Gould's picks of the best of six years' worth of his ``This View of Life'' columns in Natural History add up to dozens of choice essays. The themes are familiar—reflections on evolution as bush of diversity and not ladder of progress; as chance and not design; as punctuated equilibrium and not gradualism. There are wonderful disquisitions on special creatures like Australian platypuses and echidnas, not only exceptional as egg-laying mammals but equipped with large and, in the case of the echidna, richly convoluted brains. (They score pretty well on maze test, too.) Then there are the mother frogs who use their stomachs as brood pouches delivering live-born froglets from their mouths. Alas, this species may have gone extinct as part of the strange worldwide decline in amphibian populations in recent years. Kiwis come in for discussion a couple of times, in one case as an example of wanton predation by a dog, thus giving the lie to the clichÇ that only man kills for pleasure. And, as always, Gould, the George Will of paleontology, waxes eloquent on his favorite sport, baseball, sometimes for lessons in probability, sometimes as a springboard for one of Gould's favorite scholarly sports: supplying historical correctives. Thus we learn the real truth behind Abner Doubleday and Cooperstown, N.Y.; what Huxley and Bishop Wilberforce really said in the Great Debate; and how the Burgess Shale was really discovered. Teaching and its decline; textbooks and their decline; and other signs of the decrepitude of the culture are balanced by the cheer and zeal with which Gould extols advances in science like the space probe Voyager. Finally, there is the admirable Gouldian trait of un-pedantry, according to which he sides with the post office in choosing the technically incorrect but popular name for the dinosaur depicted in a recent issue. Bully for Brontosaurus and bully for Gould, too.

Pub Date: May 13, 1991

ISBN: 0-393-02961-1

Page Count: 524

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1991

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...


Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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

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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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