Sobering, fact-based cautionary treatise on the quiet storm of climate change.

FRASER'S PENGUINS

A JOURNEY TO THE FUTURE IN ANTARCTICA

An online magazine writer witnesses the incremental damage of global warming firsthand.

In 2005-’06, Yale Environment 360 senior editor Montaigne (Reeling In Russia: An American Angler In Russia, 1998) spent five months at Palmer Station, the only U.S. research station north of the Antarctic Circle. As a member of an environmental-science research team under ecologist Bill Fraser, the author tracked the breeding seasons of the “simultaneously gregarious and irascible” knee-high Adélie penguin, along with varieties of native seabirds. Montaigne’s findings only confirmed what Fraser and his team discovered in their time spent at the station since 1974: Antarctica’s ice sheets are melting, bloating sea levels, which has a direct impact on global weather patterns. The author was consistently in awe of the breathtaking panorama surrounding him, and this remote, larger-than-life locale triggered an “exhilarating feeling of insignificance.” He writes that though there are 2.5 million pairs of Adélies in Antarctica, those on and around rocky Torgersen Island are dying, and the “ecological upheaval” of global warming continues. The ramifications extend to the penguins' food web as well, diminishing the once-abundant populace of Southern Ocean krill, a penguin staple. Fun and fascinating penguin traits leaven the bad news: their much-studied “love-triangle brawls,” unique mating rituals (often while entombed in snow squalls), egg-laying facts and a peculiar penchant toward “pebble larceny,” when neighboring birds steal warming stones from adjacent nests. Less heartwarming is the decimation of newborn penguin chicks by predators. The unifying narrative thread is Fraser’s justified concerns about the “incredible changes” happening to Earth’s natural ecosystems and how we, as vulnerable humans, “need these systems to survive.”

Sobering, fact-based cautionary treatise on the quiet storm of climate change.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-8050-7942-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: John Macrae/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Aug. 10, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2010

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A quirky wonder of a book.

WHY FISH DON'T EXIST

A STORY OF LOSS, LOVE, AND THE HIDDEN ORDER OF LIFE

A Peabody Award–winning NPR science reporter chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century scientist and how her quest led to significant revelations about the meaning of order, chaos, and her own existence.

Miller began doing research on David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) to understand how he had managed to carry on after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his work. A taxonomist who is credited with discovering “a full fifth of fish known to man in his day,” Jordan had amassed an unparalleled collection of ichthyological specimens. Gathering up all the fish he could save, Jordan sewed the nameplates that had been on the destroyed jars directly onto the fish. His perseverance intrigued the author, who also discusses the struggles she underwent after her affair with a woman ended a heterosexual relationship. Born into an upstate New York farm family, Jordan attended Cornell and then became an itinerant scholar and field researcher until he landed at Indiana University, where his first ichthyological collection was destroyed by lightning. In between this catastrophe and others involving family members’ deaths, he reconstructed his collection. Later, he was appointed as the founding president of Stanford, where he evolved into a Machiavellian figure who trampled on colleagues and sang the praises of eugenics. Miller concludes that Jordan displayed the characteristics of someone who relied on “positive illusions” to rebound from disaster and that his stand on eugenics came from a belief in “a divine hierarchy from bacteria to humans that point[ed]…toward better.” Considering recent research that negates biological hierarchies, the author then suggests that Jordan’s beloved taxonomic category—fish—does not exist. Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence.

A quirky wonder of a book.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6027-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

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LAB GIRL

Award-winning scientist Jahren (Geology and Geophysics/Univ. of Hawaii) delivers a personal memoir and a paean to the natural world.

The author’s father was a physics and earth science teacher who encouraged her play in the laboratory, and her mother was a student of English literature who nurtured her love of reading. Both of these early influences engrossingly combine in this adroit story of a dedication to science. Jahren’s journey from struggling student to struggling scientist has the narrative tension of a novel and characters she imbues with real depth. The heroes in this tale are the plants that the author studies, and throughout, she employs her facility with words to engage her readers. We learn much along the way—e.g., how the willow tree clones itself, the courage of a seed’s first root, the symbiotic relationship between trees and fungi, and the airborne signals used by trees in their ongoing war against insects. Trees are of key interest to Jahren, and at times she waxes poetic: “Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.” The author draws many parallels between her subjects and herself. This is her story, after all, and we are engaged beyond expectation as she relates her struggle in building and running laboratory after laboratory at the universities that have employed her. Present throughout is her lab partner, a disaffected genius named Bill, whom she recruited when she was a graduate student at Berkeley and with whom she’s worked ever since. The author’s tenacity, hope, and gratitude are all evident as she and Bill chase the sweetness of discovery in the face of the harsh economic realities of the research scientist.

Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-87493-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

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