A fine overview of wide-angle environmentalism.

THE SPINE OF THE CONTINENT

THE MOST AMBITIOUS WILDLIFE CONSERVATION PROJECT EVER UNDERTAKEN

Hannibal (Good Parenting Through Your Divorce, 2006, etc.) explores the ambitious Spine of the Continent Initiative, a massive project to protect wildlife and land by connecting expanses of acreage across North America.

The concept, pioneered by conservation biologist Michael Soulé, has been picked up by many others over the years, as a long-term way to help preserve wildlife and plant life in the West. Its ultimate goal was to unite discrete areas of publicly and privately owned wilderness to create one huge nature preserve stretching from Alaska to Mexico. In the first third of the book, Hannibal focuses on the history of conservation biology. The last two-thirds spotlight some of the many small organizations and researchers that are contributing to the larger vision, including projects focusing specifically on beavers, jaguars and wolves, among others. Throughout, Hannibal repeats the idea that everything in an ecosystem is connected. It’s a seemingly simple concept, well-backed by research, and the author discusses how, in the long run, working for the preservation of even a single species links directly to larger issues such as climate change. Because Hannibal writes in a casual first-person voice, the narrative is occasionally haphazard, as she delves into the history of the beaver-pelt trade in America in one section and explores Soulé’s life-changing experience with Zen Buddhism in another. It has its share of odd moments, as when Hannibal compares beaver ponds to the concept of romanticism, or when she asks a scientist who experimented on temperature-intolerant pikas in the 1970s, “How could you fry those bunnies?” The author doesn’t fully explore the opinions of anyone who might oppose the Spine plan, but the book works well as an introduction to modern conservationist figures and concepts for casual readers.

A fine overview of wide-angle environmentalism.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-7627-7214-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Lyons Press

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

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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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Exemplary writing about the world and a welcome gift to readers.

HORIZON

Distinguished natural history writer and explorer Lopez (Outside, 2014, etc.) builds a winning memoir around books, voyages, and biological and anthropological observations.

“Traveling, despite the technological innovations that have brought cultural homogenization to much of the world, helps the curious and attentive itinerant understand how deep the notion goes that one place is never actually like another.” So writes the author, who has made a long career of visiting remote venues such as Antarctica, Greenland, and the lesser known of the Galápagos Islands. From these travels he has extracted truths about the world, such as the fact that places differ as widely as the people who live in them. Even when traveling with scientists from his own culture, Lopez finds differences of perception. On an Arctic island called Skraeling, for instance, he observes that if he and the biologists he is walking with were to encounter a grizzly feeding on a caribou, he would focus on the bear, the scientists on the whole gestalt of bear, caribou, environment; if a native of the place were along, the story would deepen beyond the immediate event, for those who possess Indigenous ways of knowledge, “unlike me…felt no immediate need to resolve it into meaning.” The author’s chapter on talismans—objects taken from his travels, such as “a fist-size piece of raven-black dolerite”—is among the best things he has written. But there are plentiful gems throughout the looping narrative, its episodes constructed from adventures over eight decades: trying to work out a bit of science as a teenager while huddled under the Ponte Vecchio after just having seen Botticelli’s Venus; admiring a swimmer as a septuagenarian while remembering the John Steinbeck whom he’d met as a schoolboy; gazing into the surf over many years’ worth of trips to Cape Foulweather, an Oregon headland named by Capt. James Cook, of whom he writes, achingly, “we no longer seem to be sailing in a time of fixed stars, of accurate chronometers, and of reliable routes.”

Exemplary writing about the world and a welcome gift to readers.

Pub Date: March 20, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-394-58582-6

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 26, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2018

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