A page-turning memoir of curiosity about—and dedication to—a significant part of the natural world.

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THE SECRET LIVES OF BATS

MY ADVENTURES WITH THE WORLD'S MOST MISUNDERSTOOD MAMMALS

Bats are “sophisticated, beautiful, even cute, quite aside from their crucial roles as primary predators of insects, pollinators of flowers and dispersers of seeds,” writes Tuttle, an ecologist who has championed their cause for more than 50 years.

The author’s cover stories and photographs have been featured in National Geographic and other magazines, and he has traveled the globe to study bats in their natural cave habitats, risking his life in the process. After obtaining a doctorate in bat biology, Tuttle worked as the curator of the Milwaukee Public Museum. In 1982, he resigned and founded the advocacy organization Bat Conservation International to enlist support for these much-maligned mammals that are in danger of becoming an endangered species. Bats are wrongly accused of destroying crops and spreading diseases such as rabies, and they are confused with their mythical blood-sucking namesakes. Tuttle sets the record straight, showing the important role bats play in pest control and their potential boom for farmers. “A single bat could catch thousands of insects in just one hour,” he writes. “Bats ha[ve] a far better record of living safely with humans than even our beloved dogs, and…they also play essential roles in supporting human economies.” Using implanted microchips to track their behavior, scientists have established that certain bats are comparable to elephants in their ability to maintain complex social relationships. They have highly sophisticated hunting practices and are altruistic within their groups. Tuttle notes that it is not unusual to find as many as 100,000 bats clustered together hibernating. His fascination with them began when he was 12 and he observed them in a cave near his Tennessee home. Encouraged by his father, who was a botanist, he explored the local caves where bats hibernated and studied their migratory behavior. Tuttle's recent attempts to photograph them in their natural habitat have led him through many hair-raising adventures, which he entertainingly chronicles.

A page-turning memoir of curiosity about—and dedication to—a significant part of the natural world.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-544-38227-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: July 8, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2015

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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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Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

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LAB GIRL

Award-winning scientist Jahren (Geology and Geophysics/Univ. of Hawaii) delivers a personal memoir and a paean to the natural world.

The author’s father was a physics and earth science teacher who encouraged her play in the laboratory, and her mother was a student of English literature who nurtured her love of reading. Both of these early influences engrossingly combine in this adroit story of a dedication to science. Jahren’s journey from struggling student to struggling scientist has the narrative tension of a novel and characters she imbues with real depth. The heroes in this tale are the plants that the author studies, and throughout, she employs her facility with words to engage her readers. We learn much along the way—e.g., how the willow tree clones itself, the courage of a seed’s first root, the symbiotic relationship between trees and fungi, and the airborne signals used by trees in their ongoing war against insects. Trees are of key interest to Jahren, and at times she waxes poetic: “Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.” The author draws many parallels between her subjects and herself. This is her story, after all, and we are engaged beyond expectation as she relates her struggle in building and running laboratory after laboratory at the universities that have employed her. Present throughout is her lab partner, a disaffected genius named Bill, whom she recruited when she was a graduate student at Berkeley and with whom she’s worked ever since. The author’s tenacity, hope, and gratitude are all evident as she and Bill chase the sweetness of discovery in the face of the harsh economic realities of the research scientist.

Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-87493-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

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