Essential for environmentalists, back-to-the-landers, and students and practitioners of the essay form.

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WHAT I STAND ON

THE COLLECTED ESSAYS OF WENDELL BERRY 1969-2017

A splendid gathering of 50 years’ worth of essays “cultural and agricultural” by the eminent Kentucky farmer, poet, novelist, and social critic.

In 1969, Berry (b. 1934), who had previously written a couple of novels that received little attention, published The Long-Legged House, his first book of nonfiction. The timing for the book of essays on the Ohio River backcountry was just right, anticipating the wave of interest in things ecological and place-oriented, and Berry’s neo-transcendentalism (“it is another world, which means that one’s senses and reflexes must begin to live another kind of life”) found an audience that would grow significantly in the coming years. This comprehensive anthology, whose first volume reproduces his entire 1977 manifesto, The Unsettling of America, is made up of selections made by Berry and his longtime editor, Shoemaker, who, for nearly 40 years, has made it an unceasing project to continue to expand Berry’s audience and influence. The Gift of Good Land (1981), an early collaboration between writer and editor, gives attention to such country comforts as horse-drawn farming as contrasted to industrial agriculture, which “considers only the machine.” The second volume of this sweeping collection, comprising 1,650 pages altogether, offers further arguments in favor of an agriculture and rural culture that are anything but simple—and, according to the author, in constant need of defense against those who would attack them “morally as well as economically.” Conservative in the deepest sense, and often resembling T.S. Eliot as much as Edward Abbey, Berry goes on to insist that “the distinction between the physical and the spiritual is, I believe, false,” urging instead that the truly relevant contrast is “between the organic and the mechanical.” Over a consistently developed line of argument through the decades, it’s abundantly clear what side Berry falls on and what he stands for—which is, as he has long said, what he stands on.

Essential for environmentalists, back-to-the-landers, and students and practitioners of the essay form.

Pub Date: May 21, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-59853-610-2

Page Count: 1650

Publisher: Library of America

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

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An authoritative, engaging study of plant life, accessible to younger readers as well as adults.

THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY OF PLANTS

A neurobiologist reveals the interconnectedness of the natural world through stories of plant migration.

In this slim but well-packed book, Mancuso (Plant Science/Univ. of Florence; The Revolutionary Genius of Plants: A New Understanding of Plant Intelligence and Behavior, 2018, etc.) presents an illuminating and surprisingly lively study of plant life. He smoothly balances expansive historical exploration with recent scientific research through stories of how various plant species are capable of migrating to locations throughout the world by means of air, water, and even via animals. They often continue to thrive in spite of dire obstacles and environments. One example is the response of plants following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Three decades later, the abandoned “Exclusion Zone” is now entirely covered by an enormous assortment of thriving plants. Mancuso also tracks the journeys of several species that might be regarded as invasive. “Why…do we insist on labeling as ‘invasive’ all those plants that, with great success, have managed to occupy new territories?” asks the author. “On a closer look, the invasive plants of today are the native flora of the future, just as the invasive species of the past are a fundamental part of our ecosystem today.” Throughout, Mancuso persuasively articulates why an understanding and appreciation of how nature is interconnected is vital to the future of our planet. “In nature everything is connected,” he writes. “This simple law that humans don’t seem to understand has a corollary: the extinction of a species, besides being a calamity in and of itself, has unforeseeable consequences for the system to which the species belongs.” The book is not without flaws. The loosely imagined watercolor renderings are vague and fail to effectively complement Mancuso’s richly descriptive prose or satisfy readers’ curiosity. Even without actual photos and maps, it would have been beneficial to readers to include more finely detailed plant and map renderings.

An authoritative, engaging study of plant life, accessible to younger readers as well as adults.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-63542-991-6

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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

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  • 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

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