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

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

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A quirky wonder of a book.

WHY FISH DON'T EXIST

A STORY OF LOSS, LOVE, AND THE HIDDEN ORDER OF LIFE

A Peabody Award–winning NPR science reporter chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century scientist and how her quest led to significant revelations about the meaning of order, chaos, and her own existence.

Miller began doing research on David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) to understand how he had managed to carry on after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his work. A taxonomist who is credited with discovering “a full fifth of fish known to man in his day,” Jordan had amassed an unparalleled collection of ichthyological specimens. Gathering up all the fish he could save, Jordan sewed the nameplates that had been on the destroyed jars directly onto the fish. His perseverance intrigued the author, who also discusses the struggles she underwent after her affair with a woman ended a heterosexual relationship. Born into an upstate New York farm family, Jordan attended Cornell and then became an itinerant scholar and field researcher until he landed at Indiana University, where his first ichthyological collection was destroyed by lightning. In between this catastrophe and others involving family members’ deaths, he reconstructed his collection. Later, he was appointed as the founding president of Stanford, where he evolved into a Machiavellian figure who trampled on colleagues and sang the praises of eugenics. Miller concludes that Jordan displayed the characteristics of someone who relied on “positive illusions” to rebound from disaster and that his stand on eugenics came from a belief in “a divine hierarchy from bacteria to humans that point[ed]…toward better.” Considering recent research that negates biological hierarchies, the author then suggests that Jordan’s beloved taxonomic category—fish—does not exist. Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence.

A quirky wonder of a book.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6027-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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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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