In this lovely exploration of the mysterious jellyfish, Berwald both entrances and sounds a warning: pay attention to the...

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SPINELESS

THE SCIENCE OF JELLYFISH AND THE ART OF GROWING A BACKBONE

A close look at the biology and behavior of jellyfish combined with a personal history of the author, a former ocean scientist who was pulled back to the sea by these enigmatic creatures.

As science writer Berwald notes, details about jellyfish—whose species number in the hundreds—are scant in comparison with what is known about other marine animals despite the fact that they have been on Earth for at least 500 million years. Because they reproduce quickly and can adapt to different environments, they’re notorious for disrupting ocean ecosystems and devastating fishing economies. For beachgoers, they are often just nuisances with a painful sting. But the further the author dives into her research, the more she suspects that jellyfish behavior may provide clues about how the Earth’s changing climate is affecting ocean life. In addition, jellies have sophisticated propulsion systems and collagen-based bodies that may guide bioengineers in developing new products. In this appealing combination of solid science writing, investigative journalism, and memoir, Berwald chronicles her travels around the globe interviewing leading jellyfish experts and viewing all types of jellies in aquariums and native habitats. What the author discovered is that jellyfish science is growing as it becomes more apparent that the animals are a robust source of information about the ocean’s conditions as well as many other facets of the natural world. After years of research, Berwald is convinced that “to research jellyfish is not just to look at a creature unfamiliar and bizarre to most, but to study the planet and our place in it.” While writing this lucid, eye-opening book, the author discovered that her place was, in part, inextricably entangled with jellyfish.

In this lovely exploration of the mysterious jellyfish, Berwald both entrances and sounds a warning: pay attention to the messages sent by ocean life, and act to protect their environment, and ours.

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1126-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2017

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Exemplary writing about the world and a welcome gift to readers.

HORIZON

Distinguished natural history writer and explorer Lopez (Outside, 2014, etc.) builds a winning memoir around books, voyages, and biological and anthropological observations.

“Traveling, despite the technological innovations that have brought cultural homogenization to much of the world, helps the curious and attentive itinerant understand how deep the notion goes that one place is never actually like another.” So writes the author, who has made a long career of visiting remote venues such as Antarctica, Greenland, and the lesser known of the Galápagos Islands. From these travels he has extracted truths about the world, such as the fact that places differ as widely as the people who live in them. Even when traveling with scientists from his own culture, Lopez finds differences of perception. On an Arctic island called Skraeling, for instance, he observes that if he and the biologists he is walking with were to encounter a grizzly feeding on a caribou, he would focus on the bear, the scientists on the whole gestalt of bear, caribou, environment; if a native of the place were along, the story would deepen beyond the immediate event, for those who possess Indigenous ways of knowledge, “unlike me…felt no immediate need to resolve it into meaning.” The author’s chapter on talismans—objects taken from his travels, such as “a fist-size piece of raven-black dolerite”—is among the best things he has written. But there are plentiful gems throughout the looping narrative, its episodes constructed from adventures over eight decades: trying to work out a bit of science as a teenager while huddled under the Ponte Vecchio after just having seen Botticelli’s Venus; admiring a swimmer as a septuagenarian while remembering the John Steinbeck whom he’d met as a schoolboy; gazing into the surf over many years’ worth of trips to Cape Foulweather, an Oregon headland named by Capt. James Cook, of whom he writes, achingly, “we no longer seem to be sailing in a time of fixed stars, of accurate chronometers, and of reliable routes.”

Exemplary writing about the world and a welcome gift to readers.

Pub Date: March 20, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-394-58582-6

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 26, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2018

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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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