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 7, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2015

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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. 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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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...


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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