A general but solid primer on the state of sharks today and a plea for their protection.

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DEMON FISH

TRAVELS THROUGH THE HIDDEN WORLD OF SHARKS

Washington Post environmental reporter Eilperin (Fight Club Politics: How Partisanship is Poisoning the House of Representatives, 2006) travels the globe to explore the complex relationship between sharks and humans, issuing a passionate call for the protection of these diverse and majestic creatures.

Sharks inspire fear, writes the author, but as many people know, it’s largely groundless: “you are more likely to die from lightning, a bee sting, or an elephant’s attack than from a shark’s bite.” Yet this fear, along with commercial pressures, is driving some species to extinction. Before we feared them, sharks played important religious roles in societies from the Mayan empire to communities in the Niger Delta region. Eilperin witnessed the modern-day practice of “shark calling,” in which Papua New Guineans perform religious rituals and then catch sharks using lures and snares. (The practice is not wholly symbolic, as the meat is eaten and the fins sold.) Shark’s fin soup is an important symbol of wealth in China; however, after eating it, Eilperin calls it “one of the greatest scams of all time, an emblem of status whose most essential ingredient adds nothing of material value to the end product.” Nonetheless, shark populations are collapsing in part due to the commercial value of fins. Unfortunately, the author provides little clarity about which human activities (such as sport fishing and finning) have the most significant impacts on shark populations. Moreover, the book treats sharks as too monolithic, doing little to explain which particular species face the gravest threats. But Eilperin is convincing in her argument that many species will go extinct if current practices continue. She is optimistic about certain alternatives, like the shark-watching expeditions she saw in a Mexican village, where former fisherman now make their living guiding eco-tourists. With alternatives like this and the possibility of international agreements, Eilperin concludes that all hope is not lost for the shark.

A general but solid primer on the state of sharks today and a plea for their protection.

Pub Date: June 14, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-375-42512-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2011

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An authoritative, engaging study of plant life, accessible to younger readers as well as adults.

THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY OF PLANTS

A neurobiologist reveals the interconnectedness of the natural world through stories of plant migration.

In this slim but well-packed book, Mancuso (Plant Science/Univ. of Florence; The Revolutionary Genius of Plants: A New Understanding of Plant Intelligence and Behavior, 2018, etc.) presents an illuminating and surprisingly lively study of plant life. He smoothly balances expansive historical exploration with recent scientific research through stories of how various plant species are capable of migrating to locations throughout the world by means of air, water, and even via animals. They often continue to thrive in spite of dire obstacles and environments. One example is the response of plants following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Three decades later, the abandoned “Exclusion Zone” is now entirely covered by an enormous assortment of thriving plants. Mancuso also tracks the journeys of several species that might be regarded as invasive. “Why…do we insist on labeling as ‘invasive’ all those plants that, with great success, have managed to occupy new territories?” asks the author. “On a closer look, the invasive plants of today are the native flora of the future, just as the invasive species of the past are a fundamental part of our ecosystem today.” Throughout, Mancuso persuasively articulates why an understanding and appreciation of how nature is interconnected is vital to the future of our planet. “In nature everything is connected,” he writes. “This simple law that humans don’t seem to understand has a corollary: the extinction of a species, besides being a calamity in and of itself, has unforeseeable consequences for the system to which the species belongs.” The book is not without flaws. The loosely imagined watercolor renderings are vague and fail to effectively complement Mancuso’s richly descriptive prose or satisfy readers’ curiosity. Even without actual photos and maps, it would have been beneficial to readers to include more finely detailed plant and map renderings.

An authoritative, engaging study of plant life, accessible to younger readers as well as adults.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-63542-991-6

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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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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