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

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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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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The book is not entirely negative; final chapters indicate roads of reversal, before it is too late!

SILENT SPRING

It should come as no surprise that the gifted author of The Sea Around Us and its successors can take another branch of science—that phase of biology indicated by the term ecology—and bring it so sharply into focus that any intelligent layman can understand what she is talking about.

Understand, yes, and shudder, for she has drawn a living portrait of what is happening to this balance nature has decreed in the science of life—and what man is doing (and has done) to destroy it and create a science of death. Death to our birds, to fish, to wild creatures of the woods—and, to a degree as yet undetermined, to man himself. World War II hastened the program by releasing lethal chemicals for destruction of insects that threatened man’s health and comfort, vegetation that needed quick disposal. The war against insects had been under way before, but the methods were relatively harmless to other than the insects under attack; the products non-chemical, sometimes even introduction of other insects, enemies of the ones under attack. But with chemicals—increasingly stronger, more potent, more varied, more dangerous—new chain reactions have set in. And ironically, the insects are winning the war, setting up immunities, and re-emerging, their natural enemies destroyed. The peril does not stop here. Waters, even to the underground water tables, are contaminated; soils are poisoned. The birds consume the poisons in their insect and earthworm diet; the cattle, in their fodder; the fish, in the waters and the food those waters provide. And humans? They drink the milk, eat the vegetables, the fish, the poultry. There is enough evidence to point to the far-reaching effects; but this is only the beginning,—in cancer, in liver disorders, in radiation perils…This is the horrifying story. It needed to be told—and by a scientist with a rare gift of communication and an overwhelming sense of responsibility. Already the articles taken from the book for publication in The New Yorker are being widely discussed. Book-of-the-Month distribution in October will spread the message yet more widely.

The book is not entirely negative; final chapters indicate roads of reversal, before it is too late!  

Pub Date: Sept. 27, 1962

ISBN: 061825305X

Page Count: 378

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1962

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