Serviceable, though nothing new. (8 pages b&w photos, 32 illustrations)

ELEPHANT DESTINY

BIOGRAPHY OF AN ENDANGERED SPECIES IN AFRICA

A compilation of thoughts, facts, and literature on the African elephant, from a former journalist and scholar who has written extensively about the continent.

Elephants once ranged over all of Africa; now only five countries there have populations of more than 50,000. Meredith (Coming to Terms, 2000, etc.) begins 5,000 years ago in Egypt, whose pharaohs hunted elephants for their ivory until the climate became too arid to support such herds. They then turned to Syria, eventually driving the small Asian elephant population to extinction. The author next profiles Alexander the Great, who was so impressed by the Persians’ use of armored elephants that he incorporated them into his own army after 331 b.c. But by 46 b.c., the African elephant’s primary use was for entertainment: Romans pitted gladiators against dozens of elephants at a time, and the demand for this brutal spectacle eventually rendered the North African herds all but extinct. Over centuries, the African elephant population suffered losses and made gains until the great ivory trade began in the mid-1400s. Due to the lucrative market in piano keys and billiard balls (among other items), by 1760 elephant herds in southern Africa were much diminished, and by 1880 they had vanished. In East and West Africa, the same story was playing out. At this point, Meredith focuses on recent scientific studies, notably the work of Iain and Oria Douglas-Hamilton, Cynthia Moss, Joyce Poole, and Katherine Payne. He’s an engaging writer, and his synopses should lead readers to the original works themselves. He concludes with the great ivory wars of the 1970s and ’80s, naming Hong Kong and Japan as the major culprits. Now that many countries have joined the ban on ivory, some elephant populations may make a comeback, but their situation is perilous at best. The author provides a nice overview of the troubles facing the African elephant, but no original research at all.

Serviceable, though nothing new. (8 pages b&w photos, 32 illustrations)

Pub Date: April 1, 2003

ISBN: 1-58648-077-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2003

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A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

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NO ONE IS TOO SMALL TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE

A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

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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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