Focuses too much on the mundane and too little on the sublime.



Since prehistoric times, human beings have been trying not to get lost; Aschim traces how we got better and better at finding our way.

Before the advent of radio waves and GPS (which the book also covers), humans navigated using everything from stars and ocean swells to trees and sand dunes. Aschim traces how humans used these natural systems to build increasingly sophisticated navigation tools, such as the chronometer and the compass rose. Interspersed among the historical and scientific descriptions are activities designed to reinforce concepts and to help readers become master navigators themselves, such as making a sextant and practicing dead reckoning. The book is at its finest when it explores broad scientific and social concepts, such as the inherent navigational capacities of the human brain or the seafaring practices of the ancient Polynesians. Unfortunately, as the book continues, these moments grow fewer and fewer, the text bogging down with lengthy mathematical explanations and dense exposition. The book’s hectic design—including its frenetic color scheme—makes it even more difficult for readers to concentrate. Additionally, while Aschim admirably highlights navigational advances made by a range of nations and cultures, from the nomadic Bedouins to the ancient Chinese, he does not apply this same critical lens to the European conquests, which he describes as exploration rather than the dangerous beginnings of colonialism.

Focuses too much on the mundane and too little on the sublime. (afterword, index) (Nonfiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: June 23, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5235-0634-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Workman

Review Posted Online: April 8, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2020

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Superficial but kind of fun.


Take a magic-carpet ride to far-flung and seldom-seen locations.

Readers can follow a young, pale-skinned, khaki-clad adventurer as they set out on their magic carpet to explore unusual, unexpected, and sometimes dangerous spots around the world. Locations visited include the exclusive interior of Air Force One, the remote depths of the Mariana Trench, and the (potentially) fatal shores of Brazil’s Snake Island, among others. Each adventure follows a uniform template, whereby the location is introduced in a sweeping double-page painting with an introductory paragraph followed by another spread of images and facts. The illustrations are attractive, a bit reminiscent of work done by the Dillons in the 1970s and ’80s. Alas, while the text correctly states that the Upper Paleolithic art in France’s Lascaux cave features only one depiction of a human, the introductory illustration interpolates without explanation a probably Neolithic hunting scene with several humans from a Spanish site—which is both confusing and wrong. Trivia fans will enjoy the mixture of fact and speculation about the various locations; a small further-reading section in the back points to more information. While the potentially off-putting choice of magic carpet as conveyance is never explained, there is a disclaimer warning readers that the book’s creators will not take responsibility if they suffer calamity trying to actually visit any of these places. (This book was reviewed digitally.)

Superficial but kind of fun. (Nonfiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: May 18, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-4197-5159-2

Page Count: 80

Publisher: Magic Cat

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

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How and when the Western Hemisphere, particularly North and South America, came to be populated continues to be both mysterious and controversial for scientists. Archaeologists plug away with the tools at their disposal but have “more questions than answers.” Harrison does a good job setting the issue in context. He describes the earliest efforts to identify the original inhabitants of the continents, exploring the Clovis culture, believed by many to be the first humans to reach North America. After clearly explaining how scholars decided that they were first, he then lists the arguments against this hypothesis. In the course of looking at both sides, he introduces young readers to “the strict rules of archaeology.” The author demonstrates the precise work of those attempting to understand the hidden aspects of human history and how many of these old questions are seen in the light of new technologies and discoveries. The narrative is aided by both photographs and original illustrations that imagine scenes from both the distant past and the field experiences. (glossary, bibliography, index) (Nonfiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-59078-561-4

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Boyds Mills

Review Posted Online: Aug. 17, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2010

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