Attention animal lovers and science buffs: Although Shipman is an academic, there is no classroom atmosphere here; the...



In an easy, conversational style, American Scientist contributor Shipman (Anthropology/Penn State Univ.; Femme Fatale: Love, Lies, and the Unknown Life of Mata Hari, 2007, etc.) sets forth her theory that our connection with animals is in large measure what makes us human.

The author argues that the urge to care for and connect with other species is a universal human trait and that the animal connection dates from more than 2.6 million years ago when our ancestors began using stone tools to process animal carcasses as food. The use of stone tools not only changed what our ancestors ate but what they needed to know about the behavior of animals around them. Sharing this knowledge about animals was essential to their success as predators, and, writes Shipman, most of the prehistoric art that we can understand depicts medium- or large-sized animals, not landscapes, people, vegetation or insects. The author posits that interacting with animals led not only to the making of tools and to the development of symbolic behavior, including language, but another major advance in human evolution: the domestication of other species. She writes that domestication transformed animals into living tools that enabled humans to expand their abilities and exploit new resources, and that communicating with animals and training them called for a new set of skills that had to be learned, stored and transmitted. Throughout the book are black-and-white photographs of stone and bone tools, art objects and other visual evidence that Shipman presents to back up her theory that the animal connection was instrumental in shaping our species. In the final chapter, she looks at the animal connection in the modern world. Noting that it was what gave humans the vital skills of empathy, understanding and compromise, she concludes that we still have a deep need to be involved with animals and expresses her concern that this need may go unrecognized in an increasingly industrialized world.

Attention animal lovers and science buffs: Although Shipman is an academic, there is no classroom atmosphere here; the writing is refreshingly jargon-free, and the narrative may persuade pet owners to take a fresh look at their charges.

Pub Date: June 14, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-393-07054-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2011

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A quirky wonder of a book.



A Peabody Award–winning NPR science reporter chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century scientist and how her quest led to significant revelations about the meaning of order, chaos, and her own existence.

Miller began doing research on David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) to understand how he had managed to carry on after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his work. A taxonomist who is credited with discovering “a full fifth of fish known to man in his day,” Jordan had amassed an unparalleled collection of ichthyological specimens. Gathering up all the fish he could save, Jordan sewed the nameplates that had been on the destroyed jars directly onto the fish. His perseverance intrigued the author, who also discusses the struggles she underwent after her affair with a woman ended a heterosexual relationship. Born into an upstate New York farm family, Jordan attended Cornell and then became an itinerant scholar and field researcher until he landed at Indiana University, where his first ichthyological collection was destroyed by lightning. In between this catastrophe and others involving family members’ deaths, he reconstructed his collection. Later, he was appointed as the founding president of Stanford, where he evolved into a Machiavellian figure who trampled on colleagues and sang the praises of eugenics. Miller concludes that Jordan displayed the characteristics of someone who relied on “positive illusions” to rebound from disaster and that his stand on eugenics came from a belief in “a divine hierarchy from bacteria to humans that point[ed]…toward better.” Considering recent research that negates biological hierarchies, the author then suggests that Jordan’s beloved taxonomic category—fish—does not exist. Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence.

A quirky wonder of a book.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6027-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

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


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