Whether the author is opining on mass extinctions, the importance of plankton, the history of lighthouses, or the epicurean...

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SHARK DRUNK

THE ART OF CATCHING A LARGE SHARK FROM A TINY RUBBER DINGHY IN A BIG OCEAN

Accomplished Norwegian historian, journalist, and photographer Strøksnes invites readers into the fantastical ocean environment of his quest to capture a Greenland shark.

More than just a chronicle of two men (the author and his artist friend, Hugo Aasjord) discussing their surroundings as they drift along off the coast of Norway, the narrative follows the pair’s lofty goal of snaring one of the world’s largest beasts from their small rubber boat. A few of the strange qualities of their prey include its ability to dive to more than 4,000 feet, “sawblade teeth” and “suctioning lips that ‘glue’ larger prey to its mouth while chewing,” and poisonous flesh that smells like urine. They can also live to be 400 years old and weigh more than a ton. During their endeavor, whether on the ocean or sidelined on the rugged land due to inhospitable weather, Strøksnes and Aasjord tackled a variety of existential questions while contemplating the magnificent, complex mysteries of the ocean. Their conversations range over subjects as diverse as mythology, poetry, history, literature, and science, all interspersed with their observations. In the hands of a less skilled storyteller, readers may have felt burdened by the amount of information, but Strøksnes handles it well. Following the philosophical proclamation that “life cannot exist without death, and the cycle of life is what keeps the planet in harmony,” the author explains how the men planned to use the decomposed carcass of a Scottish bull as bait, after which he provides an enlightening vignette on the history of that hardy breed. While tracking down the rotting carcass, the author also describes the surrounding countryside, including the ancient sacrificial altars he encountered.

Whether the author is opining on mass extinctions, the importance of plankton, the history of lighthouses, or the epicurean treat of boiled cod tongues, readers will happily devour this smorgasbord of delights.

Pub Date: June 29, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-451-49348-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: April 10, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2017

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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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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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