Next book



Bass (Where the Sea Used to Be, 1998, etc.) identifies the triangulate elements used to chart the course of his life and writing. The Bassian motivational universe is hardly a national secret, even to those most fleetingly acquainted with his work: In fiction and nonfiction, it is cut of a cloth, in praise and in defense of those wild places left on earth. One of his three essentials is thus place, in particular the Yaak valley of northwest Montana, his home, inspiration, solace, and love. On that place runs the brown dog, Bass’s pointer, as graceful in the natural world as Bass would like to be. His dog, as irreducible as an element, goes lost, and his valley is imperiled by the same forces that rob wildness everywhere. What happens, Bass asks, when the durable falls away, when vital tethers are severed? “What kind of stories do we tell, as we are falling? How do we live our lives?” Two more guiding stars appear in his firmament: activism and writing. Both he considers as shadows compared with the real—a rock is real, a wolf, a fir tree, his dog—but activism is the tool our political culture affords those who are fiercely protective of the real, and no matter how tedious or against the grain, it must be deployed, and it must be done artfully. Writing as well can touch the wild, “having protected, kept alive, or even enhanced the shape” of the landscape’s gifts. For Bass, these three anchors are also sanctuaries, one of which he will choose as a place where he can hide from the other two; each also opens up experiences left untouched by the others, to be explored as one might a strange house, room to room. Bass is an eloquent essayist; he somehow avoids sermonizing while lecturing, though he too often writes of things better seen and not said, like “starlight on the fur of sleeping wolves,” which sounds awfully mawkish. Pleasant, but Bass’s credo didn’t need a separate book to clarify; none of his works skirt the issue.

Pub Date: June 1, 1999

ISBN: 1-57131-227-7

Page Count: 150

Publisher: Milkweed

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1999

Next book



A quirky wonder of a book.

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. 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

Next book


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

It should come as no surprise that the gifted author of The Sea Around Usand 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 Yorkerare 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

Close Quickview