Expect this book to awaken the dormant butterfly enthusiast within.

READ REVIEW

THE LANGUAGE OF BUTTERFLIES

HOW THIEVES, HOARDERS, SCIENTISTS, AND OTHER OBSESSIVES UNLOCKED THE SECRETS OF THE WORLD'S FAVORITE INSECT

A merry jaunt through the past, present, and future of butterfly pop science.

In her hybrid history/science/travel text, science journalist Williams, whose previous book was a historical and scientific and cultural exploration of horses, leads readers through the body of human butterfly knowledge, driven by a guiding question: “What is it about butterflies that so easily and so universally catches the fancy of Earth’s Homo sapiens?” In the first section, the author profiles the early pioneers in butterfly breakthroughs. The second elaborates on the questions that contemporary science is currently trying to answer. The third section, urgent but not alarming, focuses on the environmental threats to the “goddess of color” and what we can do to ameliorate them. To keep the science and history accessible rather than overwhelming, Williams wisely selects key characters, transformational moments, and illustrative species. Most of the protagonists of her story are women, such as “the inestimably brave” German naturalist Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717) and an American mother-daughter butterfly-tagging team. Readers should keep their computer or phone handy, as the reverent descriptions of the insects’ beauty may require visual satisfaction. Williams paces a geological event like an action movie, and her animated storytelling skills, coupled with her orientation toward universal themes like the nature of beauty, will appeal to a broad audience. The author views butterflies as emblematic of the natural world as a whole. “The world’s favorite insect,” she writes, “unites us across generations and across space and across time. They are elemental. A butterfly is an entire universe, right there in the palm of your hand.” Just as efforts to rescue endangered butterfly species have restored ecosystems, the innate human fascination with butterflies becomes a unifying factor in divided times. Our awe for them, Williams suggests, can motivate us to treat each other and the planet better, and the author guides us on our way as she informs, entertains, and rallies readers to the conservationist cause.

Expect this book to awaken the dormant butterfly enthusiast within.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7806-1

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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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

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Exemplary writing about the world and a welcome gift to readers.

HORIZON

Distinguished natural history writer and explorer Lopez (Outside, 2014, etc.) builds a winning memoir around books, voyages, and biological and anthropological observations.

“Traveling, despite the technological innovations that have brought cultural homogenization to much of the world, helps the curious and attentive itinerant understand how deep the notion goes that one place is never actually like another.” So writes the author, who has made a long career of visiting remote venues such as Antarctica, Greenland, and the lesser known of the Galápagos Islands. From these travels he has extracted truths about the world, such as the fact that places differ as widely as the people who live in them. Even when traveling with scientists from his own culture, Lopez finds differences of perception. On an Arctic island called Skraeling, for instance, he observes that if he and the biologists he is walking with were to encounter a grizzly feeding on a caribou, he would focus on the bear, the scientists on the whole gestalt of bear, caribou, environment; if a native of the place were along, the story would deepen beyond the immediate event, for those who possess Indigenous ways of knowledge, “unlike me…felt no immediate need to resolve it into meaning.” The author’s chapter on talismans—objects taken from his travels, such as “a fist-size piece of raven-black dolerite”—is among the best things he has written. But there are plentiful gems throughout the looping narrative, its episodes constructed from adventures over eight decades: trying to work out a bit of science as a teenager while huddled under the Ponte Vecchio after just having seen Botticelli’s Venus; admiring a swimmer as a septuagenarian while remembering the John Steinbeck whom he’d met as a schoolboy; gazing into the surf over many years’ worth of trips to Cape Foulweather, an Oregon headland named by Capt. James Cook, of whom he writes, achingly, “we no longer seem to be sailing in a time of fixed stars, of accurate chronometers, and of reliable routes.”

Exemplary writing about the world and a welcome gift to readers.

Pub Date: March 20, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-394-58582-6

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 26, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2018

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