THE WAY OF THE PANDA

THE CURIOUS HISTORY OF CHINA'S POLITICAL ANIMAL

Like his beloved cousin the teddy bear, the cuddly panda is also a mascot—an emissary of good will, an icon of the World Wildlife Fund and a symbol of China's national identity.

Science writer Nicholls (Lonesome George: The Life and Loves of the World’s Most Famous Tortoise, 2007) deconstructs the panda as a cultural icon and unravels the fascinating story of its real life—not as a bored, sometimes fractious presence in a zoo, but as a remarkably resourceful, elusive inhabitant of the forests of China. The giant panda first came to Western notice in the mid-1800s, and author relates exciting tales of those early encounters. For the next 100 years, naturalists argued about whether this huge animal with its distinctive markings was more closely related to the raccoon, whose markings were somewhat similar, or the bear. (Modern DNA testing has resolved the issue in favor of the bear.) The Chinese have used the panda as a brand for its state electronic factories, and the WWF puts it forward to rally support for endangered species. The gifts of young pandas of opposite sexes were a symbol of moves toward detente with the Soviets, even though the two pandas in question refused to cooperate and the efforts to breed them were abortive. More significant was China's 1978 agreement to partner with the WWF in a major research program to observe pandas in the wild, in order to protect its continued existence in its natural habitat and understand how to breed and manage them more humanely in captivity. Nicholls provides a deeper, more meaningful understanding of “real wild pandas” and why their continued existence matters, not for our amusement but so that we can come to understand their “undeniable mystery.” He also writes that “[t]he conservation of wild pandas has also become a test of ourselves as a species.” A welcome addition to the panda bookshelf.

 

Pub Date: June 15, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-60598-188-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Pegasus

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2011

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The book is not entirely negative; final chapters indicate roads of reversal, before it is too late!

SILENT SPRING

It should come as no surprise that the gifted author of The Sea Around Us and its successors can take another branch of science—that phase of biology indicated by the term ecology—and bring it so sharply into focus that any intelligent layman can understand what she is talking about.

Understand, yes, and shudder, for she has drawn a living portrait of what is happening to this balance nature has decreed in the science of life—and what man is doing (and has done) to destroy it and create a science of death. Death to our birds, to fish, to wild creatures of the woods—and, to a degree as yet undetermined, to man himself. World War II hastened the program by releasing lethal chemicals for destruction of insects that threatened man’s health and comfort, vegetation that needed quick disposal. The war against insects had been under way before, but the methods were relatively harmless to other than the insects under attack; the products non-chemical, sometimes even introduction of other insects, enemies of the ones under attack. But with chemicals—increasingly stronger, more potent, more varied, more dangerous—new chain reactions have set in. And ironically, the insects are winning the war, setting up immunities, and re-emerging, their natural enemies destroyed. The peril does not stop here. Waters, even to the underground water tables, are contaminated; soils are poisoned. The birds consume the poisons in their insect and earthworm diet; the cattle, in their fodder; the fish, in the waters and the food those waters provide. And humans? They drink the milk, eat the vegetables, the fish, the poultry. There is enough evidence to point to the far-reaching effects; but this is only the beginning,—in cancer, in liver disorders, in radiation perils…This is the horrifying story. It needed to be told—and by a scientist with a rare gift of communication and an overwhelming sense of responsibility. Already the articles taken from the book for publication in The New Yorker are being widely discussed. Book-of-the-Month distribution in October will spread the message yet more widely.

The book is not entirely negative; final chapters indicate roads of reversal, before it is too late!  

Pub Date: Sept. 27, 1962

ISBN: 061825305X

Page Count: 378

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1962

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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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