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 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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The book is not entirely negative; final chapters indicate roads of reversal, before it is too late!

SILENT SPRING

It should come as no surprise that the gifted author of The Sea Around Us and its successors can take another branch of science—that phase of biology indicated by the term ecology—and bring it so sharply into focus that any intelligent layman can understand what she is talking about.

Understand, yes, and shudder, for she has drawn a living portrait of what is happening to this balance nature has decreed in the science of life—and what man is doing (and has done) to destroy it and create a science of death. Death to our birds, to fish, to wild creatures of the woods—and, to a degree as yet undetermined, to man himself. World War II hastened the program by releasing lethal chemicals for destruction of insects that threatened man’s health and comfort, vegetation that needed quick disposal. The war against insects had been under way before, but the methods were relatively harmless to other than the insects under attack; the products non-chemical, sometimes even introduction of other insects, enemies of the ones under attack. But with chemicals—increasingly stronger, more potent, more varied, more dangerous—new chain reactions have set in. And ironically, the insects are winning the war, setting up immunities, and re-emerging, their natural enemies destroyed. The peril does not stop here. Waters, even to the underground water tables, are contaminated; soils are poisoned. The birds consume the poisons in their insect and earthworm diet; the cattle, in their fodder; the fish, in the waters and the food those waters provide. And humans? They drink the milk, eat the vegetables, the fish, the poultry. There is enough evidence to point to the far-reaching effects; but this is only the beginning,—in cancer, in liver disorders, in radiation perils…This is the horrifying story. It needed to be told—and by a scientist with a rare gift of communication and an overwhelming sense of responsibility. Already the articles taken from the book for publication in The New Yorker are being widely discussed. Book-of-the-Month distribution in October will spread the message yet more widely.

The book is not entirely negative; final chapters indicate roads of reversal, before it is too late!  

Pub Date: Sept. 27, 1962

ISBN: 061825305X

Page Count: 378

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1962

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