Ohlson ably delineates this promising situation: Vital soil may well help address climate change, but it absolutely will...

READ REVIEW

THE SOIL WILL SAVE US

HOW SCIENTISTS, FARMERS, AND FOODIES ARE HEALING THE SOIL TO SAVE THE PLANET

Ohlson (Stalking the Divine: Contemplating Faith with the Poor Clares, 2003, etc.) welcomes readers to the kingdom of soil and—if it is healthy—its trillions of life-sustaining microorganisms.

The author has a clear storytelling style, which comes in handy when drawing this head-turning portrait of lowly dirt. But dirt—or soil, if you prefer—takes on character in Ohlson’s hands, and readers will soon become invested in its well-being, for soil is a planetary balancer, and from its goodness comes the food we eat. The author examines soil’s role in countering our greenhouse-gas problem, noting how healthy soil sequesters carbon. Indeed, by the end of the story, it doesn’t seem far-fetched when a group of scientists tell her that “if only 11 percent of the world’s cropland—land that is typically not in use—improved its community of soil microorganisms as [the scientists] did in their test plots, the amount of carbon sequestered in the soil would offset all our current emissions of carbon dioxide.” But what is particularly captivating is the process whereby healthy soil goes about its work; when one understands the process, many puzzle pieces fall into place and readers can judge for themselves the various claims. The interplay between plants and soil—plants “leak” carbon and other nutrients into the soil and are fed by teams of creatures that eat and excrete minerals near the plants’ roots—is complex yet elegant and discernable. Along the way, the author touches on other subjects—genetically engineered crops, farming activities around the world, the use of leftover skim milk as a fertilizer, and the interdependence of urban planning and soil health—to provide background and local color.

Ohlson ably delineates this promising situation: Vital soil may well help address climate change, but it absolutely will provide for “more productive farms, cleaner waterways, and overall healthier landscapes.”

Pub Date: March 18, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-60961-554-3

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Rodale

Review Posted Online: Jan. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2014

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Ackerman writes with a light but assured touch, her prose rich in fact but economical in delivering it. Fans of birds in all...

THE GENIUS OF BIRDS

Science writer Ackerman (Ah-Choo!: The Uncommon Life of Your Common Cold, 2010, etc.) looks at the new science surrounding avian intelligence.

The takeaway: calling someone a birdbrain is a compliment. And in any event, as Ackerman observes early on, “intelligence is a slippery concept, even in our own species, tricky to define and tricky to measure.” Is a bird that uses a rock to break open a clamshell the mental equivalent of a tool-using primate? Perhaps that’s the wrong question, for birds are so unlike humans that “it’s difficult for us to fully appreciate their mental capabilities,” given that they’re really just small, feathered dinosaurs who inhabit a wholly different world from our once-arboreal and now terrestrial one. Crows and other corvids have gotten all the good publicity related to bird intelligence in recent years, but Ackerman, who does allow that some birds are brighter than others, points favorably to the much-despised pigeon as an animal that “can remember hundreds of different objects for long periods of time, discriminate between different painting styles, and figure out where it’s going, even when displaced from familiar territory by hundreds of miles.” Not bad for a critter best known for bespattering statues in public parks. Ackerman travels far afield to places such as Barbados and New Caledonia to study such matters as memory, communication, and decision-making, the last largely based on visual cues—though, as she notes, birds also draw ably on other senses, including smell, which in turn opens up insight onto “a weird evolutionary paradox that scientists have puzzled over for more than a decade”—a matter of the geometry of, yes, the bird brain.

Ackerman writes with a light but assured touch, her prose rich in fact but economical in delivering it. Fans of birds in all their diversity will want to read this one.

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59420-521-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more