An illuminating natural history and warning for the future.

EUROPE

A NATURAL HISTORY

A noted paleontologist traces Europe’s land, flora, and fauna over 100 million years.

Australian explorer and conservationist Flannery (Atmosphere of Hope: Searching for Solutions to the Climate Crisis, 2015, etc.), chief councilor of the Australian Climate Council, offers a fascinating geological and natural history of Europe, from its origins as a tropical arc of islands to the present, as the world faces the challenges of rapidly rising temperatures. European biodiversity, writes the author, has been “destroyed and re-made three times over as celestial and tectonic forces shaped the land.” He depicts in colorful detail the variety of wildlife inhabiting the islands along with dinosaurs, including primitive mammals, and strange creatures, such as pythonlike snakes, terrestrial crocodiles with serrated teeth, and “large side-necked turtles.” Today, the midwife toad—a species in which the male gathers up and protects the eggs—represents Europe’s oldest vertebrate family, a survivor of 100 million years of geological catastrophe, including the devastating asteroid crash that precipitated a nuclear winter and, some scientists argue, caused the extinction of dinosaurs. Besides revealing many examples of bizarre animal life—the blind salamander that spends its entire life in caves, for example, and the perissodactyl, an animal with a horselike head and gorillalike body and limbs with huge claws—Flannery traces the migration of fauna between Africa and Europe. About 12 million years ago, he asserts, “the faunas of Kenya and Germany became almost indistinguishable.” Among the fauna were the earliest hominids, which appeared in Europe at least 1 million years earlier than in Africa, although genetic analysis confirms that the genus Homo did evolve in Africa, later migrating to Europe. Around 38,000 years ago, Europe became colonized by a “hybrid human-Neanderthal population.” Today, Flannery concedes that a healthy population of carnivores, larger herbivores, and scavengers is making Europe “a wild and environmentally exciting place,” but he cautions that efforts at “rewilding” need to be carried out with responsible scientific oversight and that indisputable global warming has real impact.

An illuminating natural history and warning for the future.

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2916-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: Oct. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2018

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2016

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • National Book Critics Circle Winner

LAB GIRL

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more