An enchanting, accessible tour of the seashell and its place and purpose within the natural world.

SPIRALS IN TIME

THE SECRET LIFE AND CURIOUS AFTERLIFE OF SEASHELLS

British marine biologist Scales (Poseidon’s Steed: The Story of Seahorses, from Myth to Reality, 2009) reinvigorates conchology and the lost art of seashell appreciation.

Appalled that their reputation for enigmatic splendor as “glorious objects” has become tarnished, replaced with modern, kitschy “inelegant clutter” on counters and shelves, the author diligently explores the purpose and allure of seashells and introduces a selection of scientists and artists who study and create art from them. Uninterested in creating just another comprehensive shell guide, Scales skillfully focuses her narrative primarily on mollusks and how, living or dead, they connect with the human world. Through stories and personal experiences, beginning with her fascination with them as a girl on the beaches of Cornwall, England, and later, sea diving as an adult, she demonstrates her encyclopedic knowledge of Conchifera through absorbing chapters reaching back to the mollusk’s primitive relatives: “all manner of shrimpy, crabby, wormy creatures that look very little like any living species” slithering across a Cambrian seabed. Scales spins spellbinding science throughout, introducing readers to carnivorous cone snails that spit out paralytic darts, the “vacancy chains” of hermit crabs, the lacquered luster of the prized cowry shell, and the fluttery sex lives of sea butterflies and bivalves. Astutely referencing the work of a variety of biologists, fishery scientists, and passionate beachcombers, Scales examines how these chalky exoskeletons and their spiraled patterns are strategically produced by their hosts, considers their symbolism, and ponders the mannerisms in which humans collect once-living objects: “They appeal to the hoarder in us all, the part of us that wants to have and keep things, especially those mementos that remind us of a different time and place.” From a cautionary perspective, however, the author would prefer that admirers “resist temptation and leave them all alone.”

An enchanting, accessible tour of the seashell and its place and purpose within the natural world.

Pub Date: July 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4729-1136-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: April 21, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2015

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Whether you call this a personal story or nature writing, it’s poignant, thoughtful and moving—and likely to become a...

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H IS FOR HAWK

An inspired, beautiful and absorbing account of a woman battling grief—with a goshawk.

Following the sudden death of her father, Macdonald (History and Philosophy/Cambridge Univ.; Falcon, 2006, etc.) tried staving off deep depression with a unique form of personal therapy: the purchase and training of an English goshawk, which she named Mabel. Although a trained falconer, the author chose a raptor both unfamiliar and unpredictable, a creature of mad confidence that became a means of working against madness. “The hawk was everything I wanted to be: solitary, self-possessed, free from grief, and numb to the hurts of human life,” she writes. As a devotee of birds of prey since girlhood, Macdonald knew the legends and the literature, particularly the cautionary example of The Once and Future King author T.H. White, whose 1951 book The Goshawk details his own painful battle to master his title subject. Macdonald dramatically parallels her own story with White’s, achieving a remarkable imaginative sympathy with the writer, a lonely, tormented homosexual fighting his own sadomasochistic demons. Even as she was learning from White’s mistakes, she found herself very much in his shoes, watching her life fall apart as the painfully slow bonding process with Mabel took over. Just how much do animals and humans have in common? The more Macdonald got to know her, the more Mabel confounded her notions about what the species was supposed to represent. Is a hawk a symbol of might or independence, or is that just our attempt to remake the animal world in our own image? Writing with breathless urgency that only rarely skirts the melodramatic, Macdonald broadens her scope well beyond herself to focus on the antagonism between people and the environment.

Whether you call this a personal story or nature writing, it’s poignant, thoughtful and moving—and likely to become a classic in either genre.

Pub Date: March 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0802123411

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

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

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

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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