A graceful account of a majestic, suddenly fashionable predator clinging to an imperiled habitat.

THE GREAT WHITE BEAR

A NATURAL AND UNNATURAL HISTORY OF THE POLAR BEAR

An up-close look at the world’s only truly carnivorous, largest and perhaps most threatened species of bear.

For some years now, scientists have used the Arctic ecosystem as a barometer to measure the effects of global warming. They’ve monitored what appears to be an unprecedented shrinking of the extent and thickness of sea ice, the southern limits of which circumscribe the range of the polar bear. Wholly dependent upon the shifting platform of the sea’s frozen surface—the bear slowly and silently stalks the ice in search of its principal prey, seals—the bear stands atop the Arctic chain of being and has emerged as the poster-child for what we stand to lose if global warming proceeds unabated. A specialist in environmental and wildlife topics, Mulvaney (The Whaling Season: An Inside Account of the Struggle to Stop Commercial Whaling, 2003, etc.) relies on the scientific literature, historical records and especially his own on-scene reporting to tell the bear’s remarkable story. How the bears evolved, how they mate, give birth, hunt, feed and swim are all part of Mulvaney’s treatment. He scatters throughout any number of fascinating facts about these enormous mammals: their dens carved from snow drifts, their elongated skulls and sharp teeth for seizing seals, their black skin and unpigmented (not white) fur, their solitary nature, their occasional cannibalism and their powerful sense of smell. Beautiful descriptions of the stark Arctic, tales from early polar explorers about their bear encounters, explanations about how modern scientists keep tabs on the bears and a short history of the international agreements that protect them all make for interesting reading. However, the high point of the narrative is Mulvaney’s trip to Hudson Bay’s Cape Churchill, where the bears congregate at the beginning of each season. He describes the town’s heroic measures to accommodate the bears and describes a memorable a trip to the Tundra Buggy Lodge to observe them as they prepare to head out onto the sea ice.

A graceful account of a majestic, suddenly fashionable predator clinging to an imperiled habitat.

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-547-15242-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2010

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Unsentimental nature writing that sheds as much light on humans as on eels.

THE BOOK OF EELS

OUR ENDURING FASCINATION WITH THE MOST MYSTERIOUS CREATURE IN THE NATURAL WORLD

An account of the mysterious life of eels that also serves as a meditation on consciousness, faith, time, light and darkness, and life and death.

In addition to an intriguing natural history, Swedish journalist Svensson includes a highly personal account of his relationship with his father. The author alternates eel-focused chapters with those about his father, a man obsessed with fishing for this elusive creature. “I can’t recall us ever talking about anything other than eels and how to best catch them, down there by the stream,” he writes. “I can’t remember us speaking at all….Because we were in…a place whose nature was best enjoyed in silence.” Throughout, Svensson, whose beat is not biology but art and culture, fills his account with people: Aristotle, who thought eels emerged live from mud, “like a slithering, enigmatic miracle”; Freud, who as a teenage biologist spent months in Trieste, Italy, peering through a microscope searching vainly for eel testes; Johannes Schmidt, who for two decades tracked thousands of eels, looking for their breeding grounds. After recounting the details of the eel life cycle, the author turns to the eel in literature—e.g., in the Bible, Rachel Carson’s Under the Sea Wind, and Günter Grass’ The Tin Drum—and history. He notes that the Puritans would likely not have survived without eels, and he explores Sweden’s “eel coast” (what it once was and how it has changed), how eel fishing became embroiled in the Northern Irish conflict, and the importance of eel fishing to the Basque separatist movement. The apparent return to life of a dead eel leads Svensson to a consideration of faith and the inherent message of miracles. He warns that if we are to save this fascinating creature from extinction, we must continue to study it. His book is a highly readable place to begin learning.

Unsentimental nature writing that sheds as much light on humans as on eels.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-296881-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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Exemplary writing about the world and a welcome gift to readers.

HORIZON

Distinguished natural history writer and explorer Lopez (Outside, 2014, etc.) builds a winning memoir around books, voyages, and biological and anthropological observations.

“Traveling, despite the technological innovations that have brought cultural homogenization to much of the world, helps the curious and attentive itinerant understand how deep the notion goes that one place is never actually like another.” So writes the author, who has made a long career of visiting remote venues such as Antarctica, Greenland, and the lesser known of the Galápagos Islands. From these travels he has extracted truths about the world, such as the fact that places differ as widely as the people who live in them. Even when traveling with scientists from his own culture, Lopez finds differences of perception. On an Arctic island called Skraeling, for instance, he observes that if he and the biologists he is walking with were to encounter a grizzly feeding on a caribou, he would focus on the bear, the scientists on the whole gestalt of bear, caribou, environment; if a native of the place were along, the story would deepen beyond the immediate event, for those who possess Indigenous ways of knowledge, “unlike me…felt no immediate need to resolve it into meaning.” The author’s chapter on talismans—objects taken from his travels, such as “a fist-size piece of raven-black dolerite”—is among the best things he has written. But there are plentiful gems throughout the looping narrative, its episodes constructed from adventures over eight decades: trying to work out a bit of science as a teenager while huddled under the Ponte Vecchio after just having seen Botticelli’s Venus; admiring a swimmer as a septuagenarian while remembering the John Steinbeck whom he’d met as a schoolboy; gazing into the surf over many years’ worth of trips to Cape Foulweather, an Oregon headland named by Capt. James Cook, of whom he writes, achingly, “we no longer seem to be sailing in a time of fixed stars, of accurate chronometers, and of reliable routes.”

Exemplary writing about the world and a welcome gift to readers.

Pub Date: March 20, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-394-58582-6

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 26, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2018

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