Though the book’s approach is entertaining, its message is nonetheless urgent.

READ REVIEW

THE CARTOON INTRODUCTION TO CLIMATE CHANGE

An often amusing graphic primer about an issue the authors recognize as apocalyptically serious.

If alarmism proves polarizing where global warming is concerned, maybe humor can bridge the divide and build a consensus. Such would seem to be the strategy of Bauman, who bills himself as “the world’s first and only standup economist,” and cartoonist Klein; both collaborated on The Cartoon Introduction to Economics (two volumes, 2010 and 2011). The authors admit that there have long been wild fluctuations in climate before there was any ecological concern, that human activity is only part of the issue and that the doomsday scenario that some find inevitable is in fact uncertain. Having established a tone of moderation, invoking scientific method rather than ideology, Bauman and Klein nonetheless reinforce the realities of global warming, fossil fuels and greenhouse gases as potentially catastrophic. “The key fact about business as usual is that it would make [carbon dioxide] emissions explode,” they write, while softening the punch with an analogy involving China and cakes (a guitarist and feedback feature prominently elsewhere). Projecting through the century, “[u]nder business as usual emissions could rise 250%...pushing atmospheric [carbon dioxide] concentrations up near 1000 ppm.” The perspective of “environmental economics” distinguishes this analysis from that of a natural scientist or an environmental ideologue, for the authors insist from the start that economic growth, particularly in Asia and Africa, will be a dominant theme throughout the century (and a positive force) but that the profound environmental impact of all that growth is likely to accelerate climate change, unless the world at large faces the problem and its implication and arrives at consensus that might slow the process.

Though the book’s approach is entertaining, its message is nonetheless urgent.

Pub Date: June 5, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-61091-438-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Island Press

Review Posted Online: May 8, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2014

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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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