A carefully documented, well-informed conclusion that the jury’s still out.



Naturalist Weidensaul (The Ghost with Trembling Wings, 2002, etc.) assesses where Americans stand as stewards of their natural environment’s amazing diversity.

The author got a significant career steer as a boy from reading Wild America (1955), a chronicle by birding-world icon Roger Tory Peterson and British naturalist James Fisher of their 100-day trek in 1953 covering 30,000 miles of the North American continent from Newfoundland’s Avalon Peninsula to the Pribilof Islands off Alaska. Weidensaul reckoned that following in the duo’s tracks and comparing the state of today’s environment with what they recorded in 1953 would provide a yardstick for judging our performance as keepers of our natural heritage. Perhaps surprisingly to some, the author’s findings do not trend downhill all the way. The quadrupling of the seabird population in the rookeries on Cape St. Mary’s, Newfoundland, since the Peterson/Fisher visit, for instance, brings an initial reassurance. (Because Fisher was a world-renowned expert on seabirds, the original Wild America route was somewhat “coastally biased,” Weidensaul writes, but the team did venture inland to Southern forests, for example, in search of the recently resurfaced Ivory Billed Woodpecker.) And in ticking off environmental legislation that simply didn’t exist in 1953 but now covers everything from whales to minnows, Weidensaul documents a strong record of securing wildlife resources. Yet the inexorable sprawl of human development continues to annihilate natural habitat at an alarming rate in nearly every region of the U.S., he adds, citing as a worst case Pennsylvania’s 47 percent growth in “urban footprint” during 15 years when the state’s population increased by only 2.5 percent. Even that could pale as a threat, the author warns, compared to what global warming may have in store.

A carefully documented, well-informed conclusion that the jury’s still out.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2005

ISBN: 0-86547-688-8

Page Count: 416

Publisher: North Point/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2005

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



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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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 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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