An intriguing but uneven perspective on rewilding. If the image of a bit of lichen clinging to the slopes of a single...

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THE ONCE AND FUTURE WORLD

FINDING WILDERNESS IN THE NATURE WE'VE MADE

An earnest but diffuse look at what we mean when we talk about nature and the natural world and why what we think about nature is important.

To understand how to sustain life on this planet, one must first understand the past, writes Canadian freelance journalist MacKinnon (Dead Man in Paradise, 2007, etc.). His exploration of the past is largely anecdotal, filled with stories featuring elephants, grizzly bears, wolves, bison, whales and creatures no longer found on Earth. Often, these are tales of unintended consequences, demonstrating what happens when humans tamper with Mother Nature. The decline of species has been so devastating, writes the author, that today, nature is only 10 percent of what it once was. MacKinnon cites Easter Island as an example of a once richly forested land that is now desolate and barren, and he asks whether that example of social and ecological collapse occurring in only a few hundred years is the future we have been creating for ourselves for millennia. (Or, is the endurance of the Easter Islanders, surviving on rat meat in their ruined ecosystem, one that should give us some measure of hope for our own survival?) The author writes that since millions of the world’s population now live in urban areas, most people are unfamiliar with nature and are, therefore, unaware of its significance. It is clear that he would like to increase awareness and make people see that nature and human nature are intertwined: “We shape the world and it shapes us in return.”

An intriguing but uneven perspective on rewilding. If the image of a bit of lichen clinging to the slopes of a single mountain appeals to you as an apt metaphor for life on planet Earth, this book is for you.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-544-10305-4

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Aug. 7, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2013

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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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An authoritative, engaging study of plant life, accessible to younger readers as well as adults.

THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY OF PLANTS

A neurobiologist reveals the interconnectedness of the natural world through stories of plant migration.

In this slim but well-packed book, Mancuso (Plant Science/Univ. of Florence; The Revolutionary Genius of Plants: A New Understanding of Plant Intelligence and Behavior, 2018, etc.) presents an illuminating and surprisingly lively study of plant life. He smoothly balances expansive historical exploration with recent scientific research through stories of how various plant species are capable of migrating to locations throughout the world by means of air, water, and even via animals. They often continue to thrive in spite of dire obstacles and environments. One example is the response of plants following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Three decades later, the abandoned “Exclusion Zone” is now entirely covered by an enormous assortment of thriving plants. Mancuso also tracks the journeys of several species that might be regarded as invasive. “Why…do we insist on labeling as ‘invasive’ all those plants that, with great success, have managed to occupy new territories?” asks the author. “On a closer look, the invasive plants of today are the native flora of the future, just as the invasive species of the past are a fundamental part of our ecosystem today.” Throughout, Mancuso persuasively articulates why an understanding and appreciation of how nature is interconnected is vital to the future of our planet. “In nature everything is connected,” he writes. “This simple law that humans don’t seem to understand has a corollary: the extinction of a species, besides being a calamity in and of itself, has unforeseeable consequences for the system to which the species belongs.” The book is not without flaws. The loosely imagined watercolor renderings are vague and fail to effectively complement Mancuso’s richly descriptive prose or satisfy readers’ curiosity. Even without actual photos and maps, it would have been beneficial to readers to include more finely detailed plant and map renderings.

An authoritative, engaging study of plant life, accessible to younger readers as well as adults.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-63542-991-6

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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