Another winner from Weidensaul that belongs in every birder’s library.

A WORLD ON THE WING

THE GLOBAL ODYSSEY OF MIGRATORY BIRDS

Bird researcher and writer Weidensaul unpacks the state of bird migration research and conservation efforts.

Bird migration is a wonder, a natural force that pushes small, fragile creatures to fly immense distances with both speed and tenacity. In his latest contribution to the subject, the Pulitzer Prize finalist provides a wide-ranging investigation into migration, including the success stories as well as current problems and those on the horizon: climate change, which “is reshaping every single thing about migration”; habitat loss and forest fragmentation, “a serious danger to…migrant songbirds”; rat infestation; and hunting—especially after “wild meat became a status symbol rather than a mere source of protein.” As in many of his previous books, Weidensaul is a peerless guide, sharing his intoxicating passion and decadeslong experience with countless bird species all over the world. Another pleasing aspect of the narrative is the author’s fine-line descriptions of the often remote landscapes through which he has traveled and the vest-pocket character portraits of his birding comrades. Each of the chapters covers one or more species and locales—e.g., frigatebirds in the Galápagos, Amur falcons in China and Mongolia, whimbrels on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, more than 160 species of birds in Denali National Park—but the author also ventures into other areas, such as a bird’s “magnetic orientation” ability and the “genetic road map” that allows them to embark on a successful migration. Of course, significant problems abound: the disappearance of birds’ habitat preferences and favored diets; the traditional trapping of songbirds in the Mediterranean for consumption (according to one estimate in 2016, “trappers were killing between 1.3 million and 3.2 million birds annually in Cyprus, making this small island one of the worst places…for this slaughter”); and the disorientation of urban lights. As the author notes, because of the variety and number of routes, habitats, and species, their protection will require a vigorous global approach.

Another winner from Weidensaul that belongs in every birder’s library.

Pub Date: March 30, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-393-60890-8

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Dec. 31, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2021

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Stuffed full of trivia, data, lore, and anecdote—a pleasure for any fan of trout fishing.

THE UNREASONABLE VIRTUE OF FLY FISHING

The prolific author returns to an old love: angling for trout.

“Any day fishing on a wintry river is a great day,” writes Kurlansky, refuting Tolstoy’s grumpy assertion that angling is “a stupid occupation.” His river of choice is the appropriately named Salmon, in central Idaho, where the water flows so swiftly that Lewis and Clark named it the “River of No Return.” It’s not open in winter, notes the author, but there are other wintry rivers where one can test “the only two rules of fly fishing that cannot be broken: you cannot fall in and you must keep your fly in the water as much as possible. Everything else depends on circumstance.” This being a book by Kurlansky, who never met a fact he didn’t like, the narrative turns from his experiences as a fisherman to a more universal history. First come the fish themselves, the salmonids, which people have been harvesting for millennia. Only one of those species is a true trout, namely Salmo trutta, the brown trout, with every other kind of trout so called only because they resemble it. The author then moves on to the “acclimatization” projects of the French and the British, “an imperialist concept in an age of Empire,” whereby British anglers felt it was only proper that the brown trout follow the course of conquest, which explains why it can now be found in places such as New Zealand, Chile, and South Africa, “to assure that anywhere a British colonist went, there would be good game for a fly rod.” As for rods and flies, Kurlansky geeks out, reciting names that are known to this day: Charles Orvis, for one, whose contributions to the tackle box are legion; and Clarence Birdseye, the frozen-food magnate whose automatically retracting reel when a fish struck was a dismal failure since “hauling out the fish is part of fishing.”

Stuffed full of trivia, data, lore, and anecdote—a pleasure for any fan of trout fishing.

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-63557-307-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Dec. 25, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2021

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An enthusiastic appreciation of a spectacular astrophysical entity.

BLACK HOLE SURVIVAL GUIDE

A short, lively account of one of the oddest and most intriguing topics in astrophysics.

Levin, a Guggenheim fellow and professor of physics and astronomy at Barnard College, knows her subject well, but her goal is appreciation as much as education, and there is much to admire in a black hole. Before Einstein, writes the author, scientists believed that the force of gravity influenced the speed of moving objects. They also knew that light always travels at exactly the speed of light. This combination made no sense until 1915, when Einstein explained that gravity is not a force but a curving of space (really, space-time) near a body of matter. The more massive the matter, the greater it curves the space in its vicinity; other bodies that approach appear to bend or change speed when they are merely moving forward through distorted space-time. Einstein’s equations indicated that, above a certain mass, space-time would curve enough to double back on itself and disappear, but this was considered a mathematical curiosity until the 1960s, when objects that did just that began turning up: black holes. Light cannot emerge from a black hole, but it is not invisible. Large holes attract crowds of orbiting stars whose density produces frictional heating and intense radiation. No writer, Levin included, can contain their fascination with the event horizon, the boundary of the black hole where space-time doubles back. Nothing inside the event horizon, matter or radiation, can leave, and anything that enters is lost forever. Time slows near the horizon and then stops. The author’s discussions of the science behind her subject will enlighten those who have read similar books, perhaps the best being Marcia Bartusiak’s Black Hole (2015). Readers coming to black holes for the first time will share Levin’s wonder but may struggle with some of her explanations.

An enthusiastic appreciation of a spectacular astrophysical entity.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-65822-1

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Aug. 25, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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