An engrossing tale of wonder.

READ REVIEW

STRANGE HARVESTS

THE HIDDEN HISTORIES OF SEVEN NATURAL OBJECTS

Posnett scours the globe for natural commodities that sustain a balance in which consumption doesn’t lead to destruction and harvesting involves replenishing and renewal.

It is a challenge to categorize both the book and its author, a former financial investigator born in London and based in Philadelphia whose interest in markets and trades piqued his interest in writing about the natural world. In his first book, he pleasingly evokes an era in which “the object from the wild often performed an important literary function in a specific popular genre, the Victorian quest romance.” Each of the seven chapters details such a quest into the exotic and the wilderness in search of some organic golden fleece that has been commodified for luxury consumption. Each has its own fascination: There’s the down from the eider, a “fat seabird, more penguin than duck,” which sheds feathers that are then gathered by harvesters in Iceland with no apparent harm to the duck, though luxury profit ultimately compromises the process. When a single down jacket can retail for $8,000, there is plenty of incentive to take the birds out of their natural habitat, increase their number and their production, and thus risk killing the golden goose. A local compares eiderdown to cocaine, which is worth much more on the street than at its source, a comparison that does not lend itself to purity of process. In other chapters, the author explores the trade in bird guano (for fertilizer), sea silk (spun by mussels and other mollusks to anchor them), and the tagua nut, which had been used for buttons and carvings and is biodegradable where plastic is not. The most strangely exotic story may be that of civet coffee: The catlike animal digests only the finest coffee beans, flavors them with its enzymes, and then excretes them for harvesting, adding digestive enzymes to the coffee’s distinctive flavor. Throughout the book, the author’s writing derives less from naturalists and environmentalists and more from the likes of Borges and Calvino.

An engrossing tale of wonder.

Pub Date: Aug. 6, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56279-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 12, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2019

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Exemplary writing about the world and a welcome gift to readers.

HORIZON

Distinguished natural history writer and explorer Lopez (Outside, 2014, etc.) builds a winning memoir around books, voyages, and biological and anthropological observations.

“Traveling, despite the technological innovations that have brought cultural homogenization to much of the world, helps the curious and attentive itinerant understand how deep the notion goes that one place is never actually like another.” So writes the author, who has made a long career of visiting remote venues such as Antarctica, Greenland, and the lesser known of the Galápagos Islands. From these travels he has extracted truths about the world, such as the fact that places differ as widely as the people who live in them. Even when traveling with scientists from his own culture, Lopez finds differences of perception. On an Arctic island called Skraeling, for instance, he observes that if he and the biologists he is walking with were to encounter a grizzly feeding on a caribou, he would focus on the bear, the scientists on the whole gestalt of bear, caribou, environment; if a native of the place were along, the story would deepen beyond the immediate event, for those who possess Indigenous ways of knowledge, “unlike me…felt no immediate need to resolve it into meaning.” The author’s chapter on talismans—objects taken from his travels, such as “a fist-size piece of raven-black dolerite”—is among the best things he has written. But there are plentiful gems throughout the looping narrative, its episodes constructed from adventures over eight decades: trying to work out a bit of science as a teenager while huddled under the Ponte Vecchio after just having seen Botticelli’s Venus; admiring a swimmer as a septuagenarian while remembering the John Steinbeck whom he’d met as a schoolboy; gazing into the surf over many years’ worth of trips to Cape Foulweather, an Oregon headland named by Capt. James Cook, of whom he writes, achingly, “we no longer seem to be sailing in a time of fixed stars, of accurate chronometers, and of reliable routes.”

Exemplary writing about the world and a welcome gift to readers.

Pub Date: March 20, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-394-58582-6

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 26, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2018

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A timely, vividly realized reminder to slow down and harness the restorative wonders of serenity.

STILLNESS IS THE KEY

An exploration of the importance of clarity through calmness in an increasingly fast-paced world.

Austin-based speaker and strategist Holiday (Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue, 2018, etc.) believes in downshifting one’s life and activities in order to fully grasp the wonder of stillness. He bolsters this theory with a wide array of perspectives—some based on ancient wisdom (one of the author’s specialties), others more modern—all with the intent to direct readers toward the essential importance of stillness and its “attainable path to enlightenment and excellence, greatness and happiness, performance as well as presence.” Readers will be encouraged by Holiday’s insistence that his methods are within anyone’s grasp. He acknowledges that this rare and coveted calm is already inside each of us, but it’s been worn down by the hustle of busy lives and distractions. Recognizing that this goal requires immense personal discipline, the author draws on the representational histories of John F. Kennedy, Buddha, Tiger Woods, Fred Rogers, Leonardo da Vinci, and many other creative thinkers and scholarly, scientific texts. These examples demonstrate how others have evolved past the noise of modern life and into the solitude of productive thought and cleansing tranquility. Holiday splits his accessible, empowering, and sporadically meandering narrative into a three-part “timeless trinity of mind, body, soul—the head, the heart, the human body.” He juxtaposes Stoic philosopher Seneca’s internal reflection and wisdom against Donald Trump’s egocentric existence, with much of his time spent “in his bathrobe, ranting about the news.” Holiday stresses that while contemporary life is filled with a dizzying variety of “competing priorities and beliefs,” the frenzy can be quelled and serenity maintained through a deliberative calming of the mind and body. The author shows how “stillness is what aims the arrow,” fostering focus, internal harmony, and the kind of holistic self-examination necessary for optimal contentment and mind-body centeredness. Throughout the narrative, he promotes that concept mindfully and convincingly.

A timely, vividly realized reminder to slow down and harness the restorative wonders of serenity.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-53858-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Portfolio

Review Posted Online: July 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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