Bonner’s own lifecycle makes for pleasant reading and inspires a new respect for slime molds.

LIVES OF A BIOLOGIST

ADVENTURES IN A CENTURY OF EXTRAORDINARY SCIENCE

A charming memoir combining autobiography and a 20th-century history of biology.

“A gentleman and a scholar” aptly describes Bonner (Biology Emeritus/Princeton; Life Cycles, 1993, etc.). Born in 1920, he describes growing up in fine style in New York, Paris, and London. His parents moved in literary circles that included the likes of Alexander Woollcott and Rebecca West; late in life, Pa became a bestselling novelist. Early on, Bonner was smitten by nature: first birds and then, after reading H.G. Wells’s The Science of Life, by all living things. He also credits the teachers who inspired him at Harvard and the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Intrigued by how a fertilized cell develops into a complex organism, Bonner got turned on to the study of cellular slime molds as a model organism after reading a Ph.D. thesis he picked up by chance. The mold’s lifecycle begins with individual amoebae that (1) eat bacteria until there are no more, then (2) stream together to form a multi-cellular slug-like organism that (3) migrates (secreting all that slime), (4) stops and turns upright, developing a stalk that (5) becomes topped by a fruiting body, which will disperse spores to start the cycle all over again. Myriad questions of how and why would occupy Bonner, aided and abetted by the increasingly sophisticated tools of genetics and molecular biology, for the rest of his career. As he tracks it, he charts the transformation of biology in 20-year spurts, from the rediscovery of Mendel at the turn of the 20th century through population genetics, Watson-Crick, sociobiology, and the genome fallout today. He considers the overarching theme of biology to be lifecycles, embellished by ideas about size, division of labor, and complexity as driving forces of evolution.

Bonner’s own lifecycle makes for pleasant reading and inspires a new respect for slime molds.

Pub Date: May 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-674-00763-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2002

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

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NO ONE IS TOO SMALL TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE

A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

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