KANZI

THE APE AT THE BRINK OF THE HUMAN MIND

Ape-language specialist Savage-Rumbaugh and science writer Lewin (co-author of Origins with Richard Leakey, 1977) run the superchimp Kanzi past us once again with this latest in the current deluge of books on animal brain power. Kanzi—already a phenom with Newsweek, Time, and National Geographic covers to his credit—is an ape with a mind of his own; his facility with communication (via a special keyboard) is a marvel. But Kanzi gets only limited airtime here; he's more like a sideshow barker's prop to entice the customers. The authors spend most of the book going over the history of ape-language research (and it does go back: Samuel Pepys's name is mentioned), briefly rummage in linguistic theory (long enough to unconvincingly trash Noam Chomsky), and visit with other ape subjects. When it comes to the use of language by the great apes, the jury is still out; they might have even gone home. Theorists continue to debate the importance of production versus comprehension, to dispute intentionality, to worry about an ape's reflectiveness. It is to Savage-Rumbaugh's credit that she gives as much importance to glances, gestures, and postures as communicative modes as she does to utterances and keyboard talent. It seems quite clear that the apes have no interest in joining the Yale debating squad, so why put them to that measure? When Kanzi is brought into the story, the tone lightens. He is a clever, humorous, astonishing character, and his developing relationship with Savage-Rumbaugh is where Lewin really shines. The quickly sketched vignettes are uniformly winning: For instance, Savage-Rumbaugh has her keys snatched by an obstreperous member of the ape troupe. She asks Kanzi to get them back. He shuffles over to the offending ape, murmurs in his ear, and the keys are returned forthwith. Call this effort ``Notes Toward an Understanding,'' for every theory is conjecture, but there are also many fine nuggets to be mined. (Photos, not seen) (First serial to Discover)

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1994

ISBN: 0-471-58591-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Wiley

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1994

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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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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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