A well-constructed, colorful read for animal lovers.

ZOO STORY

LIFE IN THE GARDEN OF CAPTIVES

An in-depth look behind the gates of an American zoo.

Former St. Petersburg Times Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter French (Journalism/Indiana Univ.) gained unusual access to zoo personnel to research this vivid account of the hidden workings of Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo during a tumultuous six-year period. Dwarfed by Busch Gardens and Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Lowry was headed by CEO Lex Salisbury, an ambitious visionary with grandiose expansion plans. In the first of many sharply rendered scenes, French opens with the remarkable air-lifting of 11 wild elephants from Africa to the United States, where four of the awesome creatures served as the foundation for Lowry’s planned five-acre “Safari Africa” area. The author describes animal-rights groups’ vehement protests to the uprooting of the elephants from their Swaziland game reserve and the legitimate concerns of many specialists that American zoos are not properly equipped to care for the animals. Nonetheless, the elephants—immensely popular with zoo-goers—were certain to boost attendance and revenue at Lowry. French explores the clash at Lowry and other zoos between a mission to conserve animals and a desire to entertain people. The author recounts aspects of life at the city-owned facility: the deaths of its stellar residents, a beautiful tiger and a playful chimp; staff drills in how to return escaped animals to exhibits; a black-tie fundraising gala; and the growing turnover among dedicated zookeepers, who feel overworked and underpaid while Lowry officials pursue increasingly glitzy plans, including a 258-acre game park. In 2008, the mass escape of 15 monkeys from the site of the planned game park prompted a city audit of the relationship between the nonprofit zoo and the for-profit game park that eventually led to Salisbury’s forced resignation amid charges of conflict of interest. Based on articles that appeared in the St. Petersburg Times, the book captures the fascination humans have with animals, and vice versa, and raises questions about the purpose and management of zoos.

A well-constructed, colorful read for animal lovers.

Pub Date: July 6, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4013-2346-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2010

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A quirky wonder of a book.

WHY FISH DON'T EXIST

A STORY OF LOSS, LOVE, AND THE HIDDEN ORDER OF LIFE

A Peabody Award–winning NPR science reporter chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century scientist and how her quest led to significant revelations about the meaning of order, chaos, and her own existence.

Miller began doing research on David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) to understand how he had managed to carry on after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his work. A taxonomist who is credited with discovering “a full fifth of fish known to man in his day,” Jordan had amassed an unparalleled collection of ichthyological specimens. Gathering up all the fish he could save, Jordan sewed the nameplates that had been on the destroyed jars directly onto the fish. His perseverance intrigued the author, who also discusses the struggles she underwent after her affair with a woman ended a heterosexual relationship. Born into an upstate New York farm family, Jordan attended Cornell and then became an itinerant scholar and field researcher until he landed at Indiana University, where his first ichthyological collection was destroyed by lightning. In between this catastrophe and others involving family members’ deaths, he reconstructed his collection. Later, he was appointed as the founding president of Stanford, where he evolved into a Machiavellian figure who trampled on colleagues and sang the praises of eugenics. Miller concludes that Jordan displayed the characteristics of someone who relied on “positive illusions” to rebound from disaster and that his stand on eugenics came from a belief in “a divine hierarchy from bacteria to humans that point[ed]…toward better.” Considering recent research that negates biological hierarchies, the author then suggests that Jordan’s beloved taxonomic category—fish—does not exist. Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence.

A quirky wonder of a book.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6027-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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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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