The book’s high-interest topic is ill-served by its execution.

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BEASTLY BRAINS

EXPLORING HOW ANIMALS THINK, TALK, AND FEEL

An exploration of animal intelligence.

Castaldo opens with a discussion of brainpower before summarizing historical thinking on animal cognition and then presenting evidence of it, in the form of a dizzying array of experiments on such subtopics as decision-making, empathy, a sense of fairness, and communication, among others. Candy-colored pastel shades and striking photographs make flipping the pages a pleasure, but actually reading them is something of a chore. Sidebars often appear out of sequence with the text and are of varying levels of utility, as is also the case with photo captions. Low points include a reference to the author’s middle school report on dolphins and a photograph of a dolphin alone in a tank that’s labeled, “A dolphin at the National Aquarium is studied by cognitive researchers.” Chapters are broken up into subtopics with catchy headings (“The Hive Brain”; “Emo Rats”) except when they are not, as with a relatively lengthy discussion of interspecies communication that wanders from bonobos to dolphins to Peter Gabriel to orangutans. The book’s sense of its audience is uncertain. Profligate use of exclamation points and simplistic “what would you do” scenarios seem geared to younger readers, while the un-glossed use of such terms as “habeas corpus” and “prosocial,” as well as a conceptually complex model of brain processing, assumes a fairly sophisticated audience.

The book’s high-interest topic is ill-served by its execution. (resources, glossary, source notes, bibliography, index) (Nonfiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: Feb. 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-544-63335-3

Page Count: 160

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 26, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2017

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Painstaking, judicious, and by no means exculpatory but with hints of sympathy.

BONNIE AND CLYDE

THE MAKING OF A LEGEND

A portrait of two victims of the Great Depression whose taste for guns and fast cars led to short careers in crime but longer ones as legends.

Blumenthal (Hillary Rodham Clinton, 2016, etc.) makes a determined effort to untangle a mare’s nest of conflicting eyewitness accounts, purple journalism, inaccurate police reports, and self-serving statements from relatives and cohorts of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. Though the results sometimes read as dry recitations of names and indistinguishable small towns, she makes perceptive guesses about what drove them and why they have become iconic figures, along with retracing their early lives, two-year crime spree, and subsequent transformations into doomed pop-culture antiheroes. She does not romanticize the duo—giving many of their murder victims faces through individual profiles, for instance, and describing wounds in grisly detail—but does convincingly argue that their crimes and characters (particularly Bonnie’s) were occasionally exaggerated. Blumenthal also wrenchingly portrays the desperation that their displaced, impoverished families must have felt while pointedly showing how an overtaxed, brutal legal system can turn petty offenders into violent ones. A full version of Bonnie’s homespun ballad “The Story of Bonnie and Clyde” and notes on the subsequent lives of significant relatives, accomplices, and lawmen join meaty lists of sources and interviews at the end.

Painstaking, judicious, and by no means exculpatory but with hints of sympathy. (photos, timeline, author’s note, source notes, bibliography, index) (Biography. 12-14)

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-451-47122-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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Science literally on the cutting edge, offering prospects of wonder and terror in equal measure.

CRISPR

A provocative report on world-changing developments promised by a dawning breakthrough in biotechnology.

Ridge first goes over the ins and outs of chromosomes and genomes, then explains how certain clusters of “palindromic repeats” found in the DNA of single-celled creatures can be employed to edit with precision any cell’s genetic “instruction manual.” Though just missing the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, she goes on to explore the technique’s current and potential uses and misuses. The former include creating better medicines, cures for cancer and other systemic diseases, new plant varieties, and better livestock; the latter, scrambling ecological balances, cooking up frightening bioweapons, and “Playing God” with human germlines to make designer babies. In general she comes down on the positive side (if for no other reason than that it’s too late to get the cat back into the bag) but doesn’t skimp on laying out complications and quandaries for readers to chew over in formulating their own views. She leavens the hefty informational load as best she can (“The genetic similarity between a human and a banana is 60%”), and Boersma supplies a generous array of staid but lucid diagrams, schematics, and infographics in support. Though it is marketed as a book for readers 14 and up, both graphic design and complexity of language seem to suit it better for middle schoolers. 

Science literally on the cutting edge, offering prospects of wonder and terror in equal measure. (sources, resource lists, index) (Nonfiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-77321-424-5

Page Count: 116

Publisher: Annick Press

Review Posted Online: May 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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