LEONARDO'S MOUNTAIN OF CLAMS AND THE DIET OF WORMS

ESSAYS ON NATURAL HISTORY

In the latest selection from this self-described “essay-machine,” Gould gathers together sundry Natural History columns, mingling natural history knowhow with his characteristic humanist outlook. Gould (Zoology & Geology/Harvard, Questioning the Millennium, 1997, etc.) takes his main cue here less from great scientists’ successes than from their all-too-human blunders. Opening with a masterful appreciation of da Vinci’s remarkable observations about erosion and fossilized clams—and their lesser-known context of his entirely medieval world-view—Gould displays a deep appreciation not only for the natural world but also for the mind’s attempts to understand it, even at the risk of error. “Nothing can be quite so informative and illuminating as a truly juicy error,— he observes in his discussion of the unsung 18th-century naturalist Mendes da Costa’s attempted application of the hierarchical Linnean nomenclature to rocks. Equally juicy errors addressed elsewhere include astronomer Percival Lowell’s “canals” of Mars and the way Lowell’s ideas about extraterrestrial life resurfaced in the 1996 debate over bacterial evidence in a Martian meteorite; Russian Vladimir Kovalevsky’s groundbreaking classification of the horse’s ancestry along Darwinian evolutionary lines; and Victorian physiologist Walter H. Gaskell’s nuttily wrong “inversion theory” about vertebrates and invertebrates, which actually enjoys a kind of resonance on the genetic level. Some errors deserve only castigation (or correction), such as the loss of the dodo both as a species and a scientific specimen (only fragments remain in museums). Gould also assays topics ranging from the coexistence of hominid species in human evolution to a gruesome root-headed parasite. However out-of-left- field the subject, he still manages to charm us with characteristically energetic, down-to-earth lucidity. Gently iconoclastic, always illuminating essays from the science writer whose prose can bring to life not only theories but even the fossils themselves. (30 b&w illustrations)

Pub Date: Oct. 7, 1998

ISBN: 0-609-60141-5

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Harmony

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1998

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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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As much a work of philosophy as of physics and full of insights for readers willing to work hard.

THE ORDER OF TIME

Undeterred by a subject difficult to pin down, Italian theoretical physicist Rovelli (Reality Is Not What It Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity, 2017, etc.) explains his thoughts on time.

Other scientists have written primers on the concept of time for a general audience, but Rovelli, who also wrote the bestseller Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, adds his personal musings, which are astute and rewarding but do not make for an easy read. “We conventionally think of time,” he writes, “as something simple and fundamental that flows uniformly, independently from everything else, uniformly from the past to the future, measured by clocks and watches. In the course of time, the events of the universe succeed each other in an orderly way: pasts, presents, futures. The past is fixed, the future open….And yet all of this has turned out to be false.” Rovelli returns again and again to the ideas of three legendary men. Aristotle wrote that things change continually. What we call “time” is the measurement of that change. If nothing changed, time would not exist. Newton disagreed. While admitting the existence of a time that measures events, he insisted that there is an absolute “true time” that passes relentlessly. If the universe froze, time would roll on. To laymen, this may seem like common sense, but most philosophers are not convinced. Einstein asserted that both are right. Aristotle correctly explained that time flows in relation to something else. Educated laymen know that clocks register different times when they move or experience gravity. Newton’s absolute exists, but as a special case in Einstein’s curved space-time. According to Rovelli, our notion of time dissolves as our knowledge grows; complex features swell and then retreat and perhaps vanish entirely. Furthermore, equations describing many fundamental physical phenomena don’t require time.

As much a work of philosophy as of physics and full of insights for readers willing to work hard.

Pub Date: May 18, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1610-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

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