MixedThe Washington PostTo his credit, Calvo — while freely admitting he was not trained as a plant scientist — cites articles by plant experts critical of his perspective. At the same time, though, he conveys a sense that naysayers are just not sufficiently open-minded to accept plant experience for what it is ... too often, Calvo undermines his case by using over-the-top language... and inappropriate analogies to human behavior ... Despite the book’s drawbacks, Calvo raises some fascinating questions.
RaveNPRExplains and offers action items in 84 compelling, bite-size chapters ... Reading The Climate Book at a deliberate pace over some weeks (it\'s a lot to absorb), the cumulative impact on my understanding of the crisis through its data, cross-cultural reflections, and paths for step-by-step change became mesmerizing.
RaveNPRYong writes in a perfect balance of scientific rigor and personal awe as he invites readers to grasp something of how other animals experience the world ... Yong is indifferent to two motivations that compel scientists to study animal senses: to better understand our own senses and to apply knowledge of animals\' senses to produce new technologies. I found his perspective welcome: \'Animals are not just stand-ins for humans or fodder for brain-storming sessions. They have worth in themselves\' ... My admiration for the book is, well, immense ... Yong brings into beautiful focus a host of other animal sensory worlds that co-exist with ours, and how we may protect them. He has synthesized and compellingly presented a spectacular amount of scientific information to do this, making it look easy along the way. But isn\'t easy at all. It\'s a magnificent achievement.
PositiveThe Washington PostBrown offers no gushing gratitude for her care team, nor thankfulness for a chance at personal growth stemming from a life-threatening illness; she wants no part of the \'cancer is a gift\' approach. What she does offer lifts Healing above the usual fare in the ever-expanding genre of illness memoir: an unflinching look by a former nurse at the lack of compassion in our health-care system and the harms that patients suffer because of it. A longtime contributor to the New York Times on health-care issues, Brown writes with a winning combination of passion, humor and medical knowledge ... Admirably, she does not exempt her own nursing from scrutiny, telling lively stories about her interactions with patients and finding that she could at times have done more.
PositiveThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)Higgins skilfully connects these tales from the natural world to the experiences of people with an exceptional sensory repertoire. Through their experiences we grasp how much can be learned from other animals, and how your sensory reality may be quite distinct from mine ... Unfortunately, Higgins’s book is shadowed throughout by an incredible irony. In a treatise that means to educate its readers on the subject of animal sentience, example after example involves creatures that are killed and dissected or subjected to experimental harms. Mice are blinded, spiders are stoppered into test tubes for days on end, and animals are made into specimens so their cells can be microscopically analysed. Even octopuses’ neuron-rich arms are amputated in the name of scientific inquiry ... The material is gripping despite its disturbing aspects ... Thanks to Higgins’s flair for storytelling, Sentient successfully informs us about our own senses by exploring those of animals – \'successfully\', at least, to the extent that we can suppress our distress about those amputated octopus arms.
Douglas Abrams and Jane Goodall
PositiveNPRWhile The Book of Hope is marketed as written by Goodall and Abrams, that\'s a little misleading. The text is a skillful arranging of transcribed conversations between the two, with Abrams speaking in first person and Goodall directly contributing only the introduction and conclusion. This observation is not a complaint. On the contrary: This format makes perfect sense, and not because at age 87 Goodall needs to take it easy. She remains committed to a grueling schedule of public speaking and interacting with others about our planetary crisis ... From these conversations emerge an informative road map of ideas for ways in which every person may help bring about positive change in the world. This guidance is rooted firmly in an awareness of how bad things really have gotten. It\'s good to see Goodall mention nationalism, racism and sexism in this context, as well as global inequalities in wealth, though her focus remains on the environment ... Last of Goodall\'s reasons to hope is what she calls the indomitable human spirit, the ability we have individually and collectively to wrest a victory from what appears to be an inevitable defeat. In one way, this section goes a little awry...Not everyone with physical limitations, however, will be able to overcome them, nor should they be celebrated only if they can; disabled and abled people may show an indomitable spirit in many different ways ... One of the book\'s most welcome aspects is that Abrams plays the role of a skeptic, repeatedly voicing questions that may occur to us as we read ... Most of Goodall\'s statements do — or, I believe, should — speak to all of us ... Most wonderfully of all, Goodall calls each of us to action.
MixedNPROrlean didn\'t set out to write an animal-rights treatise and it\'s not a critic\'s job to foist her own sensibilities on to an author. It is appropriate, though, to point out that Orlean\'s way of being \'animalish\' does not always go hand in hand with a heightened sensitivity to animals\' life experiences ... Most of the 16 essays were published during that 2000-2009 decade. No updates or suggested further readings are offered ... At her best, Orlean is thorough in her research ... that image of Orlean\'s turkey dinner — acquired at the expense of someone else\'s turkeys who presumably are just as lovable — may stay with us. So may the image of the burdened Fez donkeys, and the other animals portrayed who deserve us to stand up for them.
RaveNPRRenkl\'s sense of joyful belonging to the South, a region too often dismissed on both coasts in crude stereotypes and bad jokes, co-exists with her intense desire for Southerners who face prejudice or poverty finally to be embraced and supported ... Renkl at her most tender and most fierce ... Renkl\'s gift, just as it was in her first book Late Migrations, is to make fascinating for others what is closest to her heart ... Any initial sense of emotional whiplash faded as as I proceeded across the six sections and realized that the book is largely organized around one concept, that of fair and loving treatment for all — regardless of race, class, sex, gender or species ... What rises in me after reading her essays is Lewis\' famous urging to get in good trouble to make the world fairer and better. Many people in the South are doing just that — and through her beautiful writing, Renkl is among them.
MixedNPR[A] multi-layered exploration of a world in which humans honor rather than dominate nature ... Fox & I takes us out of a relentless focus on the human-built world in ways that invite compassion for nature. The book is described as enabling readers to experience animals in a new and marvelous way. But there are times when Raven decides that an animal, person, or practice isn\'t worthy of her admiration — and compassion becomes thin on the ground ... fans of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry\'s The Little Prince will find extra enjoyment in these pages ... Raven seemed to think that animal-behavior scientists inevitably decry as bad anthropomorphism any attempt to acknowledge animal emotion, so that she has to defy science to honor Fox. Yet works by animal behaviorists like Jane Goodall, Frans de Waal, Carl Safina, and Marc Bekoff have for a long time now described the expression of emotions by animals in detail ... That complexity emerges compellingly in the narrative as Fox matures, fathers kits, and expresses his caring for Raven\'s friendship more and more directly ... in some parts of the book, harsh certainties dominate where some nuances would be welcome ... For Raven, though, Fox\'s hunting is natural and the cat\'s is morally repulsive because cats are recent arrivals, unnatural to the landscape. Rather than expressing frustration at humans who have caused cats to become feral, she expresses her hatred (her word again) for the cats ... For that matter, she dislikes a lot of scientists ... Whether this scornful tone adds to or detracts from the book\'s message will be an intriguing point of discussion for readers ... Though at a remove, Fox\'s exuberance for life left his emotional mark on me, too.
MixedNPRMy main complaint here is that brain scans and laboratory tests don\'t map well onto real-world maternal behavior ... A view of new mothers as brain-compromised and incompetent isn\'t a cute meme, it\'s damaging to women who may have to fight a tide of suspicion about their competence ... Tucker is wedded to the word \'instinct\' but she does qualify it quite a bit ... For readers sensitive to animal cruelty, this book is tough going in places ... Occasionally Tucker breaks out of the heteronormative man-woman-baby structure of the book, as when she reports research on gay dads ... But by the time the stronger chapters occur, the damage has been done by the earlier wild claims of new moms falling apart. It doesn\'t help that Tucker refers to \'differences between mothers and regular women\' and uses \'mom genes\' language despite reporting scientists\' cautions that genetic contributions to maternal variation are subtle, affecting the quality of maternal behavior in nuanced ways ... Tucker\'s deep dive into the scientific literature on new motherhood and her visits to labs unlocking mysteries of motherhood enliven her writing. Unfortunately, she renders the experience of new motherhood as such a draconian, impairing biological transformation that these positive aspects can\'t offer balance.
RaveNPRInvestigative reporter Michael Moss explains why a major food corporation — Lay\'s is owned by PepsiCo — would produce such an over-the-top number of versions of potato chips. We are prone to what food scientists called sensory-specific satiety, feeling full when we take in a lot of the same taste, smell, or flavor. Changing a food item even just a little, from barbecue to honey barbecue, let\'s say, makes for novelty that lights up our brain ... Moss explores, through the lens of addiction, the relentless striving of Big Food corporations to hook us on highly processed foods. These are foods loaded with sugar, salt, fat, and preservatives ... A theme for Moss is that the food giant companies consciously exploit our evolved biology, as I mentioned in the example about the potato chips and sensory-specific satiety ... Occasionally, Moss runs into trouble when reporting beyond the realm of food science ... Overall, though, Hooked is smoothly written, with just the right amount of fascinating scientific detail. Moss describes ingenious experiments where people enter brain scanners with squares of chocolate already in their mouth, so that researchers can assess effects on the brain as the sweet treat melts on the tongue.
RaveNPR... riveting ... An irresistible aspect of Exercised is Lieberman\'s firm stance that no shame or stigma be attached to those who find it challenging to sustain an exercise program ... Another exceptionally informative part of the book discusses the damage-and-repair cycle brought on by exercise. Lieberman explains more clearly than I\'ve ever read what exercise does to the body and how the body then begins to repair itself afterwards ... written in a warm, sometimes dryly amusing tone that\'s highly appealing. Colorful personal stories enliven the book ... Lieberman makes a superb guide for anyone wishing to understand why it can be hard to commit to exercising and why we should do it anyway.
RaveNPRAnthropologist and physician Paul Farmer, based at Harvard Medical School, turns [the common view] of Ebola on its head in his eye-opening, densely detailed, and riveting Fevers, Feuds and Diamonds: Ebola and the Ravages of History ... The truth, as Farmer makes crystal clear, often with an incandescent anger that shines through even his measured words, is much different. Yes, the disease — just like coronaviruses — is spread in part through caregiving. But the base fact is this: Ebola swept through these nations in a catastrophic way more because of a history of inequality than because of viral biology ... When it comes to Ebola in 2014, Fevers, Feuds and Diamonds is no armchair account ... Only Paul Farmer, I think, in his ability to write so knowledgeably and with such love and hope for all of humanity, could coax me to read 526 pages of text about a viral outbreak during a viral pandemic. (Confession: I only skimmed the nearly-100 extra pages of footnotes in the back.) Farmer is modest in print, but his story (conveyed also in his previous books) is compelling. He\'s worked tirelessly for decades in places like Haiti and Rwanda to aid crisis recovery and build strong public-health networks.From Farmer we learn that the world needs not only a COVID vaccine, but something much more: a rejection of global racial inequalities and an embrace of investing seriously in the care of all people.
Samira Leakey, with Meave Leakey
PositiveScience... an engaging memoir in which fieldwork adventures appear alongside dense details of Ice Age cycles, ice core technology, fossil anatomy, and geological research. It serves as an invitation to grasp how climate cycles have driven human evolution and how anthropogenic global warming now threatens our species (and a multitude of others) ... In the book’s epilogue, Leakey draws a strange analogy between baboons destroying a vegetable garden and modern humans wrecking our planet, but she places blame for Earth’s most recent climate disruption where it belongs ... The book shines in its descriptions of what it is like to set up base camp in remote, sometimes harsh conditions and to search the landscape relentlessly for small fragments of bone that are all but invisible to the untrained eye, and Leakey writes with a fine sense of humor ... Better yet, she writes with humility. Leakey frequently praises individual members of her team as well as other scientists, with evident admiration for their skills ... These considerable strengths offset the few places where the science takes a wrong turn ... Overall, however, The Sediments of Time is a marvelous account of what it is like for a celebrated scientist to take on some of the most vital and vexing questions regarding human origins and to come up with biocultural answers.
Rebecca Wragg Sykes
RaveNPRIf your ancestry traces back to populations outside sub-Saharan Africa, there\'s a good chance that your genome includes contributions from Neanderthals. In Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death and Art, archaeologist and science writer Rebecca Wragg Sykes explains in splendidly engaging prose why this fact is cause for wonder and celebration ... Occasionally the writing bogs down in details overly numerous and technical for a wide readership ... Make no mistake, though. What Wragg Sykes has produced in Kindred, after eight years of labor, is masterful. Synthesizing over a century and a half of research, she gives us a vivid feel for a past in which we weren\'t the only smart, feeling bipedal primate alive. That feel comes across sometimes in startlingly fresh ways.
Edward O. Wilson
RaveThe Washington PostWith its modest and sometimes amusing tone, the book is a delight — and may coax readers to take up ant-watching themselves ... his explanations of ant \'gender\' (most scientists would grant to insects only \'sex\') and raiding behavior make for exciting reading.
David Allen Sibley
PositiveNPRWholly engaging, What It\'s Like to be a Bird is a feast for the mind and, thanks to Sibley\'s gorgeous illustrations, the eye ... Sibley packs the text with cool facts ... Occasionally, Sibley presents birds ways that seem to me unpleasantly commodified ... Why not devote a line or two to calling out cruelty in these industries? ... Sibley invites an engaged approach to bird-watching: \'You will learn faster if you can be an active observer — draw sketches, take notes, write poetry, or take photos. All of these things make you look a little more carefully and a little longer.\' ... Lingering over every page of What It\'s Like to Be a Bird, this is what can be seen: The book\'s beauty mirrors the beauty of birds it describes so marvelously.
PositiveNPRCombining the knowledge of a seasoned scientist with the skills of a good storyteller, Safina invites us to leave our cultural worlds and enter animals\' ones to see just how they work ... I wanted to burst with exasperation over Safina\'s moral judging of chimpanzees. Slowly though, I came to see that once again — as in the macaw section — Safina offers a rare gift, an opportunity to look over his shoulder as he experiences a shifting understanding.
PositiveThe Washington PostIn an accessible and enlightening style, she takes us with her on her journeys to primatology research sites ... She avoids knee-jerk railing against social media and its overuse ... By highlighting the importance of human connection, Denworth has crafted a worthy call to action.
MixedNPRIt\'s refreshing to see this acknowledgment of how similar we humans are to other animals. Yet it could fairly be asked, how informative is this sort of specific comparison really? After all, while adolescent animals often need to negotiate complex family dynamics and group dominance hierarchies, they don\'t face the pressures of overdue student loans and mental health crises — or sexism or racism. The culturally constructed, power-based inequalities in the human world are qualitatively different ... too often the direct analogies undertaken in Wildhood between humans and other animals go way too far. When the text leaps from \'seriously depressed adolescents and young adult humans\' in one paragraph to \'defeated lobsters and hyenas\' in the next, good science has been left behind ... And it\'s simply not sensible — or wise — to compare the mobbing behavior of songbirds that dive-bomb a house cat with the marching from Selma to Montgomery of activists who fought for civil rights ... Despite these problems, there\'s fascinating material in Wildhood backed up with copious notes from the authors\' reading of the scientific literature ... I found Wildhood a mixed blessing. Understanding the lives of animals can illuminate our own — and those of loved adolescents in our lives too. Pushing these cross-species links too far, however, does justice to no one.
PositiveNPR... captivating ... King\'s comprehensive archival research illuminates intellectual giants in the circle who are remembered, read, and celebrated today ... Occasionally, though, King goes too far. That Mead \'writhed with desire\' for one of her lovers borders on casting Mead as oversexed. It\'s more instructive to learn the degree to which Mead faced intense misogyny, including from anthropologist Edward Sapir who wanted to marry her ... With a light yet unmistakable touch, King connects the dots from Boas\'s time to ours ... Reading Gods of the Upper Air provides inspiration. The anthropology of equality tells us that every population is as fully human as any other, and deserving of understanding and compassion.
MixedNPR... Shell describes the lives of these animals with details at once compelling and disturbing ... Shell views their plight with sympathy but, in the end, subscribes to the view that future conservation of the Asian elephant may well depend on just such an arrangement ... Shell\'s research is extensive and meticulous. He complements visits to logging and transport camps, and interviews with human stakeholders, with a review of elephant labor in history, including during major conflicts from the time of Alexander the Great through the Vietnam War ... I don\'t mean to suggest that Shell is indifferent to this brutality. He meets, admires, and sometimes rides individual elephants with evident appreciation, as when bull Air Singh demonstrates, with striking powers of creative reasoning, step-by-step solutions for how to maneuver logs in a complicated work task...Yet Shell doesn\'t just describe this elephant labor system as an act of scholarship, he also advocates for it.
RaveNPR...a jeweled patchwork of nature and culture that includes her own family. This woven tapestry makes one of all the world\'s beings that strive to live—and which, in one way or another, face mortality ... the experience of reading Late Migrations becomes active, engaged, and lively ... Drawings by Billy Renkl—yes, the brother about whom the author worried, who here has created a marigold, a blue jay, a fig, a thunderstorm, with an artist\'s sure touch—lend extra colors and grace to the book ... Late Migrations is an ideal summer read ... magnificent.
RaveNPRMacfarlane explores subterranean spaces with the yearning of a man who feels awe ... Action sequences mean the pages of Underland fly fast. At times though, the bigger reward is to allow Macfarlane\'s words slow passage across the mind ... The beauty is immense — of the writing and of the natural world it describes ... becomes a glittering invitation to explore [Macfarlane\'s] previous nature books ... Reading Macfarlane connects us to dazzling new worlds. It\'s a connection that brings, more than anything else, joy. And that joy in turn connects us to the artists who depicted, thousands of years ago, dancing red figures in Norway\'s caves.
MixedThe Washington PostDartnell’s approach is encyclopedic, marked by both a broad sweep and a passion for details. In the section on wind and ocean currents, this style backfires because the pages become clogged with highly technical terms more suited to textbooks. At other times, though, the facts Dartnell loves to embed are pure fun and may lead a reader to rush up to the nearest person and ask: Did you realize that cinnamon comes from tree bark? ... A problem with Origins is Dartnell’s tendency to make exaggerated claims for the power of geological forces over human lives ... There’s a certain insensitivity to Dartnell’s language when he alludes to painful parts of the American past...Systemic patterns of racist oppression are absent from this account ... No doubt the drift of the continents and the dramatic ripping and tearing of the Earth have influenced our lives. Dartnell is to be credited with demonstrating just how much. But when he elevates geological forces to the near-exclusion of social and political ones, he diminishes the credibility of his argument.
Frans de Waal
PositiveNPR\"Through colorful stories and riveting prose, de Waal firmly puts to rest the stubborn notion that humans alone in the animal kingdom experience a broad array of emotions ... Occasionally, de Waal overgeneralizes. It\'s startling to encounter this kind of gender stereotype: \'Attractive women, especially those of childbearing age, are perceived as rivals by other women, which makes it hard for them to get their vote\' ... Through these powerful statements coupled with his convincing descriptions of animal emotions, de Waal contributes immensely to an ethical sea change for animals.\
PositiveThe Times Literary SupplementWrangham puts biology in charge. Sometimes he takes this principle to lengths that seem far-fetched. Did you know that \'broader-faced men\' who play professional hockey spend more minutes in the penalty box than do their counterparts with narrow faces? Wrangham duly notes that facial breadth is correlated with a propensity for reactive aggression. So then, if it’s just a correlation – not a causation – what meaning does the penalty-box comparison for hockey players carry? Who knows? ... given especially his focus on coalitionary power and a tendency for execution among males, could it be on the basis of evidence rather than ideology that Wrangham might run into criticism? For one thing, his conclusions are predicated on accepting a binary relationship between reactive and proactive aggression ... Another problem is that Wrangham characterizes aggression in non-human primates as bloody and brutal ... Wrangham’s skills at \'thinking big\' make him a compelling writer. The Goodness Paradox will be a boon to discussion of our own prehistory and the role of violence in it. Its readers would do well to think hard about the \'layer model\' that Wrangham uses, in which biology determines, and culture modifies, human behaviour ... Wrangham invites counter-arguments that I hope will be aired widely.
RaveNPRFascinating ... A slightly misleading title turns out, in this case, to be the antithesis of a disappointment. The broad scope of The Snow Leopard Project makes for compelling reading, not least because it corrects assumptions some of us may have picked up about Afghanistan during these 18 long years of war. Most Americans view Afghanistan, Dehgan writes, \'as an inhospitable, dusty land of mud houses, thick clay walls, and bearded, turbaned men and women in burkas.\' The reality, of course, is much more complex — and more beautiful ... It\'s a marvelous choice for Dehgan to put himself in the middle of the story ... There\'s no hint here of a self-styled American savior coming to a war-torn land in order to force Western fixes onto local people ... illuminates a vital area of science — and a country filled with natural and cultural beauty. I was captivated by Dehgan\'s writing, chapter by chapter.
Lauren E. Oakes
RaveNPRIn her new book In Search of The Canary Tree: The Story of A Scientist, a Cypress, and a Changing World, Oakes describes how she worked (with her research team) in remote coastal areas to capture a statistical picture of warming forests. She also includes interviews with Alaskans ranging from loggers to artists about what the decline in yellow-cedars mean to them. This marriage of ecological and social science gives broad meaning Oakes\'s basic research question: What happens in forests when yellow-cedars die off? ... In Search of The Canary Tree is a terrific book. Its message rings out clearly. When it comes to global warming, local action matters — reducing energy consumption, protecting vulnerable floral and faunal communities, educating others about climate change, and \'holding space for optimism amidst despair.\'
PositiveNPRWilliams capably takes on the political and fossil-rich history of Mongolia ... All these Mongolia-centered sections are strengthened by Williams\'s one-on-one interviews with major players ... The book does have some flaws. It\'s as if Williams felt compelled to include every last thing she learned through her research, even beyond the 90 dense pages of footnotes ... More disconcertingly, whenever the Tarbosaurus narrative gathers speed, Williams dumps in a sticky web of new names and facts to keep straight ... When the fossils and fossil fieldwork are given center stage, the pages turn fast.
RaveThe Washington PostGoldfarb’s evident affection for beavers shines through the book. When he goes one-on-one with beavers, their individual personalities come through. Occasionally he gets carried away ... But here’s the take-home message: Goldfarb has built a masterpiece of a treatise on the natural world, how that world stands now and how it could be in the future if we protect beaver populations. He gives us abundant reasons to respect environment-restoring beavers and their behaviors, for their own good and for ours.
RaveNPRMore than 75 percent of the world\'s 115 primary crops require pollination or thrive better through interaction with pollinators...and bees are the primary pollinators in the animal kingdom ... A skilled communicator, Hanson explain details of pressure bees face through his interviews with bee biologists and conservationists. Buzz shines the most brightly, though, when Hanson\'s own adoration of bees comes through: he wanders around the landscape observing them and musing about their natural history in ways that light up the page and make the book a rewarding choice for readers keen on science and nature.
PositiveNPRThe Secret Life of Cows succeeds in showing that cows are thoughtful beings with individual personalities. At times Young\'s approach is whimsical, perhaps overly so, as when she translates what she takes to be bovine thoughts directly into human language ... This book will charm people who either didn\'t know...that farmed animals think and feel, or who want to lap up more evidence that they do.
RaveNPR...a virtuoso performance, the 508-page equivalent to one of Springsteen and the E Street Band's famous four-hour concerts: Nothing is left onstage, and diehard fans and first-timers alike depart for home sated and yet somehow already aching for more ... Born to Run hits point blank at the mind and the heart because, like many dozens of Springsteen songs, it's fundamentally about how each of us can work to stay in touch with our humanity — and at the toughest times, how we, like Springsteen himself, may will it into present existence.