Genoways memorably captures the difficult lives nonindustrial farmers lead in order to feed the world.

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THIS BLESSED EARTH

A YEAR IN THE LIFE OF AN AMERICAN FAMILY FARM

Journalist Genoways (The Chain: Farm, Factory, and the Fate of Our Food, 2014, etc.) returns to further study farming in America.

The author’s latest book is quieter and more meditative, as he chronicles his immersion in the seasons of a Nebraska family trying to survive on their family acres. Some of the mood conveyed by the up-close narrative reflects the quietness of desperation, as unpredictable weather, international market fluctuations, the changing practices of seed suppliers, the availability of water for irrigation, and government agricultural supports conspire to create greater-than-usual questions about whether patriarch Rick Hammond, his daughter, Meghan Hammond, and her husband, Kyle Galloway, can pay their bills in rural Nebraska. Genoways is a Nebraskan but did not grow up on a farm. He is a master at portraying the unique qualities of this Midwestern state but a novice about the intricacies of earning a living as a family farmer. Rick, Meghan, and Kyle exhibited remarkable patience schooling the author, allowing him to participate in their activities and record their thoughts over the months. Most of the book focuses on the farming of corn and soybeans, but Genoways also devotes interludes to the very different pursuit of raising beef cattle. The narrative is more or less chronological, following the seasons, but the author occasionally diverges to explore the characters of his protagonists and of farmers in general. For example, Rick can be generous to a fault with fellow farmers yet simultaneously competitive about crop growth—in this zero-sum game, every neighbor who sells higher might mean Rick selling slightly lower. Meghan’s back story is especially fascinating, as the author chronicles why she intended to leave farming but ended up pulled back in to the profession.

Genoways memorably captures the difficult lives nonindustrial farmers lead in order to feed the world.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-393-29257-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 28, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2017

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Ackerman writes with a light but assured touch, her prose rich in fact but economical in delivering it. Fans of birds in all...

THE GENIUS OF BIRDS

Science writer Ackerman (Ah-Choo!: The Uncommon Life of Your Common Cold, 2010, etc.) looks at the new science surrounding avian intelligence.

The takeaway: calling someone a birdbrain is a compliment. And in any event, as Ackerman observes early on, “intelligence is a slippery concept, even in our own species, tricky to define and tricky to measure.” Is a bird that uses a rock to break open a clamshell the mental equivalent of a tool-using primate? Perhaps that’s the wrong question, for birds are so unlike humans that “it’s difficult for us to fully appreciate their mental capabilities,” given that they’re really just small, feathered dinosaurs who inhabit a wholly different world from our once-arboreal and now terrestrial one. Crows and other corvids have gotten all the good publicity related to bird intelligence in recent years, but Ackerman, who does allow that some birds are brighter than others, points favorably to the much-despised pigeon as an animal that “can remember hundreds of different objects for long periods of time, discriminate between different painting styles, and figure out where it’s going, even when displaced from familiar territory by hundreds of miles.” Not bad for a critter best known for bespattering statues in public parks. Ackerman travels far afield to places such as Barbados and New Caledonia to study such matters as memory, communication, and decision-making, the last largely based on visual cues—though, as she notes, birds also draw ably on other senses, including smell, which in turn opens up insight onto “a weird evolutionary paradox that scientists have puzzled over for more than a decade”—a matter of the geometry of, yes, the bird brain.

Ackerman writes with a light but assured touch, her prose rich in fact but economical in delivering it. Fans of birds in all their diversity will want to read this one.

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59420-521-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

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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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