EIGHT LITTLE PIGGIES

REFLECTIONS IN NATURAL HISTORY

Who could resist a title like that—and, knowing the author, who wouldn't surmise that Gould (Bully for Brontosaurus, 1991, etc.) is again up to his old trick of demonstrating that five fingers and five toes are not the primordial/canonical mammalian standard. Thanks to the discovery of species of ancient tetrapods (four- legged terrestrial vertebrates) living upwards of 350 million years ago, we now have evidence of seven- and eight-toed critters. So Gould sounds forth on a favorite theme of diversity and experimentation early in the course of evolution, with bushy branches off the tetrapod trunk and not ascent up a ladder that ends in humanity. And that's just the title essay, one of 31 Gould has distilled here from his monthly column in Natural History. He offers a reader's guide up front, explaining his clusterings of essays, advising that he has at last addressed the issue of species-destruction by human interventions (in poignant essays on the passenger pigeons and species of snails, which are to Gould what beetles were to Darwin), and, finally, telling dear reader which are his favorites—and why. Of the latter, he likes his people pieces and those essays in which the fossil evidence itself is used to illuminate the thinking of scientists within a cultural milieu. Gould points out that scientific discovery is never an act of pure reason nor totally culturally relative, but a marriage of the two. Elsewhere, there are wonderful essays on setting the record straight (Eugene Dubois and Java man); anatomy (how jaw bones became ear bones); essays with baseball references, on Darwin, on the brain, on evolution.... In sum, essays that reveal Gould in midlife, as passionate and articulate as ever, but older and wiser. Gould says the columns will continue through January 2001—for which readers everywhere should be grateful. (Drawings.)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1993

ISBN: 0-393-03416-X

Page Count: 507

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1992

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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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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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