A hunt-and-peck collection of 30 pieces assembled to benefit Share Our Strength, a group dedicated to feeding the hungry. Shore (editor, Mysteries of Life and the Universe, 1992) has managed to gather a host of fine nature writers, but with mixed results. Al Gore's flimsy introduction leads with ``John Muir once wrote''—you can almost hear the snores rising off the page. But then there is Diane Ackerman's smart take on summer (``Summer''), with its bright and insightful appreciation of birds. The good and the not-so-good trade punches: Natalie Angier tries to get poetic as she recalls an urban childhood grappling with nature (``Natural Disasters''), but she is no Charles Simic, and the result is Kansas-flat and without humor. Then Edward Hoagland shines even as his eyesight dims (``Mind's Eyes''), and in his melancholy way he gathers a special sense of the land: learning to distinguish trees by the feel of their bark, finding walking ``such a puzzle as to be either exciting or tearful.'' Ted Kerasote (``Logging'') takes the adage ``An unexamined life isn't worth living'' and beats it to death; here it is logging rather than hunting (see Bloodties, 1993) he picks apart, but, Ted, an overexamined life gets darned boring. Thankfully, Karen Pryor delivers an extraordinary throng of birds (``A Gathering of Birds'') of many different feathers which gathered on a bush next to which she sat and stared at her—a bunch of birds out-humaning her, as it were. And so it goes. Half of the contributions are worth the trouble; .500 isn't a bad batting average, but it's not a great percentage when the quality of the authors is considered. Worth the price of admission all the same for the 15 crack nature essays gathered under one roof. (b&w illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-15-100080-8

Page Count: 356

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1994

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A quirky wonder of a book.



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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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...


Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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