Transforms a much-maligned annoyance into a topic worthy of fascination.

WEEDS

IN DEFENSE OF NATURE'S MOST UNLOVED PLANTS

British nature writer and popular BBC personality Mabey (Unofficial Countryside, 2010, etc.) cultivates an intriguing mix of natural history, botany and anecdotes from the frontlines of his own weed-infested garden.

A weed is often defined as “a plant in the wrong place,” writes the author at the beginning of this loving and lyrical tribute to those he refers to as “botanical thugs.” He goes on to discuss how weeds originate, since the source of and paths traveled by various seeds can often be traced, much like a family lineage. Through his examination of the historical hows and whys of seed travel, the author artfully explains how these jet-lagged seeds can create unique gardens anywhere from marshy river banks to desolate, cracked parking lots. His engaging writing style transforms what might otherwise be a stodgy, uninteresting field guide into a literary stroll through an English garden. Mabey may be pro-weed, but his gentle voice is oddly persuasive, reminding readers that weeds are nothing more than “a plant growing where you would prefer other plants to grow, or sometimes no plants at all,” and “the victims of guilt by association, and seen as sharing the dubious character of the company they keep.” Throughout the ages, weeds have been both praised for their healing measures and feared for their “seemingly diabolical powers.” Regardless how their worth is perceived, none can deny the inspiration they’ve provided throughout the annals of history as important figures in history and literature. Shakespeare, for example, mentions more than 100 species of wild plant in his works. Mabey’s deft and spirited treatise on nature’s supervillains will have readers remembering A.A. Milne’s defense of weeds in Winnie the Pooh: “Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them.”

Transforms a much-maligned annoyance into a topic worthy of fascination.

Pub Date: June 28, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-06-206545-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 6, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2011

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Whether you call this a personal story or nature writing, it’s poignant, thoughtful and moving—and likely to become a...

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H IS FOR HAWK

An inspired, beautiful and absorbing account of a woman battling grief—with a goshawk.

Following the sudden death of her father, Macdonald (History and Philosophy/Cambridge Univ.; Falcon, 2006, etc.) tried staving off deep depression with a unique form of personal therapy: the purchase and training of an English goshawk, which she named Mabel. Although a trained falconer, the author chose a raptor both unfamiliar and unpredictable, a creature of mad confidence that became a means of working against madness. “The hawk was everything I wanted to be: solitary, self-possessed, free from grief, and numb to the hurts of human life,” she writes. As a devotee of birds of prey since girlhood, Macdonald knew the legends and the literature, particularly the cautionary example of The Once and Future King author T.H. White, whose 1951 book The Goshawk details his own painful battle to master his title subject. Macdonald dramatically parallels her own story with White’s, achieving a remarkable imaginative sympathy with the writer, a lonely, tormented homosexual fighting his own sadomasochistic demons. Even as she was learning from White’s mistakes, she found herself very much in his shoes, watching her life fall apart as the painfully slow bonding process with Mabel took over. Just how much do animals and humans have in common? The more Macdonald got to know her, the more Mabel confounded her notions about what the species was supposed to represent. Is a hawk a symbol of might or independence, or is that just our attempt to remake the animal world in our own image? Writing with breathless urgency that only rarely skirts the melodramatic, Macdonald broadens her scope well beyond herself to focus on the antagonism between people and the environment.

Whether you call this a personal story or nature writing, it’s poignant, thoughtful and moving—and likely to become a classic in either genre.

Pub Date: March 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0802123411

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

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The book is not entirely negative; final chapters indicate roads of reversal, before it is too late!

SILENT SPRING

It should come as no surprise that the gifted author of The Sea Around Us and its successors can take another branch of science—that phase of biology indicated by the term ecology—and bring it so sharply into focus that any intelligent layman can understand what she is talking about.

Understand, yes, and shudder, for she has drawn a living portrait of what is happening to this balance nature has decreed in the science of life—and what man is doing (and has done) to destroy it and create a science of death. Death to our birds, to fish, to wild creatures of the woods—and, to a degree as yet undetermined, to man himself. World War II hastened the program by releasing lethal chemicals for destruction of insects that threatened man’s health and comfort, vegetation that needed quick disposal. The war against insects had been under way before, but the methods were relatively harmless to other than the insects under attack; the products non-chemical, sometimes even introduction of other insects, enemies of the ones under attack. But with chemicals—increasingly stronger, more potent, more varied, more dangerous—new chain reactions have set in. And ironically, the insects are winning the war, setting up immunities, and re-emerging, their natural enemies destroyed. The peril does not stop here. Waters, even to the underground water tables, are contaminated; soils are poisoned. The birds consume the poisons in their insect and earthworm diet; the cattle, in their fodder; the fish, in the waters and the food those waters provide. And humans? They drink the milk, eat the vegetables, the fish, the poultry. There is enough evidence to point to the far-reaching effects; but this is only the beginning,—in cancer, in liver disorders, in radiation perils…This is the horrifying story. It needed to be told—and by a scientist with a rare gift of communication and an overwhelming sense of responsibility. Already the articles taken from the book for publication in The New Yorker are being widely discussed. Book-of-the-Month distribution in October will spread the message yet more widely.

The book is not entirely negative; final chapters indicate roads of reversal, before it is too late!  

Pub Date: Sept. 27, 1962

ISBN: 061825305X

Page Count: 378

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1962

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