SEASONS ON THE PACIFIC COAST

A NATURALIST'S NOTEBOOK

Informative but too-cute essays on the animals, plants, and sea life of the California, Oregon, and Washington coasts. NPR commentator Tweit, who lives in the Southwest, gladly admits to being an outsider to the Pacific coast region, “a tourist to this shore.” Small matter, for as a practiced naturalist and careful observer, she’s done her homework very well, turning in careful observations on the life ways of kelp, sea lions, and starfish, among others. Organizing her short essays by season, she takes her readers on a leisurely tour of a 2,000-mile stretch of country, one that gives a strong sense of the wide range of ecosystems that border the Pacific. Regrettably, Tweit cannot resist the urge to be both treacly and preachy. Does any reader of nature books, anywhere, need to be told that “we forget, at our peril, that nature is the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat—it truly is our home—? When she sticks to straight description, however, Tweit is very good, and readers who tiptoe through the minefield of sentimentality can learn quite a lot about such denizens of the cold Pacific as eelgrass, which nourishes the inhabitants of the coast’s tidal marshes, “among the most fertile ecosystems on earth—; sand dollars, echinoderms that suspend themselves in tidewater to feed on tiny organisms; and sea otters, which, Tweit writes, control the population of sea urchins, which in turn, if left unchecked, can “clearcut whole giant kelp groves, their insatiable grazing denuding the once lush forests of the ocean bottom.” (Even so, she adds, abalone fishermen kill otters indiscriminately, holding that otters devour fish that ought rightly to wind up on humans” tables.) Good science meets bad poetry to make a nature book that’s just so-so, but that may be of interest to some beachgoers. (illustrations)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-8118-2080-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Chronicle Books

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1999

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

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

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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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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