by John Fowler ‧ RELEASE DATE: Feb. 6, 2018
A little goes a long way here. Of interest, though, to students of field science as well as devotees of Gorillas in the Mist.
"Who was this woman who could leave behind so many murder suspects?” So asks one-time apprentice Fowler of Dian Fossey, the renowned and supremely difficult primatologist.
After a year of working with Fossey, who was murdered in her forest hut in Rwanda in 1985, the author recounts that he returned to the U.S. a little shell-shocked though missing the forest preserve where he worked with her in her study of wild gorilla populations. To his new colleagues at a stateside zoo, he said only, “Dian was kind of difficult to work with.” This book is a long—indeed, somewhat too long—commentary that puts a point on that observation. Fossey felt embattled by challenges to the fiefdom she had created in the rainforest; poachers were a constant menace to the gorillas that lived there, but it did not help that she seems to have suspected just about every African person she encountered. Her paranoia mounted, as did her fear of black magic, “the stuff of African lore in which someone might put a curse on you.” It did not help, either, that she took to drinking heavily and was abrasive and confrontational even when sober. Readers take the point of Fossey’s deep unpleasantness early on, so Fowler’s repeated assessments get a little tiresome as the catalog builds. More interesting are his notes on fieldwork among the gorillas of the Karisoke Research Center, whose personalities he found less challenging and frightful than his employer’s. One highlight involves separating himself from a baby gorilla that had become too attached to him and that reacts with a gigantic scream: “She was having a tantrum…a meltdown!” Fowler even ventures a little sleuthing as to the identity of Fossey’s killer, whom he suggests was someone trusted enough to have come inside her dwelling unsuspected.A little goes a long way here. Of interest, though, to students of field science as well as devotees of Gorillas in the Mist.
Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2018
Page Count: 400
Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2017
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2018
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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
Page Count: 224
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online: Jan. 1, 2020
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020
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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
Page Count: 256
Review Posted Online: Feb. 29, 2020
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020
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