Informative, provocative, and engaging, if somewhat out of date.


A debut that blends personal essays and natural history to describe a mountain range in California.

Belli has explored the small group of mountains called the Diablos, located southeast of San Francisco, since he was 3, when his family moved to the nearby foothills. As an adult, he earned a degree in conservation biology at San Jose State University and worked for the National Park Service, surveying the land, animals, and plants in the area. He therefore brings plenty of experience to the 25 essays here. Despite the title, the author offers much more than a diary, competently weaving engaging accounts of his own experiences with information about biology, history, literature, and politics. In “Searching for Dan’l Webster,” for example, he begins by referencing Mark Twain’s 1865 story “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” Belli infers that Twain’s frog was a California red-leg because “no other frog in the state could jump like that.” He goes on to describe the reasons for the decline of the red-leg population as well as his own six years surveying Coe State Park to track the frogs’ remaining numbers. In “Of Mice and Man,” he relates a tragicomic story of his personal battle with deer mice and tells of the threat of hantavirus. And in “The Harder They Fall,” Belli describes the California condor with such passion and beauty that readers will feel compelled to look up photos of the bird. Most essays focus on animals, but several look at plants, waterways, and native peoples, showing how they’re all connected. His love for the land provides the writings’ main overtone, but a deep anger—sometimes tempered with sardonic wit—lies not far beneath: “One of the cruel truths about developing an appreciation of nature is that you come face-to-face with the stark reality that so much is in peril.” As noted in the introduction, Belli wrote most of these essays 10 years ago or more, often about events that took place earlier. As such, some details are no longer as relevant, but a newer version, perhaps with references, would likely be essential reading.

Informative, provocative, and engaging, if somewhat out of date.

Pub Date: March 31, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5169-0944-5

Page Count: 278

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 6, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2017

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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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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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