THE NATURE OF HORSES

EXPLORING EQUINE EVOLUTION, INTELLIGENCE, AND BEHAVIOR

Budiansky, a writer at U.S. News and World Report, may not provide as many ``insights into the true nature of the beast'' as he hopes, but he serves up fascinating historical, behavioral, and biological nuggets about our equine friends. Troubled that our understanding of Equus caballus is badly flawed, Budiansky (Nature's Keepers, 1995) endeavors to set the record straight, clearing the air of ``what millenniums of tradition, love, and wishful thinking have sometimes muddled,'' and telling the horses' story through the ``objective tools of science.'' He starts at the beginning of domestication, 6,000 years ago, with the Sredni Stog people. They, it is surmised, either clambered atop the horse or ate him; their bones are mixed together at archaeological digs in the Ukraine, marking the onset of a long, fruitful association. Horses and humans discovered what they had in common: an intuitive language of dominance and submission, an adaptation to grasslands, a social fabric built on subordination to authority and trust. Budiansky's portrait delves into mitochondrial DNA analysis, the mechanics of movement and eyesight and vocalization, but he's hesitant to guess at the ultimate meaning of this data. He is less edifying but far more entertaining when he occasionally hazards subjective rather than scientific information, as in his observation of the horse's ability to interpret subtle social cues shared with humans (dispelling notions of horses as mind readers) or when he simply throws out an idea he has concerning their fabled homing instinct. And he's incisive when describing the curious world of the stud book and the ambiguous effects of inbreeding. As a science journalist, Budiansky brings together a wealth of equine research; as the devoted horseman he is, he knows there is more than the objective interface, and that magic is a persistent part of the equation. (70 drawings and photos)

Pub Date: April 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-684-82768-9

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1997

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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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Exemplary writing about the world and a welcome gift to readers.

HORIZON

Distinguished natural history writer and explorer Lopez (Outside, 2014, etc.) builds a winning memoir around books, voyages, and biological and anthropological observations.

“Traveling, despite the technological innovations that have brought cultural homogenization to much of the world, helps the curious and attentive itinerant understand how deep the notion goes that one place is never actually like another.” So writes the author, who has made a long career of visiting remote venues such as Antarctica, Greenland, and the lesser known of the Galápagos Islands. From these travels he has extracted truths about the world, such as the fact that places differ as widely as the people who live in them. Even when traveling with scientists from his own culture, Lopez finds differences of perception. On an Arctic island called Skraeling, for instance, he observes that if he and the biologists he is walking with were to encounter a grizzly feeding on a caribou, he would focus on the bear, the scientists on the whole gestalt of bear, caribou, environment; if a native of the place were along, the story would deepen beyond the immediate event, for those who possess Indigenous ways of knowledge, “unlike me…felt no immediate need to resolve it into meaning.” The author’s chapter on talismans—objects taken from his travels, such as “a fist-size piece of raven-black dolerite”—is among the best things he has written. But there are plentiful gems throughout the looping narrative, its episodes constructed from adventures over eight decades: trying to work out a bit of science as a teenager while huddled under the Ponte Vecchio after just having seen Botticelli’s Venus; admiring a swimmer as a septuagenarian while remembering the John Steinbeck whom he’d met as a schoolboy; gazing into the surf over many years’ worth of trips to Cape Foulweather, an Oregon headland named by Capt. James Cook, of whom he writes, achingly, “we no longer seem to be sailing in a time of fixed stars, of accurate chronometers, and of reliable routes.”

Exemplary writing about the world and a welcome gift to readers.

Pub Date: March 20, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-394-58582-6

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 26, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2018

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