A graceful homage abounding in fascinating discoveries.

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SPROUT LANDS

TENDING THE ENDLESS GIFT OF TREES

An arborist celebrates the intrinsic creativity of trees.

When Logan (Air: The Restless Shaper of the World, 2012, etc.) was hired to train and care for 92 trees in front of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, he became obsessed with sprouting—the ability of any leafy tree or shrub to grow new branches after its trunk is cut or burned—and with the ancient practices of coppice and pollard that nurtured this regenerative power. Resprouting allows a tree to stay alive after damage or disease. “Eighty percent of the trees in a leafy forest are not virgins from seed,” the author reveals, “but experienced sprouts,” some extending the life of a tree for thousands of years. Logan’s lively obsession inspired him to travel the world—to England, Spain, Sierra Leone, Norway, Japan, and the redwood forests of California—to investigate the rich and intimate connection between trees and humans. His astute attentiveness and curiosity have resulted in a radiant, insightful amalgam of botany, history, travel memoir, anthropology, archaeology, philosophical meditation, and, not least, environmental ecology. In coppicing, he explains, trees are cut or burned down to the ground; in pollarding, trunks are cut higher. Both practices yield astounding new growth: “the wood jumps back into the sky,” attaining heights of 6 feet or more in the first year. Beginning in the Mesolithic age, humans depended on the two practices for energy, warmth, and structure. Trees could provide straight, strong vertical branches for building; curved branches for barrel hoops; small branches to make into charcoal. In the Basque Country, an elaborate form of pollarding gave boat builders thick, curved timbers for a ship’s hull. With a “very active relationship to trees,” humans listened and observed as trees taught them how to cut, when to stop, and how to wait, lessons that are still salient. “If we are to get out of the dead end that our mastery of nature has backed us into,” Logan writes, we would do well to heed the intelligence of trees.

A graceful homage abounding in fascinating discoveries.

Pub Date: March 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-393-60941-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2019

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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...

THE GENIUS OF BIRDS

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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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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