At times a bit labored in its advocacy, but an eye-opener nonetheless.

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BRUSH CAT

ON TREES, THE WOOD ECONOMY, AND THE MOST DANGEROUS JOB IN AMERICA

A tribute to the work and lifestyle of independent loggers tallies up harsh odds against sustainable future prosperity.

McEnany (co-author: Bode: Go Fast, Be Good, Have Fun, 2005) has spent the last two decades in New Hampshire and other Northern forest environs observing and unabashedly admiring what could be a dying breed: the independent logger, known colloquially as a “brush cat,” praised here as a rugged, hard worker and a protector of America’s forest resources. The author diligently differentiates these individuals from the major timber companies working largely in vast Western forests that tend to be less variegated than Eastern ones. These companies often employ mechanized “clear cutting” that wipes a wooded area clean of every stick and, as a result, have become high-priority targets of major environmental groups. Independent loggers, the author stresses, tend to be as interested as anyone in conserving and managing their “woodlots” in the forest. They cull dead, dying and waste timber, creating space for more valuable, healthy trees to provide a future crop. They work with few assistants, sometimes even single-handedly, cutting their “skid rows” into the target areas so trees felled by hand with chain saws can be dragged out and loaded onto trucks. Government figures and insurance-company actuaries amply bear out the author’s contention that this is America’s most perilous occupation; plenty of gory examples from real cases demonstrate what can go wrong when trees are felled. McEnany also provides updated information on what role climate change appears to be playing in our forests. Warmer winters allow more parasites to survive to attack trees; less snow means frost lines go deeper, the spring “mud season” is protracted and the brush cat’s window of opportunity keeps shrinking.

At times a bit labored in its advocacy, but an eye-opener nonetheless.

Pub Date: March 17, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-312-36891-3

Page Count: 240

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2009

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Ackerman writes with a light but assured touch, her prose rich in fact but economical in delivering it. Fans of birds in all...

THE GENIUS OF BIRDS

Science writer Ackerman (Ah-Choo!: The Uncommon Life of Your Common Cold, 2010, etc.) looks at the new science surrounding avian intelligence.

The takeaway: calling someone a birdbrain is a compliment. And in any event, as Ackerman observes early on, “intelligence is a slippery concept, even in our own species, tricky to define and tricky to measure.” Is a bird that uses a rock to break open a clamshell the mental equivalent of a tool-using primate? Perhaps that’s the wrong question, for birds are so unlike humans that “it’s difficult for us to fully appreciate their mental capabilities,” given that they’re really just small, feathered dinosaurs who inhabit a wholly different world from our once-arboreal and now terrestrial one. Crows and other corvids have gotten all the good publicity related to bird intelligence in recent years, but Ackerman, who does allow that some birds are brighter than others, points favorably to the much-despised pigeon as an animal that “can remember hundreds of different objects for long periods of time, discriminate between different painting styles, and figure out where it’s going, even when displaced from familiar territory by hundreds of miles.” Not bad for a critter best known for bespattering statues in public parks. Ackerman travels far afield to places such as Barbados and New Caledonia to study such matters as memory, communication, and decision-making, the last largely based on visual cues—though, as she notes, birds also draw ably on other senses, including smell, which in turn opens up insight onto “a weird evolutionary paradox that scientists have puzzled over for more than a decade”—a matter of the geometry of, yes, the bird brain.

Ackerman writes with a light but assured touch, her prose rich in fact but economical in delivering it. Fans of birds in all their diversity will want to read this one.

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59420-521-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

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Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

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LAB GIRL

Award-winning scientist Jahren (Geology and Geophysics/Univ. of Hawaii) delivers a personal memoir and a paean to the natural world.

The author’s father was a physics and earth science teacher who encouraged her play in the laboratory, and her mother was a student of English literature who nurtured her love of reading. Both of these early influences engrossingly combine in this adroit story of a dedication to science. Jahren’s journey from struggling student to struggling scientist has the narrative tension of a novel and characters she imbues with real depth. The heroes in this tale are the plants that the author studies, and throughout, she employs her facility with words to engage her readers. We learn much along the way—e.g., how the willow tree clones itself, the courage of a seed’s first root, the symbiotic relationship between trees and fungi, and the airborne signals used by trees in their ongoing war against insects. Trees are of key interest to Jahren, and at times she waxes poetic: “Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.” The author draws many parallels between her subjects and herself. This is her story, after all, and we are engaged beyond expectation as she relates her struggle in building and running laboratory after laboratory at the universities that have employed her. Present throughout is her lab partner, a disaffected genius named Bill, whom she recruited when she was a graduate student at Berkeley and with whom she’s worked ever since. The author’s tenacity, hope, and gratitude are all evident as she and Bill chase the sweetness of discovery in the face of the harsh economic realities of the research scientist.

Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-87493-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

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