Despite some maudlin passages, Gorant ably presents an ugly story with a redemptive ending.

THE LOST DOGS

MICHAEL VICK'S DOGS AND THEIR TALE OF RESCUE AND REDEMPTION

The story of the dogs abused in NFL quarterback Michael Vick’s illegal dogfighting activities.

During the course of another investigation, Virginia state officials were led to a rural property owned by Vick, where they found drug paraphernalia, marijuana and an assortment of guns—as well as evidence of an illegal dogfighting operation, including a pit where dog fights occurred and a field where 66 pit bulls were chained up with very little food and water. Sports Illustrated senior editor Gorant (Fanatic: Ten Things All Sports Fans Should Do Before They Die, 2007) looks at how dedicated local law-enforcement officers and a USDA undercover agent teamed up to gather evidence, bringing the case to trial (“the biggest dogfighting conviction ever, one that set new precedents”), despite local pressure to drop the prosecution. The author presents a nuanced picture of Vick’s involvement, from his original effort to cover up his connection to the dogfighting ring by claiming that he had bought the property for the use of family and friends, to his confession and apology. Sentenced to 23 months in prison, his career was left in shambles and he was forced to declare bankruptcy. Another outcome of the case was the rehabilitation of the dogs, which for the first time, writes Gorant, “were looked at not as weapons, as the equivalent of a gun in a shooting, but as victims.” Because of the efforts of dedicated animal-rescue workers, two-thirds found good homes where they were loved and socialized. The author makes a strong case that pit bulls have an underservedly bad reputation—“the latest breed to get sucked into a self-fulfilling cycle of fear, hype, substandard care, and rising population”—following in the footsteps of bloodhounds, German shepherds and Dobermans “as next in the line of tough-guy dogs.”

Despite some maudlin passages, Gorant ably presents an ugly story with a redemptive ending.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-592-40550-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Gotham Books

Review Posted Online: June 23, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2010

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A quirky wonder of a book.

WHY FISH DON'T EXIST

A STORY OF LOSS, LOVE, AND THE HIDDEN ORDER OF LIFE

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. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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

THE BOOK OF EELS

OUR ENDURING FASCINATION WITH THE MOST MYSTERIOUS CREATURE IN THE NATURAL WORLD

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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