Neatly and wonderfully sews together natural science and travel yarn. (Illustrations throughout, maps)




A top-drawer journey into the natural history of Tasmania from two Brooklyn-based nature writers.

Mittelbach and Crewdson (Wild New York, 2000) were smitten by a stuffed Tasmanian tiger they stumbled across in the American Museum of Natural History. They wanted to see in the flesh this strange creature that looked more like a wild dog than a tiger and had a marsupial pouch to boot. Thought by many to be extinct, the Tasmanian tiger had been sighted credibly and recently enough for the duo to pay a visit to its home island south of Australia. They took along an artist friend, the very odd Alexis Rockman, and he in turn took along two well-heeled pals, one of them his girlfriend. The affluent tagalongs provide a comic foil for the authors’ flinty wit, as do a number of the characters they met while in pursuit, but they favor a relaxed, conversational tone for their long excursions into the history and natural science of the island. The Tasmanian tiger being in very short supply, Mittelbach and Crewdson turn their attentions to other members of Tasmania’s extraordinary bestiary—giant crayfish, little blue penguins, cave spiders, quolls, glowworms, the platypus—and accompany each vivid portrait with a crack description of its habitat. Although the tiger, once considered a pest, has been hunted to near or perhaps even total extinction, the authors hold out hope to see it, since other Tasmanian animals such as Leadbeater’s possum and the mahogany glider have crossed back over the River Styx. Scattered throughout the text are examples of Rockman’s art: evocative, ethereal works using soil and vegetable matter—even, in one case, a pulverized leech mixed with acrylic polymer. “The materials,” he explained to his companions, “have a relationship to the history, geography, or direct interaction I have with particular organisms. They come out of the tradition of diaristic travel.” True, but a strangely academic comment for so unconventional a character.

Neatly and wonderfully sews together natural science and travel yarn. (Illustrations throughout, maps)

Pub Date: April 12, 2005

ISBN: 1-4000-6002-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2005

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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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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.


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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