A colorful account of field biology and essential reading for aspiring herpetologists.

MEAN AND LOWLY THINGS

SNAKES, SCIENCE, AND SURVIVAL IN THE CONGO

A Harvard post-doc goes snake hunting in Africa.

Jackson’s scientific report on her survey of amphibians and reptiles in the Republic of Congo appeared last year in the online journal Herpetological Conservation and Biology. This delightful and informative book tells the rest of her story: the bureaucratic delays, insect infestations, difficulties with local people and other unexpected events during the two rainy seasons she spent collecting specimens in the little-studied swamp forest of the northern Congo. With funding from the Smithsonian, Jackson (Biology/Whitman Coll.) arrived in Brazzaville, obtained supplies and guides and set up camp outside the Lac Télé Reserve (permits to work inside the reserve never arrived) with an elderly cook and a moody 24-year-old guide. Waist-deep at times in the flooded forest, surrounded by large ants and tsetse flies, Jackson grew desperate when she was unable to find many frogs and snakes; happily, she was able to purchase more than enough specimens from the villagers, who bring them to her camp. Drawing on her journal, the author recreates the flow of her days: nocturnal frog searches, encounters with cobras, the preservation of specimens and overlong visits from curious neighbors. She also offers glimpses of the many ways—most of them ineffective—that villagers treat snakebites. (Some 20,000 Africans die each year from the bites of venomous snakes.) Just as she was planning her return home to Toronto, looking forward to some privacy in which to nurse her blistered feet and swollen ankles, Jackson found she had to leave behind more than 100 preserved animals; nothing containing DNA was permitted on a passenger plane. (The specimens flew later by DHL courier.) It took a year to prepare for her second expedition, which took her into the reserve for a month. This visit ended spectacularly—a cobra bit Jackson just days before she was scheduled to break camp.

A colorful account of field biology and essential reading for aspiring herpetologists.

Pub Date: April 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-674-02974-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2008

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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