A unique perspective on our responsibility to preserve the chain of being of which we are only a part.




An intriguing look at the possibilities of bringing the passenger pigeon and other currently extinct species back to life.

A British science writer with a doctorate in stem cell biology and a second career as a stand-up comedian, Pilcher examines the possibility of reversing the extinction of our Neanderthal cousins as well as other creatures. “Through interdisciplinary research,” she writes, “it’s now possible to marry the secrets of ancient DNA with cutting edge genetic technology.” This is not an idle fantasy. Although we still have somewhere between 5 and 9 million species on the planet, the author quotes estimates that somewhere between 30 and 150 are becoming extinct every day. As she writes, “over 99 percent of all the species that have ever lived on Earth are no longer with us. They are extinct.” Perhaps scientists could resurrect the king of dinosaurs, the Tyrannosaurus rex, from fossils, but the author reminds us that T. rex was not a fussy eater; as such, a human could become a “potential entrée.” An even more enticing possibility would be reacquainting ourselves with our cousins, the Neanderthals, “the undisputed King of the Cavemen.” Pilcher reports that anthropologists have unraveled “the genetic secrets of the Neanderthal” from fossil remains. A first step in bringing them back to life might be to inject Neanderthal DNA “into a human egg that had…its only nuclear genome removed.” Modern genetic evidence shows that they have successfully interbred with humans in the path and thus could do so again. However, in Pilcher’s view, their very humanity should preclude engaging in such experimentation. The passenger pigeon is another case in point of why we can’t go back in time. Would our farmers tolerate large flocks of hungry passenger pigeons? A more likely candidate for resurrection might be the northern white rhino: there are only three remaining on Earth.

A unique perspective on our responsibility to preserve the chain of being of which we are only a part.

Pub Date: Jan. 10, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4729-1225-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Bloomsbury Sigma

Review Posted Online: Nov. 1, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2016

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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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A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

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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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