THE COMMON BUT LESS FREQUENT LOON AND OTHER ESSAYS by Keith Stewart Thomson

THE COMMON BUT LESS FREQUENT LOON AND OTHER ESSAYS

KIRKUS REVIEW

 Twenty-four shapely essays, most drawn from American Scientist, by paleoichthyologist Thomson (Living Fossil, 1991), president of the Academy of Natural Sciences. Thomson divides his pieces into three groups. The first assemblage, ``The Uses of Diversity,'' devoted to natural history, includes the title essay on the loons that haunt New Hampshire lakes where Thomson vacations each summer. Other pieces ponder, in a benign, literate voice, the ``lost'' Benjamin Franklin tree, an extremely rare plant extinct in the wild; the degradation of the modern urban landscape and the roots of this despoiling in the farming techniques of the first European settlers; studies of horsemanship, shark locomotion, and the neural crest (a developmental feature in embryonic vertebrates); and a celebration of that delightful, neglected 18th-century British natural historian, writer, and country parson, Gilbert White. Part Two, ``On Becoming a Scientist,'' digs deeper: Here, Thomson not only shares charming autobiographical reminiscences of boyish scientific enthusiasms but pushes hard for better scientific publishing (urging ``everyone to write fewer and more significant works''). The final section, ``The Future of Evolution,'' explores the multiple meanings of that overworked term; sings a paean to university research museums; puzzles over why paleontology (dinosaurs excepted) has fallen out of favor; and gingerly pushes the idea that variations in evolution may be directed rather than strictly random. Suffused with the sense of wonder that unites the wide-eyed child and the white-haired Nobel laureate: an uncommonly good collection. (Twenty illustrations)

Pub Date: Nov. 17th, 1993
ISBN: 0-300-05630-3
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Yale Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1993