As popular natural histories go, Alexander's is a yeoman's work, with enough telling details to give the elephant a justly...

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THE ASTONISHING ELEPHANT

AN ARDENT APPRECIATION OF AN ASTONISHING ANIMAL

An entertaining albeit at times overengrossed portrait—cultural, physiological, historical—of the elephant.

Since she can remember, Alexander (Happy Days, 1995) has been hooked on elephants. This then is her tribute to the great pachyderms, an Everyman's natural history that throws them in very winning light: ``They have essential nobility, serenity, sagacity, loyalty and playfulness, a simple goodness, a lack of animosity . . . they convey a sense of perfect beings.'' In an effort to embed this sentiment in the reader's mind, Alexander pursues both anecdotal and scientific tacks. The anecdotal material is delivered with a suave assurance. There is the mythic and nearmythic—the elephant dream of the Buddha's mother, the mammoths of Paleolithic cave art, and Hannibal's driving the beasts over the Alps (even if ``it is not clear what [Hannibal's] object was in bringing the elephants with him'')—and there are the plentiful zoo and circus stories, many of which are exemplars in displaying humans as the elephants' worst enemy (among the grotesqueries: tickets were sold to attend the electrocutions of rogue circus elephants). When Alexander hits scientific ground, she is less sure about what to include, so she tosses in everything. Her coverage of the zoological and conservation work of the DouglasHamiltons is intriguing, as is the research work of Cynthia Moss and Katy Payne. But when it comes to temperature inversions enhancing sound propagation, transrectal ultrasound probes, the importance of knowing that elephants have four salivary glands, and the like, the focus reaches critical mass and burns its connection with the intended lay readership. Her message of the elephants' peril—a result of poaching and habitat loss for both the Asian and African species—hits home hard, perhaps the most important element of the book.

As popular natural histories go, Alexander's is a yeoman's work, with enough telling details to give the elephant a justly unique, mesmeric image. (16-page photo insert, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-679-45660-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2000

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A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

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NO ONE IS TOO SMALL TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE

A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

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Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

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LAB GIRL

Award-winning scientist Jahren (Geology and Geophysics/Univ. of Hawaii) delivers a personal memoir and a paean to the natural world.

The author’s father was a physics and earth science teacher who encouraged her play in the laboratory, and her mother was a student of English literature who nurtured her love of reading. Both of these early influences engrossingly combine in this adroit story of a dedication to science. Jahren’s journey from struggling student to struggling scientist has the narrative tension of a novel and characters she imbues with real depth. The heroes in this tale are the plants that the author studies, and throughout, she employs her facility with words to engage her readers. We learn much along the way—e.g., how the willow tree clones itself, the courage of a seed’s first root, the symbiotic relationship between trees and fungi, and the airborne signals used by trees in their ongoing war against insects. Trees are of key interest to Jahren, and at times she waxes poetic: “Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.” The author draws many parallels between her subjects and herself. This is her story, after all, and we are engaged beyond expectation as she relates her struggle in building and running laboratory after laboratory at the universities that have employed her. Present throughout is her lab partner, a disaffected genius named Bill, whom she recruited when she was a graduate student at Berkeley and with whom she’s worked ever since. The author’s tenacity, hope, and gratitude are all evident as she and Bill chase the sweetness of discovery in the face of the harsh economic realities of the research scientist.

Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-87493-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

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