Bird lovers and fans of well-written science history will love this revelatory and intoxicating biography.

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THE WONDERFUL MR WILLUGHBY

THE FIRST TRUE ORNITHOLOGIST

An impressive biography of the “man who began the scientific study of birds.”

Birkhead (Animal Behavior and History of Science/Univ. of Sheffield; The Most Perfect Thing: Inside (and Outside) a Bird’s Egg, 2016, etc.) studies the life and work of a birder who was in the “right place at the right time,” Francis Willughby (1635-1672). With his good friend and tutor at Trinity College, John Ray, the two formed “one of the great partnerships in biology.” After Willughby’s death at the age of 36, Ray went on to edit and publish Willughby’s three massive, major scientific studies in Latin of fish, insects, and his “blockbuster,” Ornithology. Until now, Ray’s contributions have historically overshadowed Willughby’s. Thanks to the availability of new primary source materials, Birkhead is able to provide a “far more complete portrait” of the man who formed the foundation of a new type of natural history in general and ornithology in particular. A member of the landed gentry, Willughby received a superb university education while the scientific revolution of the 17th century was in full bloom. With a novelist’s flair for narrative, Birkhead recounts the young man’s many adventures on expeditions, often accompanied by Ray, and his groundbreaking discoveries. He describes Willughby as industrious, enthusiastic, and “evidently a nice man.” But it’s his scientific accomplishments that interest the author the most. In great detail, he examines Willughby’s vast research in fish species, bird reproduction, migration, feathers, insects, sap, classifications, chemistry, and even “a book of games.” Birkhead describes examining Willughby’s large specimen case with 1,200 compartments and finding not just a vast collection of seeds, but also 133 eggs: “During my research career I have had a few Eureka moments, but this was one of the best.”

Bird lovers and fans of well-written science history will love this revelatory and intoxicating biography.

Pub Date: July 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4088-7848-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: May 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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