Useful reading for city slickers contemplating a move to their own home on the range.



A graceful spirit-of-place study, set in territory widely thought to belong to God.

Montana is a place where weary urbanites from both coasts come to find themselves—a modern development that is a source of much grief to longtime Montanans, who now have to wait for a stool at the local diner. Travel writer Heminway (African Journeys, not reviewed), a frequent visitor to Big Sky country, is well aware that one acquires true Montanan credentials only by tracing claim to the place over several generations, but that did not keep him from buying a little ranch (carved out of a larger ranch and onetime hippie commune) and sinking some Montana roots of his own. No instant cowboy, he thoughtfully reflects here on the harsh realities of the place: the deadly cold of winters that last for seven months, the desolate plains littered with hundred-year-old broken wagon axles, cattle skulls, and the ruins of homesteaders’ shacks, etc. Shrugging off the attendant bad vibes (for, he writes, “Montana had become my drug”), the author cheerfully attempts to become a good neighbor, only to have his efforts challenged at every turn by a particularly irascible rancher with whom, by story’s end, he has forged an uneasy détente sometimes bordering on friendship. Heminway’s reflections on the once wild but increasingly settled landscapes of Montana are well-crafted and often lyrical, with only a few false steps (mostly in the direction of lapsing into reverence whenever American Indians enter the scene). Although sometimes overawed by the beauty of his newfound nirvana, the author is always brought back to his senses by the hardened old-timers, who, without really meaning to, help him “penetrate the astonishing bond between landscape and people, and to understand how nothing, in the end, is perfect.”

Useful reading for city slickers contemplating a move to their own home on the range.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-7922-7687-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: National Geographic

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2000

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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

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.



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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