The science lectures are occasionally long-winded, but Graffin’s message is challenging, and the professional entertainer...

POPULATION WARS

A NEW PERSPECTIVE ON COMPETITION AND COEXISTENCE

While the title suggests another dire warning of a coming explosion in the world’s population, in fact, the term “population wars” as used here refers to a historical pattern of populations brought into contact with one another, the ensuing conflicts, and the resulting assimilations.

Graffin (co-author: Anarchy Evolution: Faith, Science, and Bad Religion in a World Without God, 2010) is the lead singer and songwriter for the punk band Bad Religion and a lecturer on evolution at Cornell University, where he earned his doctorate in zoology. Both sides of his life are apparent as the iconoclastic storytelling scientist challenges conventional thinking about evolution. The populations discussed range from microbes and viruses inside the human body to American Indian tribes and European settlers in North America—all stories of the persistence of populations, compromise, and assimilation. Human wars, writes the author, are not about victors and the vanquished but rather natural population phenomena. As populations grow, conflict is inevitable, and it is therefore incumbent on us as a species to alleviate its ravages as much as possible. Graffin argues that we must revise our thinking about two concepts: competition and free will. He rejects the idea that competition is a driving force of evolution, seeing evolution rather as the product of symbiotic relationships. As for free will, he writes that humans are the products of genes, embryonic development, and environment but that if we care to, we can, to some degree, make informed choices about our actions. His recommendation: instead of thinking about annihilating our foes or eradicating evil, turn our thoughts to protecting our environment, learn from the natural world how other species have managed to get along, and “become a race of enlightened citizens among the community of other species with whom we coexist.”

The science lectures are occasionally long-winded, but Graffin’s message is challenging, and the professional entertainer shines through.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-250-01762-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 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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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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