Opens interesting doors—it would be good to see more along this line.

READ REVIEW

LEARNING FROM THE OCTOPUS

HOW SECRETS FROM NATURE CAN HELP US FIGHT TERRORIST ATTACKS, NATURAL DISASTERS, AND DISEASE

A marine ecologist looks at social problems from the perspective of natural science.

Sagarin (Environmental Policy/Univ. of Arizona) identifies adaptability as the key to survival in an uncertain world. Improvised responses to threats—the “hillbilly armor” U.S. troops adopted to defend against roadside IEDs—are a clear example. A key point is that natural selection operates not just in the wild but in modern asymmetrical warfare, where lightly armed insurgents take on large professional armies. The high casualty rate among insurgents is a selective pressure; the stupid and incompetent are killed off, and those who survive are better equipped to fight on—as the Taliban has done in Afghanistan. The author argues that dedicated task forces are less effective at problem solving than independent groups seeking answers to a specific challenge. Redundant features, which efficiency experts hate, aid survival by preserving vital information, and cooperation and exchange of information among organisms in the same environment is a major tool for increased security. Sagarin cites cooperation among Middle East countries, bitter rivals in many ways, that helped slow the spread of H1N1 in 2009-10. Even the apparently irrational “sacred truths” of religious minorities can be turned to assets in the survival of larger groups, by such simple means as athletics. The author is sometimes too abstract in his approach. However, when gives real-life examples, either from nature or from human society, the points are usually convincing, and he provides plentiful documentation.

Opens interesting doors—it would be good to see more along this line.

Pub Date: April 2, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-465-02183-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2012

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Macho prose full of praise for would-be warriors and the men who train them, seemingly designed to enthrall young men, boost...

CHOSEN SOLDIER

THE MAKING OF A SPECIAL FORCES WARRIOR

Former Navy SEAL Couch redeploys the you-are-there approach of The Warrior Elite (2001) to depict the grueling training undergone by Army Special Forces Class 8-04.

Popularly known as the Green Berets, this elite program has a graduation rate of less than one in five. Beginning in August 2004, the author stayed for ten months at Camp Mackall in North Carolina, following the men closely as they were winnowed and hardened by the Special Forces Qualification Course and subsequent specialized training programs. First, however, Couch gives civilian readers some basic information about the mission and organization of Special Forces, a group that he believes is essential to winning the global war on terrorism. Standards are high, and candidates undergo mental and psychological screening as well as physical and professional assessment. The Green Berets, Couch stresses, are soldier-teachers who must be able to connect with and train local people to battle insurgents in their own country. Using lots of army acronyms and lingo, the veteran novelist (Silent Descent, 1993, etc.) creates an on-the-spot picture of the men’s tough, dirty and exhausting daily life. Couch not only observes and reports on the exceptionally demanding classroom- and field-training, he interviews many students and their instructors. Class members, here given pseudonyms, seem to talk freely about their reasons for being in the program and their reactions to the training; staff comments about the men (including those who leave, voluntarily or involuntarily) are also frank.

Macho prose full of praise for would-be warriors and the men who train them, seemingly designed to enthrall young men, boost recruitment and please the army.

Pub Date: March 6, 2007

ISBN: 0-307-33938-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2006

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DOLPHIN DIARIES

MY TWENTY-FIVE YEARS WITH SPOTTED DOLPHINS IN THE BAHAMAS

A cetologist chronicles her 25 field-season summers studying generations of Atlantic spotted dolphins.

Beginning in 1985, Herzing, then in her early 30s, traveled to an area in the Bahamas, a known home to families of friendly dolphins, and began tracking them, analyzing behavioral traits and the courting and mating habits of what she believes to be “one of the most advanced nonhuman intelligence on the planet.” Initially taking an anthropological approach, she quickly realized that an interactive, participatory methodology would play a more critical role in her research. So she dove in, equipped with scuba gear, cameras and a “hydrophone” for video-recording the dolphins’ highly expressive underwater vocalizations and behavior. Herzing passionately writes of her first summer cautiously immersed in the marine mammal’s world of clicks and whistles, their playtime and foreplay and in naming the dolphins and ultimately reconstructing elaborate family trees. Though it would take her five years to establish some semblance of shared trust and solace with the apprehensive dolphin pods, the many summers that followed only served to reinforce the author’s enthusiasm and perseverance for the wide-eyed observation of mothers and calves, their babysitting mystique, intricate interspecies relations (humans included) and elaborate communication coding. The author’s liberal use of “anthropomorphizing” (ascribing emotions to the dolphins) only adds to the exploration’s allure, especially when threatening elements like storms, dangerous water currents and hungry sharks enter the picture. Herzing’s fervent work became disrupted, however, by three hurricanes the 2004-5 seasons, which displaced many of the dolphins she’d been meticulously documenting. Inspired by the pioneering work of Jacques Cousteau, Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey, Herzing’s focused, captivating account concludes with moving animal-rights arguments centered around the injustices foisted upon defenseless cetaceans and the many other species senselessly killed or held in cruel captivity.  

 

Pub Date: July 5, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-312-60896-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2011

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