The author tackles an endangered species with less obvious charm than pandas or dolphins, but his love of them and the lore...

A new entry to the rapidly growing body of literature on endangered animals, this time about a species that has survived for millennia and is found around the world.

Award-winning journalist Laufer (Chair, Journalism/Univ. of Oregon; Organic: A Journalist's Quest to Discover the Truth Behind Food Labeling, 2014, etc.), who is also a documentary filmmaker and broadcaster, has traveled the globe to examine the illegal trade in turtles. He shows the horror of this practice and of both the ingenuity and the stupidity of smugglers (in one chapter, he writes about a smuggler who was caught hiding turtles in his sweatpants). Among the author’s reports on poaching, vendors, chefs, and undercover agents, Laufer inserts short essays on his relationship, or attempted relationship, with his pet turtle, Fred. Another personal touch are the author’s accounts of his encounters with chefs; though he was able to calmly and carefully observe the preparation of turtle soup in a kitchen, the committed vegetarian never sampled the finished dish. The brief Fred stories are welcome changes from some of the disturbing scenes that Laufer describes. An especially memorable one was filmed by a Canadian schoolgirl touring Vancouver’s Chinatown, where she witnessed meat being sliced from live turtles; happily, the publicity that followed did change some Canadian regulations. Judging from the author’s report, however, not nearly enough is being done to protect turtles, tortoises, and terrapins (a distinction many general readers may not know). Laufer, who calls turtles “the canaries in the coalmine called Earth where we all live,” views the process of saving them as being “of existential importance to us all,” and his book is a clear call for action.

The author tackles an endangered species with less obvious charm than pandas or dolphins, but his love of them and the lore he includes makes this a highly readable book.

Pub Date: Nov. 20, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-250-12809-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Aug. 26, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2018



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. 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020



Unsentimental nature writing that sheds as much light on humans as on eels.

An account of the mysterious life of eels that also serves as a meditation on consciousness, faith, time, light and darkness, and life and death.

In addition to an intriguing natural history, Swedish journalist Svensson includes a highly personal account of his relationship with his father. The author alternates eel-focused chapters with those about his father, a man obsessed with fishing for this elusive creature. “I can’t recall us ever talking about anything other than eels and how to best catch them, down there by the stream,” he writes. “I can’t remember us speaking at all….Because we were in…a place whose nature was best enjoyed in silence.” Throughout, Svensson, whose beat is not biology but art and culture, fills his account with people: Aristotle, who thought eels emerged live from mud, “like a slithering, enigmatic miracle”; Freud, who as a teenage biologist spent months in Trieste, Italy, peering through a microscope searching vainly for eel testes; Johannes Schmidt, who for two decades tracked thousands of eels, looking for their breeding grounds. After recounting the details of the eel life cycle, the author turns to the eel in literature—e.g., in the Bible, Rachel Carson’s Under the Sea Wind, and Günter Grass’ The Tin Drum—and history. He notes that the Puritans would likely not have survived without eels, and he explores Sweden’s “eel coast” (what it once was and how it has changed), how eel fishing became embroiled in the Northern Irish conflict, and the importance of eel fishing to the Basque separatist movement. The apparent return to life of a dead eel leads Svensson to a consideration of faith and the inherent message of miracles. He warns that if we are to save this fascinating creature from extinction, we must continue to study it. His book is a highly readable place to begin learning.

Unsentimental nature writing that sheds as much light on humans as on eels.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-296881-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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