More meditative than fiery, Manning provides a revealing, heedful “window into what the world is doing about agriculture,...

FOOD’S FRONTIER

THE NEXT GREEN REVOLUTION

Manning (Grassland, 1996, etc.), a shrewd and passionate environmentalist, strikes a reserved, cerebral chord here as he discusses how some third-world countries are facing the looming food shortage.

Now that the Green Revolution, in its doddering 40s, has spent its last nickel to feed an ever-growing global population, Manning wants to know where it will find the food to satisfy the eight billion hungry mouths that will be with us in 2025. To see where agriculture is headed, he visits nine projects in countries as diverse as Peru, China, and Uganda, projects underwritten by the McKnight Foundation (which also underwrote Manning’s research and travel). In each place he visits, Manning paints some background material, mostly environmental and political, that very much helps put what follows in context. In Ethiopia, the ancient grain tef is being tried out to increase crop yields, but a chance to speed the breeding process by use of molecular markers is running into some newfangled problems: each project must be associated with an American university (supposedly to provide “scientific firepower”), but Ethiopia’s school (Texas Tech) is typically “interested in pulling in the funding but lacking the institutional commitment to work long-term on the problem.” In Zimbabwe, Manning finds that the native sorghum varieties have more names than Inuits have for snow, but that AIDS may well be dealing with the burgeoning population all by itself. And India demonstrates the “paradox that the successes of the Green Revolution have, in turn, created great need.” As for biotechnology, the author presents a sensible chapter winnowing the wheat from the chaff, but his “enough may well be at stake to merit a bold experiment,” is glancing and short on his trademark suspiciousness.

More meditative than fiery, Manning provides a revealing, heedful “window into what the world is doing about agriculture, and what urgently needs to be done.”

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-86547-593-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: North Point/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2000

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A quirky wonder of a book.

WHY FISH DON'T EXIST

A STORY OF LOSS, LOVE, AND THE HIDDEN ORDER OF LIFE

A Peabody Award–winning NPR science reporter chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century scientist and how her quest led to significant revelations about the meaning of order, chaos, and her own existence.

Miller began doing research on David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) to understand how he had managed to carry on after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his work. A taxonomist who is credited with discovering “a full fifth of fish known to man in his day,” Jordan had amassed an unparalleled collection of ichthyological specimens. Gathering up all the fish he could save, Jordan sewed the nameplates that had been on the destroyed jars directly onto the fish. His perseverance intrigued the author, who also discusses the struggles she underwent after her affair with a woman ended a heterosexual relationship. Born into an upstate New York farm family, Jordan attended Cornell and then became an itinerant scholar and field researcher until he landed at Indiana University, where his first ichthyological collection was destroyed by lightning. In between this catastrophe and others involving family members’ deaths, he reconstructed his collection. Later, he was appointed as the founding president of Stanford, where he evolved into a Machiavellian figure who trampled on colleagues and sang the praises of eugenics. Miller concludes that Jordan displayed the characteristics of someone who relied on “positive illusions” to rebound from disaster and that his stand on eugenics came from a belief in “a divine hierarchy from bacteria to humans that point[ed]…toward better.” Considering recent research that negates biological hierarchies, the author then suggests that Jordan’s beloved taxonomic category—fish—does not exist. Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence.

A quirky wonder of a book.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6027-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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Unsentimental nature writing that sheds as much light on humans as on eels.

THE BOOK OF EELS

OUR ENDURING FASCINATION WITH THE MOST MYSTERIOUS CREATURE IN THE NATURAL WORLD

An account of the mysterious life of eels that also serves as a meditation on consciousness, faith, time, light and darkness, and life and death.

In addition to an intriguing natural history, Swedish journalist Svensson includes a highly personal account of his relationship with his father. The author alternates eel-focused chapters with those about his father, a man obsessed with fishing for this elusive creature. “I can’t recall us ever talking about anything other than eels and how to best catch them, down there by the stream,” he writes. “I can’t remember us speaking at all….Because we were in…a place whose nature was best enjoyed in silence.” Throughout, Svensson, whose beat is not biology but art and culture, fills his account with people: Aristotle, who thought eels emerged live from mud, “like a slithering, enigmatic miracle”; Freud, who as a teenage biologist spent months in Trieste, Italy, peering through a microscope searching vainly for eel testes; Johannes Schmidt, who for two decades tracked thousands of eels, looking for their breeding grounds. After recounting the details of the eel life cycle, the author turns to the eel in literature—e.g., in the Bible, Rachel Carson’s Under the Sea Wind, and Günter Grass’ The Tin Drum—and history. He notes that the Puritans would likely not have survived without eels, and he explores Sweden’s “eel coast” (what it once was and how it has changed), how eel fishing became embroiled in the Northern Irish conflict, and the importance of eel fishing to the Basque separatist movement. The apparent return to life of a dead eel leads Svensson to a consideration of faith and the inherent message of miracles. He warns that if we are to save this fascinating creature from extinction, we must continue to study it. His book is a highly readable place to begin learning.

Unsentimental nature writing that sheds as much light on humans as on eels.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-296881-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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