Most of us will never go on a safari, but with Benyus’ guidance, supplemented with more than 200 charming illustrations, a...



Nature writer Benyus (Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature, 1997, etc.) defends the value of zoos even though scarcely 10 percent meet the standard for accreditation by the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums.

“Though captive breeding is a number one priority at many zoos,” writes the author, “it is not always obvious to the casual visitor.” Zoos also play an important role in educating children about the need to protect and nurture wildlife. Benyus’ aim in this update (the book was originally published in 1998) is to guide young and old visitors in better understanding the behaviors of the animals on view. To this end, she provides snapshots of their behaviors in the wild, organized geographically and by species, and how this translates to the protected environment of a nature park—the proper conception of a well-run zoo. “If you haven’t been to a zoo in several years, you’re in for a wild surprise….[t]hey’ve sprung the cages and turned the animals loose in startling simulations of their home habitats,” she writes. In a properly administered zoo, solitary animals no longer exhibit stereotypical behavior. “Besides being more at home, the animals are also in better company,” writes Benyus. “No longer the lone representative of their species, they now romp in herds and pods, troops and bevies.” From African gorillas and lions to peacocks, North American wolves and eagles, Arctic polar bears and whales, the author covers the typical behaviors of different species, their feeding, locomotion, grooming, vocalizations, gestures and courtship rituals, social organization and raising of young.

Most of us will never go on a safari, but with Benyus’ guidance, supplemented with more than 200 charming illustrations, a visit to the zoo can be educational and provide thrills galore—and we can play an important role by observing that the animals are being properly treated.

Pub Date: April 15, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-57912-968-2

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Black Dog & Leventhal

Review Posted Online: March 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2014

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



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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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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