RaveWall Street JournalGregg’s book If Nietzsche Were A Narwhal: What Animal Intelligence Reveals About Human Stupidity makes some extraordinary and thought-provoking points...It is not only engagingly written, but its controversial thesis is worth taking seriously...Some of the cognitive concepts introduced in If Nietzsche Were a Narwhal are nothing less than brilliant...Take \'prognostic myopia,\' which Mr. Gregg defines as \'the human capacity to think about and alter the future coupled with an inability to actually care all that much about what happens in the future. It’s caused by the human ability to make complex decisions availing of our unique cognitive skills that result in long-term consequences. But because our minds evolved primarily to deal with immediate—not future—outcomes, we rarely experience or even understand the consequences of these long-term decisions\'...Think nuclear weapons, greenhouse gases, long-term pollution for short-term profit...Our \'shortsighted farsightedness,\' argues Mr. Gregg, is \'an extinction-level threat to humanity\'...It is startling to consider that our very intelligence may have made humans no better morally, even no better off physically, than other species...Indeed, by many measures of evolutionary success (number of individuals, persistence over time, likelihood of persisting into the future), Homo sapiens is doing poorly compared to many other species...And not benefiting the Earth, either...Mr. Gregg concludes, glumly but effectively, that \'there’s good reason to tone down our smugness. Because, depending on where we go from here, human intelligence may just be the stupidest thing that has ever happened.\'
RaveThe Wall Street JournalUnder Ms. Panciroli’s adroit tutelage, the Carboniferous and Permian (pre-dinosaur) periods are brought to life, teeming with strange creatures ... Beasts Before Us starts with the author’s fieldwork on the Isle of Skye, in Scotland, combining science with personal memories and delightful oddities ... she regularly enlivens this surprisingly readable book with quick and often humorous observations ... Moreover, the author also can turn a passage of arresting beauty ... If she were to write a novel, I’d want to read it.
RaveThe Wall Street Journal\'Are we alone?\' ... Kershenbaum...takes a novel and rewarding approach to this question. He is not too concerned about the evidence for or against the existence of extraterrestrial life; rather, he is interested in hypothesizing about what forms it might take, given what we know about conditions on other worlds ... As befits a good biologist, Mr. Kershenbaum presents insights informed by what we know about the process of evolution by natural selection ... a wonderful mix of science-based speculation and entertaining whimsy ... He’s always mindful to anchor his conjectures on what is already known—not just about well-studied terrestrial species but, crucially, about universal (hence universe-wide) evolutionary principles. Mr. Kershenbaum proceeds to argue, persuasively, that \'we have enough of a diversity of adaptations here on Earth to give us at least potential mechanisms that seem appropriate solutions even on worlds almost unimaginably different from ours\' ... A skeptic—even if one accepts the prospect of complex extraterrestrial life—might object that Zoologist’s Guide is too steeped in Earth-centrism. But one benefit of Mr. Kershenbaum’s method is that, while imbibing credible theories about the possible nature of extraterrestrial life, the reader will learn much about the actual nature of life on Earth ... Mr. Kershenbaum’s answers to the questions he raises are every bit as original and have the added advantage that they could well be true.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalNearly 50 years ago, the philosopher Thomas Nagel wrote an influential paper titled \'What Is It Like to Be a Bat?\' Although the article’s implications have been much debated, the answer is: We’ll probably never know. Kenneth Catania, professor of biological sciences at Vanderbilt University, probably doesn’t know either, but his book Great Adaptations gives us the next best thing: a view into the lives of many strange and wonderful critters, whose windows to the world are no less remarkable than the sonar used by many species of bats to catch flying insects and avoid obstacles ... From its first sentences, Great Adaptations grabs the reader ... The irresistible enthusiasm of Great Adaptations couldn’t come at a better time ... as Mr. Catania clearly understands, and demonstrates beautifully in his book, science offers adventures in trying to decode the mysteries of the natural world.
RaveThe Wall Street Journal... fascinating discussions ... It is also about giving the reader a sense of being near these creatures and experiencing some of the most seductive environments on Earth ... Mr. Safina tagged along with various researchers, exploring the lives of each of the species he highlights, and he incorporates these scientists into each narrative, while never losing his focus on the creatures in question ... If you haven’t yet been treated to the detailed accounts of chimpanzee behavior on offer from Christophe Boesch, Frans de Waal, Craig Stanford and Jane Goodall—or even if you have—you’ll be captivated by these sections ... Mr. Safina’s prose achieves the elusive goal of being both informative and luminously evocative...As well as the author’s poetry ... A reviewer’s job is to provide perspective on a given book. Normally, as I read, I do so with an eye toward my own perceptions and opinions; only rarely do I find myself so swallowed up by a text that I realize I’ve forgotten to take notes. Becoming Wild made me forget myself, more than once. At a moment when so many of us have been stuck inside, watching the walls, what better therapy than to visit the deep ocean, the upper Amazon and a central African forest, sharing the lives of their denizens with a superb guide?
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal... an impressively brisk intellectual tour through the glory days of early 20th-century evolutionary biology ... The book’s opening chapter, \'The Cartography of Evolution,\' is an accessible nonmathematical introduction to population genetics, natural selection and evolution ... If Life Finds a Way disappoints, it is only when the author tries to suggest what’s needed to cultivate creative problem-solving on a societal level. It is hardly original, in this regard, to recommend exchange of ideas, tolerance of failure, an abundance of free, unstructured time and an attitude of playfulness.
MixedThe Wall Street JournalMuch of David Quammen’s The Tangled Tree ... proves to be an immensely well-informed guide to a complex story that in less capable hands would be unintelligible to the general reader. Indeed he is, in my opinion, the best natural history writer currently working. Mr. Quammen’s books ... consistently impress with their accuracy, energy and superb, evocative writing. The Tangled Tree, though, becomes a bit tangled in its own right ... Readers are introduced to a large supporting cast of molecular microbiologists who don’t normally receive anything like the degree of attention Mr. Quammen bestows upon them here. Much of this celebration is well-deserved, although the account sometimes devolves into eye-glazing biographical lists ... Mr. Quammen occasionally has fallen prey to his own admirable enthusiasm ... His big book touches on so many fascinating and important subjects that I worry that The Tangled Tree occasionally loses sight of the Darwinian forest that puts all these processes in perspective.
Robert M. Sapolsky
RaveThe Wall Street JournalMr. Sapolsky’s concept is to examine behavior starting at its most immediate neural underpinnings, then trace it to progressively more distant causes, including hormonal, social and developmental ones, and ultimately to search out its evolutionary antecedents. To my knowledge, this hasn’t been done before in one book, and he succeeds magnificently ... The author’s comprehensive approach integrates controlled laboratory investigation with naturalistic observations and study. To his immense credit, he doesn’t omit cultural norms, social learning, the role of peer pressure or historical tradition. He also has a delightfully self-deprecating sense of humor ... It’s no exaggeration to say that Behave is one of the best nonfiction books I’ve ever read.