A SERIES OF FORTUNATE EVENTS

CHANCE AND THE MAKING OF THE PLANET, LIFE, AND YOU

A short, sweet, and scientifically solid view of life.

The award-winning science writer offers evidence that pure chance governs life.

“Look at…all the beauty, complexity, and variety of life,” writes Carroll. “We live in a world of mistakes, governed by chance.” Near the beginning, the author looks at the asteroid that struck Earth 66 million years ago, throwing up so much debris that it blocked the sun, cooling the planet for decades and exterminating most species, including the dinosaurs. Within a few hundred thousand years, the survivors, including mammals, flourished and evolved into many families, including primates and then humans. Such a collision is extremely rare, but humans wouldn’t exist without it. Carroll then offers an expert summary of evolution, a process heavily influenced by geological processes and climate changes that have fluctuated wildly over the past 1 million years, during which our species appeared and grew its large brain. Darwin explained evolution as a series of random variations in offspring that persist if they increase an organism’s reproductive fitness and, over time, spread throughout the species. His work teems with evidence, but scientists found much to quarrel with. Nearly a century passed before discoveries in genetics (the dazzling if clunky mechanism through which variations are passed on) and details of DNA (the engine of genetic changes, itself an ad hoc collection of chemicals) convinced the scientific community. Readers will learn numerous fascinating tales, such as a failed effort to produce a human-chimpanzee hybrid (a “humanzee”), how the ancestors of wooly mammoths from tropical Africa learned to live in the Arctic, and how the AIDS virus jumped from chimps to humans. An amusing coda featuring an invented conversation between dead geniuses and living comedians reinforces the necessity of science even when millions eschew it in favor of a belief that things happen for a reason. Ricky Gervais: “[Science] doesn’t hold on to medieval practices because they are tradition. If it did, you wouldn’t get a shot of penicillin, you’d pop a leach down your trousers and pray.”

A short, sweet, and scientifically solid view of life.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-691-20175-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020

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ELON MUSK

Alternately admiring and critical, unvarnished, and a closely detailed account of a troubled innovator.

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A warts-and-all portrait of the famed techno-entrepreneur—and the warts are nearly beyond counting.

To call Elon Musk (b. 1971) “mercurial” is to undervalue the term; to call him a genius is incorrect. Instead, Musk has a gift for leveraging the genius of others in order to make things work. When they don’t, writes eminent biographer Isaacson, it’s because the notoriously headstrong Musk is so sure of himself that he charges ahead against the advice of others: “He does not like to share power.” In this sharp-edged biography, the author likens Musk to an earlier biographical subject, Steve Jobs. Given Musk’s recent political turn, born of the me-first libertarianism of the very rich, however, Henry Ford also comes to mind. What emerges clearly is that Musk, who may or may not have Asperger’s syndrome (“Empathy did not come naturally”), has nurtured several obsessions for years, apart from a passion for the letter X as both a brand and personal name. He firmly believes that “all requirements should be treated as recommendations”; that it is his destiny to make humankind a multi-planetary civilization through innovations in space travel; that government is generally an impediment and that “the thought police are gaining power”; and that “a maniacal sense of urgency” should guide his businesses. That need for speed has led to undeniable successes in beating schedules and competitors, but it has also wrought disaster: One of the most telling anecdotes in the book concerns Musk’s “demon mode” order to relocate thousands of Twitter servers from Sacramento to Portland at breakneck speed, which trashed big parts of the system for months. To judge by Isaacson’s account, that may have been by design, for Musk’s idea of creative destruction seems to mean mostly chaos.

Alternately admiring and critical, unvarnished, and a closely detailed account of a troubled innovator.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2023

ISBN: 9781982181284

Page Count: 688

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2023

THE ELEPHANTS OF THULA THULA

A heartwarming and inspiring story for animal lovers.

The third volume in the Elephant Whisperer series.

In this follow-up to An Elephant in My Kitchen, Malby-Anthony continues her loving portrait of the Thula Thula wildlife reserve, which she co-founded in 1998 with her late husband, South African conservationist Lawrence Anthony, who published the first book in the series, The Elephant Whisperer, in 2009. Following his death in 2012, Malby-Anthony sought to honor his legacy by continuing his vision “to create a massive conservancy in Zululand, incorporating our land and other small farms and community land into one great big game park.” At the same time, the elephants gave her “a sense of purpose and direction.” In the Zulu language, thula means quiet, and though the author consistently seeks to provide that calm to her charges, peace and tranquility are not always easy to come by at Thula Thula. In this installment, Malby-Anthony discusses many of the challenges faced by her and her staff, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic. These included an aggressive, 2-ton rhino named Thabo; the profound loss felt by all upon the death of their elephant matriarch, Frankie; difficulty obtaining permits and the related risk of having to relocate or cull some of their animals; the fear of looting and fire due to civil unrest in the region; and the ongoing and potentially deadly struggles with poachers. Throughout, the author also shares many warm, lighthearted moments, demonstrating the deep bond felt among the humans and animals at the reserve and the powerful effects of the kindness of strangers. “We are all working in unity for the greater good, for the betterment of Thula Thula and all our wildlife….We are humbled by the generosity and love, both from our guests and friends, and from strangers all around the world,” writes the author. “People’s open-hearted support kept us alive in the darkest times.”

A heartwarming and inspiring story for animal lovers.

Pub Date: April 25, 2023

ISBN: 9781250284259

Page Count: 320

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 22, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2023

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