Dry if well-researched: best for students of naval history.



Dive, dive! Ah-oogah, ah-oogah!

Beg pardon, but military historian Parrish (Berlin in the Balance, 1998, etc.) steers his text so far away from Run Silent, Run Deep–like clichés (and, sadly, excitement) that the reader may feel compelled to provide some. Instead, Parrish’s narrative duly points to the evolution of the submarine from experimental tinker toy to tactical spearhead. A high point comes early on, when Parrish discusses the many sources of the modern submarine, including designs by Leonardo da Vinci; 16th-century English mathematician William Bourne; American naval architects Robert Fulton and David Bushnell; and the unsung Irish revolutionary John Holland, whose Fenian Ram of 1878 “came close to ranking as the first functioning submarine.” In WWI, Parrish holds, the now fully functioning submarine “exercised decisive political influence”; it helped shape political alliances that eventually drew America into the Allied cause, and its manufacture and use were political as much as strategic matters. Had it had only 50 more submarines, one English leader remarked, Germany would have won that naval battle, as it very nearly did the Battle of the Atlantic in WWII. Parrish revisits now-familiar episodes in WWII naval history, including the deciphering of the German Enigma cryptographic system. But, usefully, he illuminates some lesser-known aspects of the conflict: the lack of coordination among the Axis naval powers (Pearl Harbor, Parrish writes, was as a surprise to the Germans as to the Americans) and the successful application of German tactics on the part of American submariners in the Pacific, especially against Japanese merchant ships. Parrish closes his narrative with an examination of the modern superpowers’ submarine forces, including the Soviets’ accident-prone supersubs and the Americans’ stealthy “boomers,” which are still in service today. In that modern era, he observes, the submarine had evolved still further, from highwayman-like destroyer of merchant ships to a powerful instrument of nuclear deterrence—and “queen of warships.”

Dry if well-researched: best for students of naval history.

Pub Date: May 10, 2004

ISBN: 0-670-03313-8

Page Count: 572

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2004

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A quirky wonder of a book.



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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Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

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Award-winning scientist Jahren (Geology and Geophysics/Univ. of Hawaii) delivers a personal memoir and a paean to the natural world.

The author’s father was a physics and earth science teacher who encouraged her play in the laboratory, and her mother was a student of English literature who nurtured her love of reading. Both of these early influences engrossingly combine in this adroit story of a dedication to science. Jahren’s journey from struggling student to struggling scientist has the narrative tension of a novel and characters she imbues with real depth. The heroes in this tale are the plants that the author studies, and throughout, she employs her facility with words to engage her readers. We learn much along the way—e.g., how the willow tree clones itself, the courage of a seed’s first root, the symbiotic relationship between trees and fungi, and the airborne signals used by trees in their ongoing war against insects. Trees are of key interest to Jahren, and at times she waxes poetic: “Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.” The author draws many parallels between her subjects and herself. This is her story, after all, and we are engaged beyond expectation as she relates her struggle in building and running laboratory after laboratory at the universities that have employed her. Present throughout is her lab partner, a disaffected genius named Bill, whom she recruited when she was a graduate student at Berkeley and with whom she’s worked ever since. The author’s tenacity, hope, and gratitude are all evident as she and Bill chase the sweetness of discovery in the face of the harsh economic realities of the research scientist.

Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-87493-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

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