So an A for laying out the situation, a B for partial solutions, but an Incomplete for not addressing the fundamental...

THE FUTURE OF LIFE

Never one to shrink from the Big Picture, Harvard antman Wilson (Consilience, 1998, etc.) addresses the decline and fall of species but sees the potential for the survival of biodiverse life on earth if . . .

. . . we do the right thing. But first comes the lugubrious recital of the status quo. Wilson regulars know the tune—so many creatures great and small, with losses of species at a rate of one thousand to ten thousand per million a year. To his credit, Wilson explains how such estimates are made, while admitting that no one really knows the denominators: how many species there are. The malady is familiar as well, even has an acronym: HIPPO, for Habitat destruction, Invasive species, Pollution, Population, and Overharvesting—all revealing the hand of Homo sapiens. Wilson singles out Hawaii, Madagascar, Vancouver Island, and other defined sites to provide convincing details. But just at the point of reader despair, he turns the tables to offer solutions. Here, he draws on theses he has defended elsewhere: e.g., “biophilia,” defined as humankind’s innate tendency to focus on life and lifelike forms, attracts us to our fellow creatures. Wilson’s reliance on instinct, on developmental stages that hone biophilia, and on certain heritable factors have him out on speculative limbs he has pursued previously. His political and economic arguments for preserving biodiversity are more persuasive, dwelling on how much a well-preserved nature gives back in the form of diverse food, medicine, clothing, shelter, etc. That, and an increasingly rich and more savvy group of international conservation organizations may save the day, he suggests. Their savvy lies in buying reserves, plowing money back into the local economy, and allowing peripheral communities to draw (modestly) on the reserve, while encouraging bioprospecting and ecotourism. While these solutions are promising, Wilson does not really grapple with how to stem the tide of overpopulation—and the religious, sociopolitical, and economic imperatives that maintain it.

So an A for laying out the situation, a B for partial solutions, but an Incomplete for not addressing the fundamental problem.

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 2002

ISBN: 0-679-45078-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2001

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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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