An informative and well-documented story for readers interested in the intersection of business and ecology.

How a group of surfers and Central American villagers banded together to fight a multinational company and save an environmentally fragile stretch of Costa Rican shoreline.

Pavones was a forgotten Costa Rican backwater located on the Golfo Dulce at the southern end of the country. “[S]ocial castaways” of every stripe found a home there, while surfers could ride waves that were “the stuff of surfing lore.” By the mid-2000s, however, the town became the setting for an epic battle between Granjas Atuneras, a company that sought to establish the world’s first yellow-fin tuna farm at the mouth of the Golfo Dulce, and a motley assortment of poor townspeople, surfers, and ex-felons. Drawn by the classic “David versus Goliath” narrative that pitted haves against have-nots, Evans (English/Lake Tahoe Community Coll.; In Search of Powder: A Story of America’s Disappearing Ski Bum, 2010) began to report on the people and events that made the story so compelling to him. Among the many interesting individuals he met was Danny Fowlie, a former surf enthusiast and convicted drug smuggler who put Pavones on the map by building roads, a hospital, a cantina, and an exclusive ranch. He also interviewed the head of Granjas Atuneras, Eduardo Velarde, a businessman-turned-aquaculturalist who wanted to “follow in the footsteps” of underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau by establishing fish farms to feed the world demand for seafood. As the battle between anti- and pro-fishery proponents unfolded, Evans uncovered fascinating back stories about fishing practices that have led to the serious depopulation of different tuna varieties and bitter quarrels over money and property rights that led to Fowlie’s personal downfall. The author's deep engagement with the narrative more than makes up for his “[in]experience in writing about surfing and aquaculture.” However, the narrowness of the book’s focus will likely limit its overall appeal to readers.

An informative and well-documented story for readers interested in the intersection of business and ecology.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8032-4689-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Univ. of Nebraska

Review Posted Online: July 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2015


An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.

A study of swimming as sport, survival method, basis for community, and route to physical and mental well-being.

For Bay Area writer Tsui (American Chinatown: A People's History of Five Neighborhoods, 2009), swimming is in her blood. As she recounts, her parents met in a Hong Kong swimming pool, and she often visited the beach as a child and competed on a swim team in high school. Midway through the engaging narrative, the author explains how she rejoined the team at age 40, just as her 6-year-old was signing up for the first time. Chronicling her interviews with scientists and swimmers alike, Tsui notes the many health benefits of swimming, some of which are mental. Swimmers often achieve the “flow” state and get their best ideas while in the water. Her travels took her from the California coast, where she dove for abalone and swam from Alcatraz back to San Francisco, to Tokyo, where she heard about the “samurai swimming” martial arts tradition. In Iceland, she met Guðlaugur Friðþórsson, a local celebrity who, in 1984, survived six hours in a winter sea after his fishing vessel capsized, earning him the nickname “the human seal.” Although humans are generally adapted to life on land, the author discovered that some have extra advantages in the water. The Bajau people of Indonesia, for instance, can do 10-minute free dives while hunting because their spleens are 50% larger than average. For most, though, it’s simply a matter of practice. Tsui discussed swimming with Dara Torres, who became the oldest Olympic swimmer at age 41, and swam with Kim Chambers, one of the few people to complete the daunting Oceans Seven marathon swim challenge. Drawing on personal experience, history, biology, and social science, the author conveys the appeal of “an unflinching giving-over to an element” and makes a convincing case for broader access to swimming education (372,000 people still drown annually).

An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-61620-786-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: Jan. 4, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020



A quirky wonder of a book.

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. 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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