Greenbaum’s enthusiasm for his work shines through, as does his compelling message about the future of our planet.

READ REVIEW

EMERALD LABYRINTH

A SCIENTIST'S ADVENTURES IN THE JUNGLES OF THE CONGO

An intrepid herpetologist’s account of his grueling collection-based forays into the Congo.

For Greenbaum (Evolutionary Genetics/Univ. of Texas, El Paso), who has faced the extraordinary challenges of conducting biodiversity exploration in the Congo Basin, the next challenge is educating the general public about its importance. In his foreboding words, “if the public does not understand biodiversity science, then continuing mass extinction, including the human species, is inevitable.” The author’s first book is not just packed with high adventures; it also contains meditations on gorillas, conservation, the global ecosystem, climate change, and mass extinctions. Readers will learn how a herpetologist works in the wild and why finding and identifying species is so important. Greenbaum tells of his two 10-week expeditions in 2008 and 2009 inside the war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo, which he calls “the holy grail of unknown biodiversity in Africa.” With a team of Congolese helpers, he carried on his collecting work in tropical forests, on mountainsides, and in swamps while suffering debilitating illnesses, coping with breakdowns, paying bribes, and encountering armed militia. “For centuries,” he writes, “Central Africa has been a paradoxical combination of mystery, danger, and exotic allure” and a rumored source of both “amazing riches” and “rumors of certain death.” Despite setbacks, the author happily plunged into his work of collecting, identifying, and preserving frogs, lizards, skinks, snakes, chameleons, and other reptiles. He includes photos of many of these animals, his band of helpers, the people they met, the lands they traveled through, and even their expedition truck mired in deep mud. The small maps are not especially helpful, but the narrative is smooth and engaging, effectively showing the natural wonder of the Congo—and its fragility.

Greenbaum’s enthusiasm for his work shines through, as does his compelling message about the future of our planet.

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5126-0097-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: ForeEdge/Univ. Press of New England

Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2017

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more