Not intended as an exposé, but as an overview, the book strikes at the heart of hot-button issues with an Everyman appeal.

READ REVIEW

ALL NATURAL

A SKEPTIC'S QUEST FOR HEALTH AND HAPPINESS IN AN AGE OF ECOLOGICAL ANXIETY

In his debut, journalist and This American Life contributor Johnson examines aspects of medicine, food and the environment to encourage informed decisions among readers caught between the nature-vs.-technology argument.

The author personalizes his topics by filtering them through accounts of his upbringing during the 1980s as the son of then-countercultural parents who embraced natural living and through his journey into parenthood. Though he admits to a romanticism that favors a “natural aura,” he remains open to contrary evidence and allows that both camps can be valid at different times. Johnson examines controversies with choice anecdotes, research and interviews, including: the success of midwifery at reducing maternal deaths in comparison to births aided by common obstetrical interventions; the belief that raw milk carries harmful pathogens while pasteurized milk is safer; the back-to-the-land school of thought when it comes to nutrition versus the results of industrialized chemistry; the purported dangers of sugar consumption; risks and benefits related to vaccination; homeopathic and allopathic approaches to medicine; and large-scale and sustainable farming. The most intriguing sections feature studies on human milk and on anthropological findings in remote areas, while sections that recall the author's childhood perspective border on the indulgent. Johnson surmises that nature and technology could coexist—a balanced and perhaps obvious view unlikely to satisfy the fringes—but he presents a refreshing optimism that neither extolls the organic to the point of supporting pseudoscience nor negates the value of scientific advancements.

Not intended as an exposé, but as an overview, the book strikes at the heart of hot-button issues with an Everyman appeal.

Pub Date: Jan. 29, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-60529-074-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Rodale

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2012

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Ackerman writes with a light but assured touch, her prose rich in fact but economical in delivering it. Fans of birds in all...

THE GENIUS OF BIRDS

Science writer Ackerman (Ah-Choo!: The Uncommon Life of Your Common Cold, 2010, etc.) looks at the new science surrounding avian intelligence.

The takeaway: calling someone a birdbrain is a compliment. And in any event, as Ackerman observes early on, “intelligence is a slippery concept, even in our own species, tricky to define and tricky to measure.” Is a bird that uses a rock to break open a clamshell the mental equivalent of a tool-using primate? Perhaps that’s the wrong question, for birds are so unlike humans that “it’s difficult for us to fully appreciate their mental capabilities,” given that they’re really just small, feathered dinosaurs who inhabit a wholly different world from our once-arboreal and now terrestrial one. Crows and other corvids have gotten all the good publicity related to bird intelligence in recent years, but Ackerman, who does allow that some birds are brighter than others, points favorably to the much-despised pigeon as an animal that “can remember hundreds of different objects for long periods of time, discriminate between different painting styles, and figure out where it’s going, even when displaced from familiar territory by hundreds of miles.” Not bad for a critter best known for bespattering statues in public parks. Ackerman travels far afield to places such as Barbados and New Caledonia to study such matters as memory, communication, and decision-making, the last largely based on visual cues—though, as she notes, birds also draw ably on other senses, including smell, which in turn opens up insight onto “a weird evolutionary paradox that scientists have puzzled over for more than a decade”—a matter of the geometry of, yes, the bird brain.

Ackerman writes with a light but assured touch, her prose rich in fact but economical in delivering it. Fans of birds in all their diversity will want to read this one.

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59420-521-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2016

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • National Book Critics Circle Winner

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more