Authoritative history of man's relationship with whales, presented in lively, straightforward prose. Ellis completes his comprehensive two-volume account of the cetaceans of the world (The Book of Whales, 1980) with a history of man's pursuit of whales. Anticipating that such a story would divide into three parts—ancient man's discovery of whales; the rise of the whaling industry; and the fall of the whaling industry—he found instead multiple beginnings in countries settled by whalers, and endings that devolved on species of whales being hunted to the brink of extinction, at which point they were of no further profit. In the 19th century, he explains, whale oil provided illumination and lubrication that was superior to that of vegetable oils, and whalers were admired as doing a necessary and dangerous job. When hunting meant ``hanging on to a wounded, 60-ton animal with a length of rope attached to a bouncing rowboat,'' there was ground for the whaler's heroic image. After the invention of the grenade harpoon and bow-mounted cannon, though, each species of whale was efficiently and ruthlessly hunted. Ellis records the many whale fisheries throughout history, beginning with those of the Basques in A.D. 1000, who are thought to have hunted the Atlantic gray whale into extinction. (The history of whaling has been a dismal record of human greed always and everywhere). He intersperses his chronicle with diverting interludes on the white whale (the beluga—unlike Moby Dick, a ``small, smiling, puddinglike creature''); the sea- unicorn—actually the narwhal, whose long, straight tusk found its way into crown-jewel collections; and life aboard a whaler, an employment so filthy that one 19th-century chronicle said that cockroaches in the crew's quarters made ``a noise like a flush of quails among the dry leaves of the forest.'' A fine and expert accomplishment. (Three hundred photographs, paintings, drawings, and maps—most seen.)

Pub Date: Oct. 30, 1991

ISBN: 0-394-55839-1

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1991

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...


Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

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A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

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