A little goes a long way here. Of interest, though, to students of field science as well as devotees of Gorillas in the Mist.

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A FOREST IN THE CLOUDS

MY YEAR AMONG THE MOUNTAIN GORILLAS IN THE REMOTE ENCLAVE OF DR. DIAN FOSSEY

"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

ISBN: 978-1-68177-633-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pegasus

Review Posted Online: Dec. 10, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2018

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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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