A lovely, soft-spoken book about the “joy, inspiration, wonder, laughter, ideas” that come from relating to Earth’s...

READ REVIEW

DEEP BLUE HOME

AN INTIMATE ECOLOGY OF OUR WILD OCEAN

Mother Jones correspondent Whitty (The Fragile Edge: Diving and Other Adventures in the South Pacific, 2007, etc.) looks at the life of the oceans and the sea creatures she has observed over the past 30 years.

The author expresses significant concern about the fate of the many animals she has communed with, including a massive sea turtle—“straight out of prehistory…whose ancestors once shared the ocean with dinosaurs”—swimming in the Gulf of California with only a 50 percent chance of surviving in any given year because of the dangers of illegal capture, dangerous fishing gear and pollution. In the 1980s, Whitty spent two seasons on Isla Rasa, a small island off the coast of Baja California, where she assisted two scientists who were studying the behavior of falcons and the sea gulls and terns that they preyed upon. After visiting a neighboring island to observe least storm-petrels, “the smallest species among the smallest of all the seabirds,” she explains that they were probably named for Saint Peter, who, like the petrels, supposedly walked on water. In 1984, she and a partner filmed seals and small minke whales as they fished and witnessed an iceberg “slicing like a blue fluke into the air and listing in the wind before disintegrating into a debris field of slush and brash ice skidding across hundreds of yards of ocean surface.” Today, laments the author, along with the pollution of the oceans, modern fishing boats use monofilament fishing lines (with more than two billion hooks) and drift nets to catch tuna and cod, a practice that also threatens the lives of other fish, sea turtles and sea birds. In 2006, Whitty began work with a scientific crew searching for clues to the origins of life in the depths of the ocean.

A lovely, soft-spoken book about the “joy, inspiration, wonder, laughter, ideas” that come from relating to Earth’s “nonhuman world.”

Pub Date: July 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-618-11981-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2010

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Ackerman writes with a light but assured touch, her prose rich in fact but economical in delivering it. Fans of birds in all...

THE GENIUS OF BIRDS

Science writer Ackerman (Ah-Choo!: The Uncommon Life of Your Common Cold, 2010, etc.) looks at the new science surrounding avian intelligence.

The takeaway: calling someone a birdbrain is a compliment. And in any event, as Ackerman observes early on, “intelligence is a slippery concept, even in our own species, tricky to define and tricky to measure.” Is a bird that uses a rock to break open a clamshell the mental equivalent of a tool-using primate? Perhaps that’s the wrong question, for birds are so unlike humans that “it’s difficult for us to fully appreciate their mental capabilities,” given that they’re really just small, feathered dinosaurs who inhabit a wholly different world from our once-arboreal and now terrestrial one. Crows and other corvids have gotten all the good publicity related to bird intelligence in recent years, but Ackerman, who does allow that some birds are brighter than others, points favorably to the much-despised pigeon as an animal that “can remember hundreds of different objects for long periods of time, discriminate between different painting styles, and figure out where it’s going, even when displaced from familiar territory by hundreds of miles.” Not bad for a critter best known for bespattering statues in public parks. Ackerman travels far afield to places such as Barbados and New Caledonia to study such matters as memory, communication, and decision-making, the last largely based on visual cues—though, as she notes, birds also draw ably on other senses, including smell, which in turn opens up insight onto “a weird evolutionary paradox that scientists have puzzled over for more than a decade”—a matter of the geometry of, yes, the bird brain.

Ackerman writes with a light but assured touch, her prose rich in fact but economical in delivering it. Fans of birds in all their diversity will want to read this one.

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59420-521-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more