An illuminating perspective on the complexity of life.

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THE KINGDOM OF RARITIES

The World Wildlife Fund’s chief scientist examines the ecological impact of rare species in shaping the Earth's environment.

In 1988, Dinerstein (Tigerland and Other Unintended Destinations, 2007, etc.) was observing extremely rare one-horned rhinos in India when his attention was drawn to the large communal dung piles that they create. Islands of trees had been created from the fruit seeds that were contained in them. This observation led him to consider the possibility that “ecological impact does not always reflect numerical abundance.” The importance of preserving species diversity is recognized as essential to the maintenance of dynamic ecological balance, but not necessarily the historical evolutionary role of rare species. “[R]obins, rats, and roaches may account for 90 to 95 percent of all individuals on earth,” writes the author, but astonishingly, “as much as 75 percent of all species on Earth may be drawn from the ranks of the rare.” The author makes a subtle distinction between absolute numerical rarity and the rarity of habitats. For example, a species abundant in a small number of specific geographical locations may become extinct because of environmental shifts such as climate change. Trees in the Amazon rain forest may have a large range but, unlike more northerly trees that cluster, be spread out as individuals. A single gigantic tree may “create a three-dimensional stage for millions of smaller organisms and…hold more ant species than are found in the entire British Isles.” Throughout this intriguing book, Dinerstein covers a wide range of topics, including how myths about the supposed medicinal effect of rhino horns has created a lucrative illegal market that threatens them with extinction and why long-lived large animals with few predators but low reproductive rates are especially vulnerable.

An illuminating perspective on the complexity of life.

Pub Date: Jan. 17, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-61091-195-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Island Press

Review Posted Online: April 9, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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An intriguing meditation on the nature of the universe and our attempts to understand it that should appeal to both...

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SEVEN BRIEF LESSONS ON PHYSICS

Italian theoretical physicist Rovelli (General Relativity: The Most Beautiful of Theories, 2015, etc.) shares his thoughts on the broader scientific and philosophical implications of the great revolution that has taken place over the past century.

These seven lessons, which first appeared as articles in the Sunday supplement of the Italian newspaper Sole 24 Ore, are addressed to readers with little knowledge of physics. In less than 100 pages, the author, who teaches physics in both France and the United States, cogently covers the great accomplishments of the past and the open questions still baffling physicists today. In the first lesson, he focuses on Einstein's theory of general relativity. He describes Einstein's recognition that gravity "is not diffused through space [but] is that space itself" as "a stroke of pure genius." In the second lesson, Rovelli deals with the puzzling features of quantum physics that challenge our picture of reality. In the remaining sections, the author introduces the constant fluctuations of atoms, the granular nature of space, and more. "It is hardly surprising that there are more things in heaven and earth, dear reader, than have been dreamed of in our philosophy—or in our physics,” he writes. Rovelli also discusses the issues raised in loop quantum gravity, a theory that he co-developed. These issues lead to his extraordinary claim that the passage of time is not fundamental but rather derived from the granular nature of space. The author suggests that there have been two separate pathways throughout human history: mythology and the accumulation of knowledge through observation. He believes that scientists today share the same curiosity about nature exhibited by early man.

An intriguing meditation on the nature of the universe and our attempts to understand it that should appeal to both scientists and general readers.

Pub Date: March 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-18441-3

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

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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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