Gimmicky and glancing.




An iPod-slim, low-content perusal of multitasking, computer addiction and other maladies of the mind-machine age.

UCLA Memory and Aging Research Center director Small and freelance writer and spouse Vorgan (co-authors: The Longevity Bible, 2006, etc.) give a superficial look at the measurable effects of technology on the brain. It’s up to readers to supply missing inferences. The authors, for instance, cite a study that shows porn queries on the Internet use “generic terms such as nude, sex, and naked,” whereas less prurient researches “used more complex and varied language,” such as, presumably, “Defenestration of Prague AND Matthias Corvinus.” One gathers that this means that people looking for porn are less linguistically and mentally adept than those interested in the proximate causes of the Thirty Years War, but all we learn from Small and Vorgan is that “viewing pornographic computer images or sending and receiving sexually explicit messages can quickly turn into a habit.” No breaking news there, nor is there much to report in the authors’ observation that Digital Natives (read the youngsters of the First World) think differently from Digital Immigrants (read old-timers who know how to Google) and have, comparatively speaking, the social skills of hyenas. There are a few useful tidbits here and there—the biophysical reasons for feeling irritable after spending hours at the computer, the ways in which technology conspires to give us all attention-deficit disorder. But most of the authors’ weaning-from-addiction advice echoes far superior books—including the directly aped Send (2007), by Will Schwalbe and David Shipley—and has an alternately schoolmarmish (“Cut back on the amount time [sic] you spend using all types of technology”) and New Agey (“First choose a mantra, which can be any sound, word, or phrase that comforts you”) feel. The glossary of technological terms was apparently written for a tribe of elderly readers who have never seen a television, much less a computer—presumably not the group that the authors seek to save.

Gimmicky and glancing.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-06-134033-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Collins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2008

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An authoritative, engaging study of plant life, accessible to younger readers as well as adults.


A neurobiologist reveals the interconnectedness of the natural world through stories of plant migration.

In this slim but well-packed book, Mancuso (Plant Science/Univ. of Florence; The Revolutionary Genius of Plants: A New Understanding of Plant Intelligence and Behavior, 2018, etc.) presents an illuminating and surprisingly lively study of plant life. He smoothly balances expansive historical exploration with recent scientific research through stories of how various plant species are capable of migrating to locations throughout the world by means of air, water, and even via animals. They often continue to thrive in spite of dire obstacles and environments. One example is the response of plants following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Three decades later, the abandoned “Exclusion Zone” is now entirely covered by an enormous assortment of thriving plants. Mancuso also tracks the journeys of several species that might be regarded as invasive. “Why…do we insist on labeling as ‘invasive’ all those plants that, with great success, have managed to occupy new territories?” asks the author. “On a closer look, the invasive plants of today are the native flora of the future, just as the invasive species of the past are a fundamental part of our ecosystem today.” Throughout, Mancuso persuasively articulates why an understanding and appreciation of how nature is interconnected is vital to the future of our planet. “In nature everything is connected,” he writes. “This simple law that humans don’t seem to understand has a corollary: the extinction of a species, besides being a calamity in and of itself, has unforeseeable consequences for the system to which the species belongs.” The book is not without flaws. The loosely imagined watercolor renderings are vague and fail to effectively complement Mancuso’s richly descriptive prose or satisfy readers’ curiosity. Even without actual photos and maps, it would have been beneficial to readers to include more finely detailed plant and map renderings.

An authoritative, engaging study of plant life, accessible to younger readers as well as adults.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-63542-991-6

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...


Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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