Howard demonstrates that there is much to appreciate about the rites and rituals that govern the when, where and how of...

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SEX ON EARTH

A CELEBRATION OF ANIMAL REPRODUCTION

Not everything you wanted to know about sex, but a fair compendium of the varieties of sexual behavior exhibited by all creatures, great and small.

Indignant at the media’s twice-told tales of spider cannibalism, whale penis sizes or zoo pandas’ sex problems, zoologist and nature writer Howard set out to tell it like it is. Sex has been around for eons; fossils provide evidence of its evolutionary importance. Readers may not remember all the details, but some things will stick—e.g., mallards’ “coercive copulation,” which involves the drake’s corkscrew-shaped penis inserted into the female’s counter-corkscrew–shaped vagina, which has side pockets to trap his unwanted sperm. She can widen the path to admit sperm from high-quality drakes, which she rates by the yellowness of their beaks, a sign of a healthy immune system. Then there’s the toilet brush–shaped dragonfly organ, used to expunge a competitor’s sperm, the slime trail that lures a slug to its mate and the mate-guarding of male mites. Reptilian behavior includes precoital iguana masturbation, thought to prep the male so as not to waste time with the female and risk attack by rivals or predators. But masturbation for pleasure is common, writes Howard, as is homosexuality, bisexuality (bonobos), and even necrophilia and child sexual abuse. The author’s survey includes conservators’ work to preserve species, such as a rare spider threatened by habitat loss. While the information is always interesting, the text reads like a set of essays without an organizing principle. There’s also a bit too much gushing and self-consciousness, as, for example, when Howard vents frustration at not catching a species in the act. He also admits to romanticism in a chapter about monogamy and love apparent in some birds and mammals. However, he is adamant that we just don't know enough about humans to declare what is the norm.

Howard demonstrates that there is much to appreciate about the rites and rituals that govern the when, where and how of species perpetuation.

Pub Date: Nov. 11, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4081-9341-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Sept. 8, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2014

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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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Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

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LAB GIRL

Award-winning scientist Jahren (Geology and Geophysics/Univ. of Hawaii) delivers a personal memoir and a paean to the natural world.

The author’s father was a physics and earth science teacher who encouraged her play in the laboratory, and her mother was a student of English literature who nurtured her love of reading. Both of these early influences engrossingly combine in this adroit story of a dedication to science. Jahren’s journey from struggling student to struggling scientist has the narrative tension of a novel and characters she imbues with real depth. The heroes in this tale are the plants that the author studies, and throughout, she employs her facility with words to engage her readers. We learn much along the way—e.g., how the willow tree clones itself, the courage of a seed’s first root, the symbiotic relationship between trees and fungi, and the airborne signals used by trees in their ongoing war against insects. Trees are of key interest to Jahren, and at times she waxes poetic: “Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.” The author draws many parallels between her subjects and herself. This is her story, after all, and we are engaged beyond expectation as she relates her struggle in building and running laboratory after laboratory at the universities that have employed her. Present throughout is her lab partner, a disaffected genius named Bill, whom she recruited when she was a graduate student at Berkeley and with whom she’s worked ever since. The author’s tenacity, hope, and gratitude are all evident as she and Bill chase the sweetness of discovery in the face of the harsh economic realities of the research scientist.

Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-87493-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

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