A lucid, entertaining synthesis of current research providing plenty of food for thought on why we took a different road...




If humans and chimpanzees share a 99 percent genetic similarity, why are we so different?

Science magazine correspondent Cohen (Coming to Term: Uncovering the Truth About Miscarriage, 2005, etc.) isn’t on an anti-evolution jag. He’s simply curious that a nearly identical molecular makeup doesn’t result in more identical organisms. Since Robert Yerkes’s Almost Human (1925), the similarities between humans and chimpanzees has been scrutinized, and for good reason—chimpanzees needed all the goodwill they could muster, or they would go extinct. Though chimpanzees still need protection, Cohen suggests that they would not be imperiled by exploring our genetic and behavioral differences to see what current chimpanzee research can tell us about that divergence. Thus starts a worldwide quest to witness that research at close range, from laboratories to the wild. The author’s enthusiasm is communicable and his writing is crystal clear. Even readers who have forgotten their biology will follow, for instance, his explanation of how the quantity of gene expression helps differentiate the two apes or the possibilities attendant upon non-coding ribbons of DNA regulating that expression. There is a jaw-dropping chapter on hybridization and how it could have played a part in the human-chimpanzee split as a bridge for genes across the species divide. (Much here is speculative, in a hard-science sense.) Cohen wades into work on sialic acid that may explain why a long list of infectious cancers and heart ailments more often afflict humans than chimpanzees. The author also examines how memory quality, sexuality and diet helped drive the behavioral wedge deeper between us. There is much conflict and turf-staking. A respected cognitive evolutionist says, “evidence has forced me to seriously confront the possibility that chimpanzees do not reason about inherently unobservable phenomena,” while a few pages earlier Cohen describes experiments with chimpanzees that “demonstrated that they could understand—to a degree—the psychological states of others.” Such is the “theater for intellectual daring” of chimpanzee behavioral theory that the author so ably delineates.

A lucid, entertaining synthesis of current research providing plenty of food for thought on why we took a different road from our kissing cousins.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-8050-8307-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Times/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2010

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

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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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As much a work of philosophy as of physics and full of insights for readers willing to work hard.


Undeterred by a subject difficult to pin down, Italian theoretical physicist Rovelli (Reality Is Not What It Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity, 2017, etc.) explains his thoughts on time.

Other scientists have written primers on the concept of time for a general audience, but Rovelli, who also wrote the bestseller Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, adds his personal musings, which are astute and rewarding but do not make for an easy read. “We conventionally think of time,” he writes, “as something simple and fundamental that flows uniformly, independently from everything else, uniformly from the past to the future, measured by clocks and watches. In the course of time, the events of the universe succeed each other in an orderly way: pasts, presents, futures. The past is fixed, the future open….And yet all of this has turned out to be false.” Rovelli returns again and again to the ideas of three legendary men. Aristotle wrote that things change continually. What we call “time” is the measurement of that change. If nothing changed, time would not exist. Newton disagreed. While admitting the existence of a time that measures events, he insisted that there is an absolute “true time” that passes relentlessly. If the universe froze, time would roll on. To laymen, this may seem like common sense, but most philosophers are not convinced. Einstein asserted that both are right. Aristotle correctly explained that time flows in relation to something else. Educated laymen know that clocks register different times when they move or experience gravity. Newton’s absolute exists, but as a special case in Einstein’s curved space-time. According to Rovelli, our notion of time dissolves as our knowledge grows; complex features swell and then retreat and perhaps vanish entirely. Furthermore, equations describing many fundamental physical phenomena don’t require time.

As much a work of philosophy as of physics and full of insights for readers willing to work hard.

Pub Date: May 18, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1610-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

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