundamental refocusing of resources on “the foundational forces that shape health.”

In this passionate and instructive book, Galea, dean of the Boston University School of Public Health, writes that Covid emerged because we have long neglected basic preventative measures. “We invest vast amounts of money in healthcare,” he writes, “but comparatively little in health.” Readers looking to learn how governments (mainly the U.S.) mishandled the pandemic have a flood of books to choose from, but Galea has bigger issues to raise. Better medical care will not stop the next epidemic, he warns. We must structure a world “that is resilient to contagions.” He begins by describing the current state of world health, where progress has been spectacular. Global life expectancy has more than doubled since 1900. Malnutrition, poverty, and child mortality have dropped. However, as the author stresses repeatedly, medical progress contributed far less to the current situation than better food, clean water, hygiene, education, and prosperity. That’s the good news. More problematic is that money is a powerful determinant of health; those who have it live longer. Galea begins the bad news by pointing out the misleading statistic that Covid-19 kills less than 1% of those infected; that applies to young people in good health. For those over 60, it kills 6%, for diabetics, over 7%, and those with heart disease, over 10%. It also kills more Blacks than Whites, more poor than middle-class people, and more people without health insurance. The author is clearly not just interested in Covid. He attacks racism, sexism, and poverty in equal measure, making a plea for compassion toward stigmatized conditions such as obesity and addiction. He consistently urges the U.S. government, which has spared no expense and effort to defeat the pandemic, to do the same for social injustice.

An oft-ignored but fully convincing argument that “we cannot prevent the next pandemic without creating a healthy world.”

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-19-757642-7

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2021

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A lucid (in the sky with diamonds) look at the hows, whys, and occasional demerits of altering one’s mind.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2021

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

THIS IS YOUR MIND ON PLANTS

Building on his lysergically drenched book How to Change Your Mind (2018), Pollan looks at three plant-based drugs and the mental effects they can produce.

The disastrous war on drugs began under Nixon to control two classes of perceived enemies: anti-war protestors and Black citizens. That cynical effort, writes the author, drives home the point that “societies condone the mind-changing drugs that help uphold society’s rule and ban the ones that are seen to undermine it.” One such drug is opium, for which Pollan daringly offers a recipe for home gardeners to make a tea laced with the stuff, producing “a radical and by no means unpleasant sense of passivity.” You can’t overthrow a government when so chilled out, and the real crisis is the manufacture of synthetic opioids, which the author roundly condemns. Pollan delivers a compelling backstory: This section dates to 1997, but he had to leave portions out of the original publication to keep the Drug Enforcement Administration from his door. Caffeine is legal, but it has stronger effects than opium, as the author learned when he tried to quit: “I came to see how integral caffeine is to the daily work of knitting ourselves back together after the fraying of consciousness during sleep.” Still, back in the day, the introduction of caffeine to the marketplace tempered the massive amounts of alcohol people were drinking even though a cup of coffee at noon will keep banging on your brain at midnight. As for the cactus species that “is busy transforming sunlight into mescaline right in my front yard”? Anyone can grow it, it seems, but not everyone will enjoy effects that, in one Pollan experiment, “felt like a kind of madness.” To his credit, the author also wrestles with issues of cultural appropriation, since in some places it’s now easier for a suburbanite to grow San Pedro cacti than for a Native American to use it ceremonially.

A lucid (in the sky with diamonds) look at the hows, whys, and occasional demerits of altering one’s mind.

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-29690-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

Did you like this book?

more