An unusual and vastly entertaining journey into the world of mysterious plant life as experienced by a gifted nature writer.

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THE CABARET OF PLANTS

FORTY THOUSAND YEARS OF PLANT LIFE AND THE HUMAN IMAGINATION

A prolific and talented British nature writer explores 40 plant species and how they have influenced the human imagination over the centuries.

Comprised of equal portions of knowledge, delight, and surprise, Mabey’s (The Ash and the Beech: The Drama of Woodland Change, 2013, etc.) botanical history advocates for elevating the status of plants within the natural world. Rather than being taken for granted as passive vegetation and viewed as merely “the furniture of the planet,” the author recounts “a story about plants as authors of their own lives and an argument that ignoring their vitality impoverishes our imaginations and our well-being.” Each section opens with a brief essay presenting a theme—e.g., “How To See A Plant,” “The Shock of The Real: Scientists and Romantics,” “The Victorian Plant Theatre”—followed by an exploration of specific plants. For those unschooled in botany, these preliminary excursions are nifty gateways into the unknown. Mabey artfully combines historical and contemporary scientific writings, literary musings, and his personal recollections concerning his plant subjects. The author ranges across time from the interest showed by Paleolithic cave artists and the vegetation in their environment to how both Neolithic farmers and 18th-century scientists attempted to understand the mysteries of agriculture and plant cultivation. Though many of the individuals and a handful of the plants Mabey discusses may be unfamiliar to some American readers, the author skillfully melds together this bounty of insights, opinions, and scientific facts into a coherent and intelligent narrative, overcoming any initial unfamiliarity readers may experience. Numerous drawings and photographs enhance the book. What Mabey does best is invite readers to think about plants in a radical new way, even posing the question as to whether a plant’s sensory abilities—electrostatic charges, chemical communication through pheromones and bio-acoustic sound waves—actually constitute intelligence.

An unusual and vastly entertaining journey into the world of mysterious plant life as experienced by a gifted nature writer.

Pub Date: Jan. 11, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-393-23997-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Sept. 23, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2015

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

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

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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NO ONE IS TOO SMALL TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE

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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