One doesn’t have to be a bird enthusiast to relish this book, but it would be the most perfect gift for anyone who is.

THE MOST PERFECT THING

INSIDE (AND OUTSIDE) A BIRD'S EGG

A thrilling voyage through what most of us think of as an ordinary item sold at the supermarket.

Birkhead (Animal Behavior and History of Science/Univ. of Sheffield; Bird Sense: What It’s Like to Be a Bird, 2012, etc.), an expert in the reproductive biology of birds, takes readers on an outside-to-inside journey through an egg. Before launching his trip, the erudite and entertaining British author introduces egg collecting, a now-forbidden pastime that began in the 17th century with wealthy amateurs filling private cabinets with beautiful eggshells, many of them plundered from guillemot nests on the cliffs of Skomer of South Wales. Turning to eggs themselves, Birkhead tells how the outside is formed and what lovely shapes and beautiful colors shells can make. Each chapter moves inward, focusing next on the protective albumin and then the huge, food-filled yolk. Finally, the author provides a chapter on the laying of the egg, its incubation, and the hatching of the chick. This is no basic biology text, however. Birkhead, an accomplished popular science writer, is also an authority on the history of science. The journey through the egg is full of side trips into earlier times and related stories. It seems that even Aristotle and William Harvey found eggs puzzling, and although researchers today, equipped with scanning electron microscopes, have revealed many of the egg’s mysteries, the remaining gaps in knowledge are significant. What makes this book such a pleasure is not just the author’s breadth of knowledge—he has researched guillemots for more than 40 years—but his unbridled enthusiasm and the clarity of his explanations. The black-and-white illustrations are simple and clear, and the backmatter includes a helpful glossary for general readers as well as extensive notes, a bibliography, and a list of birds mentioned in the text.

One doesn’t have to be a bird enthusiast to relish this book, but it would be the most perfect gift for anyone who is.

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-63286-369-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

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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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Whether you call this a personal story or nature writing, it’s poignant, thoughtful and moving—and likely to become a...

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H IS FOR HAWK

An inspired, beautiful and absorbing account of a woman battling grief—with a goshawk.

Following the sudden death of her father, Macdonald (History and Philosophy/Cambridge Univ.; Falcon, 2006, etc.) tried staving off deep depression with a unique form of personal therapy: the purchase and training of an English goshawk, which she named Mabel. Although a trained falconer, the author chose a raptor both unfamiliar and unpredictable, a creature of mad confidence that became a means of working against madness. “The hawk was everything I wanted to be: solitary, self-possessed, free from grief, and numb to the hurts of human life,” she writes. As a devotee of birds of prey since girlhood, Macdonald knew the legends and the literature, particularly the cautionary example of The Once and Future King author T.H. White, whose 1951 book The Goshawk details his own painful battle to master his title subject. Macdonald dramatically parallels her own story with White’s, achieving a remarkable imaginative sympathy with the writer, a lonely, tormented homosexual fighting his own sadomasochistic demons. Even as she was learning from White’s mistakes, she found herself very much in his shoes, watching her life fall apart as the painfully slow bonding process with Mabel took over. Just how much do animals and humans have in common? The more Macdonald got to know her, the more Mabel confounded her notions about what the species was supposed to represent. Is a hawk a symbol of might or independence, or is that just our attempt to remake the animal world in our own image? Writing with breathless urgency that only rarely skirts the melodramatic, Macdonald broadens her scope well beyond herself to focus on the antagonism between people and the environment.

Whether you call this a personal story or nature writing, it’s poignant, thoughtful and moving—and likely to become a classic in either genre.

Pub Date: March 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0802123411

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

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