Detailed and insightful, this book is as relevant as ever in this era of rapid climate change.

THE WEATHER EXPERIMENT

THE PIONEERS WHO SOUGHT TO SEE THE FUTURE

In 1800, no one had a clue about what controlled “the heavens,” which made the unlikely science of meteorology one of the most remarkable accomplishments of the 19th century.

At the turn of the century, the unpredictability of weather was often devastating. Storms tore through cities and upended ships without mercy. These conditions were perfectly suited to the mostly divine theories about what controlled the weather. Despite the progress in fields including astronomy, geology, and physics, no one had yet unlocked the mysteries of the skies. This sets the scene for the arrival of an eclectic group of intrepid observers committed to decoding the weather. Moore (Damn His Blood: Being a True and Detailed History of the Most Barbarous and Inhumane Murder at Oddingley and the Quick and Awful Retribution, 2012) writes about this band of ad hoc scientists with brio, and it’s hard not to be awed and charmed by their united “quest to prove that earth’s atmosphere was not chaotic beyond comprehension, that it could be studied, understood and, ultimately, predicted.” This diverse group shared a naturalist bent, and they included adventurers, sailors, engineers, chemists, inventors, and artists. The author argues that perhaps the most notable figure was Robert FitzRoy, who famously captained Darwin’s Beagle. An enigmatic and complex man, he went on to forge the analytical and social foundations of meteorology. By the 1860s, a vocabulary that categorized weather patterns had begun to codify, and the first storm warnings and weather forecasts were introduced. Enhanced by a revolutionary new technology, the telegraph, the weather shifted from an experience that always occurred in the present to a hotly discussed topic that transcended time and place. Moore complements chapters of readable scientific history with lyrical interludes reminding us that, even when deconstructed, the harmonies of the natural world cannot be contained.

Detailed and insightful, this book is as relevant as ever in this era of rapid climate change.

Pub Date: June 2, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-86547-809-1

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Faber & Faber/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: April 1, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2015

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A quirky wonder of a book.

WHY FISH DON'T EXIST

A STORY OF LOSS, LOVE, AND THE HIDDEN ORDER OF LIFE

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

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

THE BOOK OF EELS

OUR ENDURING FASCINATION WITH THE MOST MYSTERIOUS CREATURE IN THE NATURAL WORLD

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: March 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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