Animal lovers with a bent for the woo-woo will enjoy this well-intended but often cloying book.



Forget about ordering your dog to sit. Instead, breathe, imagine, visualize.

We’re not in the tough-hided world of Temple Grandin here: Katz (Saving Simon: How a Rescue Donkey Taught Me the Meaning of Compassion, 2015, etc.) is a soft-hearted, warm advocate for animals of all kinds, and he’s disinclined to use tried-and-true methods of demand and reward. Of one dog, he writes, “I had no commands to give Rose, no words, but I had images and I painted a sketch in my head of what I wanted to happen.” That’s about as New Age–y as it gets, but it helps explain why just about every town in America now sports a business for pet psychiatrists and animal communicators. It’s when the animals start talking back that things get a little weird, as when said dog supposedly remarked, “I can do it, give me a chance to succeed.” A little of this goes a long way, and there’s a lot of it—a lot of what Katz calls “sweet noise.” Still, the author chronicles many affecting encounters with animals, and it is indisputable that, as Katz observes, animals are disappearing from our lives, “vanishing at a horrific rate.” For all the tender moments and divinations of body language—a horse with its head down is not fearful but relaxed—the author is capable of righteous fire. When it comes to Bill de Blasio and the ban on carriage horses in New York, circuses, and such, he gets his dander up: “It has become a popular idea in America, this notion that it is cruel for working animals to work with people, exploitive for animals to uplift or entertain people.” It seems a curious mix of purposes to want to talk with bunnies on one hand and draft animals on the other, but it’s of a piece with Katz’s particular brand of advocacy, which has many supporters.

Animal lovers with a bent for the woo-woo will enjoy this well-intended but often cloying book.

Pub Date: May 23, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4767-9547-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2017

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


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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