An impassioned plea for preserving animals’ lives.

ANIMALKIND

REMARKABLE DISCOVERIES ABOUT ANIMALS AND THE REMARKABLE WAYS WE CAN BE KIND TO THEM

The founder and president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals emphasizes the importance of having “love, understanding, and respect for all animals.”

Newkirk (One Can Make a Difference, 2008, etc.) and Stone (The Trump Survival Guide, 2017, etc.) aim to celebrate nonhuman species and to argue against using them for scientific and medical research, clothing, entertainment, and food. Among animals’ “many talents, languages, and complex cultures,” the authors reveal astonishing facts about sea and air migration; communication among frogs, primates, and birds; cognitive abilities; courtship and fidelity; grief and mourning; animal empathy; and various forms of play. They highlight the variety and sophistication of animal intelligence, such as the Brazilian torrent frog’s intricate forms of tactile, vocal, and visual communications. The authors underscore animals’ capacity for emotion: Prairie vole parents, for example, stay together for life; animals who live in closely knit groups—such as gorillas and elephants—exhibit ritualistic behavior when a family member dies. “Animals love,” write the authors. “They grieve. They feel emotional pain. They worry. And they can anticipate pain.” After a wide-ranging and enlightening overview of animal wonders, the authors devote several chapters to campaigning against cruelty and exploitation. They point out that animal testing is an “extremely wasteful” method of finding treatments for human diseases, and they cite several noninvasive methods—e.g., experiments on stem cells, 3D–printed organoids, computer simulations, and bioinformatics—that are effective research methods. Not surprisingly, the authors argue against wearing clothing with fur or leather, claiming that much leather imported from China comes from “the hides of domestic dogs.” They also describe in horrifying detail the injuries to sheep in the shearing process, advocating for a number of plant-based and synthetic alternatives to wool. Similarly, they advocate “a whole-food, low-oil vegan diet” of plant-based substitutes for meat, eggs, butter, and cheese. As for entertainment, the authors suggest, not convincingly, that virtual reality and “lifelike animatronics” can substitute for seeing a real animal.

An impassioned plea for preserving animals’ lives.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-9854-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 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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Unsentimental nature writing that sheds as much light on humans as on eels.

THE BOOK OF EELS

OUR ENDURING FASCINATION WITH THE MOST MYSTERIOUS CREATURE IN THE NATURAL WORLD

An account of the mysterious life of eels that also serves as a meditation on consciousness, faith, time, light and darkness, and life and death.

In addition to an intriguing natural history, Swedish journalist Svensson includes a highly personal account of his relationship with his father. The author alternates eel-focused chapters with those about his father, a man obsessed with fishing for this elusive creature. “I can’t recall us ever talking about anything other than eels and how to best catch them, down there by the stream,” he writes. “I can’t remember us speaking at all….Because we were in…a place whose nature was best enjoyed in silence.” Throughout, Svensson, whose beat is not biology but art and culture, fills his account with people: Aristotle, who thought eels emerged live from mud, “like a slithering, enigmatic miracle”; Freud, who as a teenage biologist spent months in Trieste, Italy, peering through a microscope searching vainly for eel testes; Johannes Schmidt, who for two decades tracked thousands of eels, looking for their breeding grounds. After recounting the details of the eel life cycle, the author turns to the eel in literature—e.g., in the Bible, Rachel Carson’s Under the Sea Wind, and Günter Grass’ The Tin Drum—and history. He notes that the Puritans would likely not have survived without eels, and he explores Sweden’s “eel coast” (what it once was and how it has changed), how eel fishing became embroiled in the Northern Irish conflict, and the importance of eel fishing to the Basque separatist movement. The apparent return to life of a dead eel leads Svensson to a consideration of faith and the inherent message of miracles. He warns that if we are to save this fascinating creature from extinction, we must continue to study it. His book is a highly readable place to begin learning.

Unsentimental nature writing that sheds as much light on humans as on eels.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-296881-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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