An exciting adventure story set against a sobering picture of the Mexican political scene.




A quest to find the legendary imperial woodpecker takes ornithologist Gallagher (Falcon Fever: A Falconer in the Twenty-first Century, 2008 etc.) on a trek through the dangerous byways of Mexico's Sierra Madre.

Since his earlier discovery of the related ivory-billed woodpecker, also thought to be extinct, the author was hopeful of tracking its cousin. Their impressive plumage and loud “trumpetlike toot” made them easily identifiable, and part of their vulnerability came from their social nature, as the animals clustered in groups to protect wounded birds. Considered a pest by farmers (including opium producers) and loggers who cleared the land, it was ruthlessly hunted while its habitat was destroyed. Reportedly, some also considered it a delicacy. By 2008, Gallagher was convinced that it was imperative to make the attempt to locate and protect any of these great birds that remained alive. His problem was not only the dangers inherent in trekking through steep mountain trails, but the fact that the region was controlled by ruthless drug lords and lower-level kidnappers who took advantage of the lawless environment to extort money from local inhabitants and luckless visitors. Gallagher chronicles his own trips to the area, where he was befriended by Mormon ranchers and guided by a member of the drug cartel, as well as the hair-raising adventures of others. The author sets his tale against the historical backdrop of the region, which was home to the Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa and provided sanctuary to Apache Indians fleeing American troops. Finally having relinquished his quest, he compares himself to the prospectors and treasure hunters who once scoured the area, and he concludes that he would have had “a far better chance of getting killed in the Sierra Madre” than succeeding.

An exciting adventure story set against a sobering picture of the Mexican political scene.

Pub Date: April 16, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4391-9152-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2013

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Ackerman writes with a light but assured touch, her prose rich in fact but economical in delivering it. Fans of birds in all...


Science writer Ackerman (Ah-Choo!: The Uncommon Life of Your Common Cold, 2010, etc.) looks at the new science surrounding avian intelligence.

The takeaway: calling someone a birdbrain is a compliment. And in any event, as Ackerman observes early on, “intelligence is a slippery concept, even in our own species, tricky to define and tricky to measure.” Is a bird that uses a rock to break open a clamshell the mental equivalent of a tool-using primate? Perhaps that’s the wrong question, for birds are so unlike humans that “it’s difficult for us to fully appreciate their mental capabilities,” given that they’re really just small, feathered dinosaurs who inhabit a wholly different world from our once-arboreal and now terrestrial one. Crows and other corvids have gotten all the good publicity related to bird intelligence in recent years, but Ackerman, who does allow that some birds are brighter than others, points favorably to the much-despised pigeon as an animal that “can remember hundreds of different objects for long periods of time, discriminate between different painting styles, and figure out where it’s going, even when displaced from familiar territory by hundreds of miles.” Not bad for a critter best known for bespattering statues in public parks. Ackerman travels far afield to places such as Barbados and New Caledonia to study such matters as memory, communication, and decision-making, the last largely based on visual cues—though, as she notes, birds also draw ably on other senses, including smell, which in turn opens up insight onto “a weird evolutionary paradox that scientists have puzzled over for more than a decade”—a matter of the geometry of, yes, the bird brain.

Ackerman writes with a light but assured touch, her prose rich in fact but economical in delivering it. Fans of birds in all their diversity will want to read this one.

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59420-521-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

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A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

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A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

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