Anyone with a love of horses will treasure this book, which provides scholarly yet accessible insight into a beautifully...

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THE HORSE

THE EPIC HISTORY OF OUR NOBLE COMPANION

An enthusiastic history of and appreciation for all things horse.

In this “scientific travelogue…biography of the horse…and worldwide investigation into the bond that unites horses and humans,” one of the only elements Williams (Kraken: The Curious, Exciting, and Slightly Disturbing Science of Squid, 2011, etc.) doesn’t address is how to ride a horse. But there’s more than enough to teach readers how to approach a horse and how it will communicate its feelings. The author begins by asserting that horses had their beginnings in the New World rather than the long-held belief that Europeans introduced them to the Americas. When the land bridges were available, horses could travel through Asia to Europe, and Williams notes that horses are not only herd animals, but that they don’t stray far from their environments. As she traces their evolution, she makes it clear that horses tend to adapt to their surroundings rather than move away in search of comfort. The evolution of their hooves, from three to four toes, was caused by the change from marshy ground, where toes helped balance, to dry grass plains. In an equally thorough manner, Williams explains the changes to the animals’ eyes and teeth, which changed with their diet as grasslands formed and they required teeth that could grind effectively. Horses are also red-green colorblind because their eyes only have two types of cones, whereas humans have three. That, as well as the placement of their eyes, affects their acuity and depth perception. The author also explores how horses’ eyes moved back in their heads, allowing wider vision. This made room for larger teeth, which evolved to adapt to the grass that appeared due to changes in global temperatures caused by tectonic plate movement and changing ocean currents.

Anyone with a love of horses will treasure this book, which provides scholarly yet accessible insight into a beautifully constructed animal that has chosen to domesticate man, just as dogs have.

Pub Date: Oct. 27, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-374-22440-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Scientific American/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

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  • New York Times Bestseller

EDISON

One of history’s most prolific inventors receives his due from one of the world’s greatest biographers.

Pulitzer and National Book Award winner Morris (This Living Hand and Other Essays, 2012, etc.), who died this year, agrees that Thomas Edison (1847-1931) almost certainly said, “genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration,” and few readers of this outstanding biography will doubt that he was the quintessential workaholic. Raised in a middle-class Michigan family, Edison displayed an obsessive entrepreneurial spirit from childhood. As an adolescent, he ran a thriving business selling food and newspapers on a local railroad. Learning Morse code, he spent the Civil War as a telegrapher, impressing colleagues with his speed and superiors with his ability to improve the equipment. In 1870, he opened his own shop to produce inventions to order. By 1876, he had money to build a large laboratory in New Jersey, possibly the world’s first industrial research facility. Never a loner, Edison hired talented people to assist him. The dazzling results included the first commercially successful light bulb for which, Morris reminds readers, he invented the entire system: dynamo, wires, transformers, connections, and switches. Critics proclaim that Edison’s innovations (motion pictures, fluoroscope, rechargeable batteries, mimeograph, etc.) were merely improvements on others’ work, but this is mostly a matter of sour grapes. Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone was a clunky, short-range device until it added Edison’s carbon microphone. And his phonograph flabbergasted everyone. Humans had been making images long before Daguerre, but no one had ever reproduced sound. Morris rivetingly describes the personalities, business details, and practical uses of Edison’s inventions as well as the massive technical details of years of research and trial and error for both his triumphs and his failures. For no obvious reason, the author writes in reverse chronological order, beginning in 1920, with each of the seven following chapters backtracking a decade. It may not satisfy all readers, but it works.

Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9311-0

Page Count: 800

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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

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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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