Fruitful reading for students of the environment and of environmental literature, of which this is a fine specimen indeed.




Closing a trilogy on “the mysteries of nature,” German forester Wohlleben (The Inner Life of Animals, 2017) examines complex ecosystems and our interventions in them.

Early on in the book, the author, a lively and engaging writer, unfolds a pleasingly puzzling tale about how salmon help ensure the health of forests, and forests in turn the health of oceans: “The relationship between tress and fish shows just how complicated ecosystems can be….Fish and rivers, it turns out, play an important role in nutrient redistribution.” Teasing out the hows and whys drives Wohlleben’s narrative, which touches on matters as various as the role of fire in managing the growth and health of forests and the critical importance of maintaining apex predators in ecosystems that, without them, eventually become something other than what they evolved to be: Kill off wolves and roe deer populations increase in the forests of Germany, which then, browsed and gnawed, sprout grasses where mosses and ferns used to be, changing the composition of the forest and inviting the likes of bark beetles, which in turn “open the door for creatures that make their living off dead wood.” Beetles, fire, mudslides: All speak to how human tinkering can have unintended consequences in a vast array of landscapes. So, too, can saving just a single species—reintroducing the wolf, say, in those altered forests among deer that don’t know how to run from the predator, making those forests “a pantry stuffed full of tasty treats.” So what’s to be done? Writes Wohlleben, in a provocative and slightly contrarian closing, “we don’t even need to do anything. Just the opposite, in fact. We need to leave things alone—on as large a scale as possible.”

Fruitful reading for students of the environment and of environmental literature, of which this is a fine specimen indeed.

Pub Date: March 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-77164-388-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Greystone Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 26, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2018

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

An authoritative, engaging study of plant life, accessible to younger readers as well as adults.


A neurobiologist reveals the interconnectedness of the natural world through stories of plant migration.

In this slim but well-packed book, Mancuso (Plant Science/Univ. of Florence; The Revolutionary Genius of Plants: A New Understanding of Plant Intelligence and Behavior, 2018, etc.) presents an illuminating and surprisingly lively study of plant life. He smoothly balances expansive historical exploration with recent scientific research through stories of how various plant species are capable of migrating to locations throughout the world by means of air, water, and even via animals. They often continue to thrive in spite of dire obstacles and environments. One example is the response of plants following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Three decades later, the abandoned “Exclusion Zone” is now entirely covered by an enormous assortment of thriving plants. Mancuso also tracks the journeys of several species that might be regarded as invasive. “Why…do we insist on labeling as ‘invasive’ all those plants that, with great success, have managed to occupy new territories?” asks the author. “On a closer look, the invasive plants of today are the native flora of the future, just as the invasive species of the past are a fundamental part of our ecosystem today.” Throughout, Mancuso persuasively articulates why an understanding and appreciation of how nature is interconnected is vital to the future of our planet. “In nature everything is connected,” he writes. “This simple law that humans don’t seem to understand has a corollary: the extinction of a species, besides being a calamity in and of itself, has unforeseeable consequences for the system to which the species belongs.” The book is not without flaws. The loosely imagined watercolor renderings are vague and fail to effectively complement Mancuso’s richly descriptive prose or satisfy readers’ curiosity. Even without actual photos and maps, it would have been beneficial to readers to include more finely detailed plant and map renderings.

An authoritative, engaging study of plant life, accessible to younger readers as well as adults.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-63542-991-6

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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


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