A pleasure even for those who simply like the idea of Alaska, let alone pine to go there.

ALASKA

TALES OF ADVENTURE FROM THE LAST FRONTIER

Fast becoming the dean of Alaskan adventure writing, Walker (Coming Back Alive, 2001, etc.) assembles here a crackerjack collection of evocative writings from that state, spread over time and geography.

The selection of well-worn material could easily have come from a commonplace book of passages—in some cases, whole stories or articles—on Alaska. A few are pure adventure and dread, such as Larry Kaniut's account of a man drowning after his legs get stuck in a mudflat. Others showcase Alaskan institutions like the Iditarod, caught best by Gary Paulsen in first-hand experience with that great, numbing race. No collection of this sort would be complete without Jack London’s “To Build a Fire,” perhaps the best-known Yukon story of all time, but Walker also finds room for London’s fine profile of gold prospectors. “No Christian martyr ever possessed greater faith than did the pioneers of Alaska,” writes London, but even he is outdone in bleakness by the excerpt from Richard Matthews’s The Yukon: “They arrived to claim their reward and found that it was claimed already; there was no good ground left to stake and thousands to stake it.” The saving grace of his tale is in the humor as prospector after prospector is done in by the crazy circumstances. “Hope dies hard,” notes Matthews, “and in its terminal agonies it is not particular about its sustenance.” Mind you, the descriptions of how to get to the gold fields run by the Klondike News in 1898 should have been enough to send prospectors right back home. The gold-rush section is certainly the strongest here, but all of it is worth reading, from Jan Aspen’s fictional account of hunting to Dave Brown’s dry observations on the rapacious world of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, “the most interesting fiasco I have ever been allowed to participate in.”

A pleasure even for those who simply like the idea of Alaska, let alone pine to go there.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2002

ISBN: 0-312-27562-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2001

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

THE BOOK OF EELS

OUR ENDURING FASCINATION WITH THE MOST MYSTERIOUS CREATURE IN THE NATURAL WORLD

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!

SILENT SPRING

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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