If awareness, goodwill, and motivation are key, this highly readable report is a valuable effort to turn the Cecil moment...

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WHEN THE LAST LION ROARS

THE RISE AND FALL OF THE KING OF THE BEASTS

A travel writer and photojournalist chronicles the history and assesses the current precarious conditions of one of the world’s most beloved animals.

When the well-known Zimbabwean lion Cecil was killed by an American trophy hunter in 2015, the outrage that followed indicated the emotional ties that we have with the “king of beasts.” Evans, who has written for the Boston Globe, Lonely Planet, and other publications, offers an in-depth report on the status of lions around the world, which are now facing extinction. She begins her account with cave lions, a species roaming the Earth during the Ice Age and known today from a few fossils and from paintings in the Chauvet Cave in Ardèche, France. The author speculates about their demise and then examines the reasons why the present-day species, Panthera leo, has declined catastrophically from the millions to perhaps 20,000 in sub-Saharan Africa and some 500 in a preserve in Gujarat, India. In two chapters, darkly titled “People Hate Lions, Part I and Part II,” Evans shows how humans have been a major factor in their decline. She makes clear the impact of loss of wild habitat through conversion of lion country to farm country, the impact of bushmeat hunting and killing to obtain lion body parts for medicinal use, and the rise in viral infections. Evans combines research and personal experience to investigate the issues involved, showing both points of view in the controversial question of whether trophy hunting is a positive or a negative force. She also looks at the conflicts that arise when human beings and lions live in close proximity to each other. Much of her book, however, is focused on conservation efforts. She demonstrates the successes achieved by conservation projects all over Africa as well as the problems they face.

If awareness, goodwill, and motivation are key, this highly readable report is a valuable effort to turn the Cecil moment into a movement.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4729-1613-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Bloomsbury Wildlife

Review Posted Online: June 18, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2018

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Ackerman writes with a light but assured touch, her prose rich in fact but economical in delivering it. Fans of birds in all...

THE GENIUS OF BIRDS

Science writer Ackerman (Ah-Choo!: The Uncommon Life of Your Common Cold, 2010, etc.) looks at the new science surrounding avian intelligence.

The takeaway: calling someone a birdbrain is a compliment. And in any event, as Ackerman observes early on, “intelligence is a slippery concept, even in our own species, tricky to define and tricky to measure.” Is a bird that uses a rock to break open a clamshell the mental equivalent of a tool-using primate? Perhaps that’s the wrong question, for birds are so unlike humans that “it’s difficult for us to fully appreciate their mental capabilities,” given that they’re really just small, feathered dinosaurs who inhabit a wholly different world from our once-arboreal and now terrestrial one. Crows and other corvids have gotten all the good publicity related to bird intelligence in recent years, but Ackerman, who does allow that some birds are brighter than others, points favorably to the much-despised pigeon as an animal that “can remember hundreds of different objects for long periods of time, discriminate between different painting styles, and figure out where it’s going, even when displaced from familiar territory by hundreds of miles.” Not bad for a critter best known for bespattering statues in public parks. Ackerman travels far afield to places such as Barbados and New Caledonia to study such matters as memory, communication, and decision-making, the last largely based on visual cues—though, as she notes, birds also draw ably on other senses, including smell, which in turn opens up insight onto “a weird evolutionary paradox that scientists have puzzled over for more than a decade”—a matter of the geometry of, yes, the bird brain.

Ackerman writes with a light but assured touch, her prose rich in fact but economical in delivering it. Fans of birds in all their diversity will want to read this one.

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59420-521-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

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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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