Of compelling interest to any animal lover and especially to devotees of canids of all kinds.

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HOW TO TAME A FOX (AND BUILD A DOG)

VISIONARY SCIENTISTS AND A SIBERIAN TALE OF JUMP-STARTED EVOLUTION

Can new kinds of animals be brought into being outside of DNA tinkering and Frankensteining? Most certainly, as a long-running Russian experiment reveals.

Humans have been living among domesticated animals for many thousands of years. The first to be domesticated, paleontologists have long believed, was the dog, bred from the wolf. Enter Dmitry Belyaev, a Russian geneticist who “had become fascinated by the question of how an animal as naturally averse to human contact and as potentially aggressive as a wolf had evolved over tens of thousands of years into the lovable, loyal dog.” Roughly 40 years ago, as Dugatkin (Biology/Univ. of Louisville; The Altruism Equation: Seven Scientists Search for the Origins of Goodness, 2006, etc.) chronicles, Belyaev and Dugatkin’s co-author, Trut, moved to a Siberian farm where foxes were bred for their fur. There, they began a far-reaching series of experiments that yielded “the perfect dog”—however, the perfect dog, or at least something like the wolf-descended dog, was a fox, its evolution from one biological form to another having occupied just a blink of an eye in evolutionary time. Their experiment, note the authors, is one of the most revealing ever conducted in the sphere of evolution and animal behavior. The narrative includes a wealth of asides on how science is conducted under totalitarian regimes—Belyaev began his career under the shadow of Stalin and the charlatan Lysenko—but is at its most fascinating when it centers on the business of how an animal is in fact tamed. What qualities would be favored? Gentleness and playfulness, to be sure, but also a certain kind of transcendental calmness (“fox pups are serenely calm when they’re first born, but as they age, foxes typically become quite high-strung”) and youthfulness. The science is profound, but the authors write accessibly and engagingly—and their vulpine subjects are awfully cute, too.

Of compelling interest to any animal lover and especially to devotees of canids of all kinds.

Pub Date: April 5, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-226-44418-5

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Univ. of Chicago

Review Posted Online: Feb. 2, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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Whether you call this a personal story or nature writing, it’s poignant, thoughtful and moving—and likely to become a...

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H IS FOR HAWK

An inspired, beautiful and absorbing account of a woman battling grief—with a goshawk.

Following the sudden death of her father, Macdonald (History and Philosophy/Cambridge Univ.; Falcon, 2006, etc.) tried staving off deep depression with a unique form of personal therapy: the purchase and training of an English goshawk, which she named Mabel. Although a trained falconer, the author chose a raptor both unfamiliar and unpredictable, a creature of mad confidence that became a means of working against madness. “The hawk was everything I wanted to be: solitary, self-possessed, free from grief, and numb to the hurts of human life,” she writes. As a devotee of birds of prey since girlhood, Macdonald knew the legends and the literature, particularly the cautionary example of The Once and Future King author T.H. White, whose 1951 book The Goshawk details his own painful battle to master his title subject. Macdonald dramatically parallels her own story with White’s, achieving a remarkable imaginative sympathy with the writer, a lonely, tormented homosexual fighting his own sadomasochistic demons. Even as she was learning from White’s mistakes, she found herself very much in his shoes, watching her life fall apart as the painfully slow bonding process with Mabel took over. Just how much do animals and humans have in common? The more Macdonald got to know her, the more Mabel confounded her notions about what the species was supposed to represent. Is a hawk a symbol of might or independence, or is that just our attempt to remake the animal world in our own image? Writing with breathless urgency that only rarely skirts the melodramatic, Macdonald broadens her scope well beyond herself to focus on the antagonism between people and the environment.

Whether you call this a personal story or nature writing, it’s poignant, thoughtful and moving—and likely to become a classic in either genre.

Pub Date: March 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0802123411

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

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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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