SILENT THUNDER

IN THE PRESENCE OF ELEPHANTS

In an account that is finally a philosophical and political meditation on wildlife, a biologist studies the long-distance, nearly imperceptible rumblings of elephants and ponders the fate of Africa’s elephant herds. Payne, a bioacoustics researcher at Cornell University, recorded the habits of African elephants living in Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Kenya for more than a decade, beginning in the mid-1980s, observing the complex interactions of the matriarchal family groups and the courtship and mating of bull elephants. But most remarkable was her work on infrasonic communication among the elephants, very low frequency sounds, below the threshold of human hearing, that carry for over two miles. In this endeavor, Payne got up close and personal with the herds to record the sounds on tape for later analysis, sometimes putting herself in dicey situations—and not only with elephants, as she frequented lion habitat as well. Becoming more salient as the narrative proceeds are Payne’s concerns over the unrestrained slaughter of Africa’s herds by ivory poachers, who killed 87 percent of Kenya’s elephants and half of all the elephants on the continent during the 1980s. Later sections of the book hinge on the issue of conservation and protection from poaching, in addition to efforts by southern African countries to protect their herds from poachers by culling, opening up a controlled ivory trade. Payne records in detail the dimensions and monetary value of the tusks of many elephants she tracked and taped. Payne, a vociferous opponent of culling, notes that elephants need the accumulated wisdom of their elders in order to maintain functioning communities. Her deep-feeling profiles of some of the people working as trackers and scouts with her in the national parks add merit to her suggestions for conservation. Not just a book on elephants and their surprisingly active verbal lives, but an informed discussion on the policies and future of man and beast in Africa.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-684-80108-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1998

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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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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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