A graceful homage abounding in fascinating discoveries.

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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A quirky wonder of a book.

WHY FISH DON'T EXIST

A STORY OF LOSS, LOVE, AND THE HIDDEN ORDER OF LIFE

A Peabody Award–winning NPR science reporter chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century scientist and how her quest led to significant revelations about the meaning of order, chaos, and her own existence.

Miller began doing research on David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) to understand how he had managed to carry on after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his work. A taxonomist who is credited with discovering “a full fifth of fish known to man in his day,” Jordan had amassed an unparalleled collection of ichthyological specimens. Gathering up all the fish he could save, Jordan sewed the nameplates that had been on the destroyed jars directly onto the fish. His perseverance intrigued the author, who also discusses the struggles she underwent after her affair with a woman ended a heterosexual relationship. Born into an upstate New York farm family, Jordan attended Cornell and then became an itinerant scholar and field researcher until he landed at Indiana University, where his first ichthyological collection was destroyed by lightning. In between this catastrophe and others involving family members’ deaths, he reconstructed his collection. Later, he was appointed as the founding president of Stanford, where he evolved into a Machiavellian figure who trampled on colleagues and sang the praises of eugenics. Miller concludes that Jordan displayed the characteristics of someone who relied on “positive illusions” to rebound from disaster and that his stand on eugenics came from a belief in “a divine hierarchy from bacteria to humans that point[ed]…toward better.” Considering recent research that negates biological hierarchies, the author then suggests that Jordan’s beloved taxonomic category—fish—does not exist. Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence.

A quirky wonder of a book.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6027-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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Unsentimental nature writing that sheds as much light on humans as on eels.

THE BOOK OF EELS

OUR ENDURING FASCINATION WITH THE MOST MYSTERIOUS CREATURE IN THE NATURAL WORLD

An account of the mysterious life of eels that also serves as a meditation on consciousness, faith, time, light and darkness, and life and death.

In addition to an intriguing natural history, Swedish journalist Svensson includes a highly personal account of his relationship with his father. The author alternates eel-focused chapters with those about his father, a man obsessed with fishing for this elusive creature. “I can’t recall us ever talking about anything other than eels and how to best catch them, down there by the stream,” he writes. “I can’t remember us speaking at all….Because we were in…a place whose nature was best enjoyed in silence.” Throughout, Svensson, whose beat is not biology but art and culture, fills his account with people: Aristotle, who thought eels emerged live from mud, “like a slithering, enigmatic miracle”; Freud, who as a teenage biologist spent months in Trieste, Italy, peering through a microscope searching vainly for eel testes; Johannes Schmidt, who for two decades tracked thousands of eels, looking for their breeding grounds. After recounting the details of the eel life cycle, the author turns to the eel in literature—e.g., in the Bible, Rachel Carson’s Under the Sea Wind, and Günter Grass’ The Tin Drum—and history. He notes that the Puritans would likely not have survived without eels, and he explores Sweden’s “eel coast” (what it once was and how it has changed), how eel fishing became embroiled in the Northern Irish conflict, and the importance of eel fishing to the Basque separatist movement. The apparent return to life of a dead eel leads Svensson to a consideration of faith and the inherent message of miracles. He warns that if we are to save this fascinating creature from extinction, we must continue to study it. His book is a highly readable place to begin learning.

Unsentimental nature writing that sheds as much light on humans as on eels.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-296881-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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