PositiveLos Angeles Review of BooksLike so many good environmental histories, Hennessy’s book advocates...for context and nuance—which the tortoises offer in spades. She is able to plumb historical complexities by drawing on archival sources, texts, and photographs as well as interviews with contemporary scientists, naturalists, and Galápagos residents ... it’s possible to show the giant Galápagos tortoises at every major point in Galápagos history—to consider the animals as caricatures or props for other sorts of histories. But On the Backs of Tortoises offers a much more carefully researched, nuanced, and crafted sort of environmental history. It reminds us that here, in the 21st-century Anthropocene, Galápagos tortoises are emblematic of how we think about and consume the world.
PositiveThe Los Angeles Review of BooksBrian Switek’s new book, Skeleton Keys: The Secret Life of Bone ... [weaves] together stories that bridge the disciplines of paleontology, anthropology, medicine, and forensics. In a freewheeling style, Switek addresses a series of topics that center on the ways that bones (human, dinosaur, what have you) intersect with our lives and cultures ... Perhaps the most important point of Skeleton Keys is its observation that bones raise questions not just of science but of ethics and law. Rather than mere museum relics, bones actively shape debates about cultural autonomy and identity. Our skeletons are the product of millions of years of evolution; how we think about those bones depends, in no small way, on our history and culture.
PositiveLos Angeles Review of BooksJason Farman’s Delayed Response: The Art of Waiting from the Ancient to the Instant World is a timely and insightful reminder that waiting is a natural, integral part of how communication unfolds and has been unfolding for millennia ... The strength of Delayed Response is in the curious, quirky, and unexpected stories of waiting—it’s also in Farman’s own stories of how he discovered the stories he’s telling. The weakness, such that it is, lies in Farman’s zealous use of quotes and citations from media theorists, philosophers, and cultural critics to legitimize points he has made himself through his stories. In the grand scheme of Delayed Response, however, the reader is really only left wanting more examples of how the act of waiting enters the historical record ... For those who want to understand the rich history and material culture of pauses and less-than-prompt rejoinders, Delayed Response is the book we’ve been waiting for.
RaveLos Angeles Review of BooksWilliams’s painstakingly detailed reporting reminds us that events like these are far more complicated than they might seem, and if we want the commercial fossil trade to be anything other than what it currently is, we must understand the intricate pushes and pulls of the industry ... this is where The Dinosaur Artist excels ... details and characters bring home the fact that the challenge of combating fossil smuggling and reforming the trade is truly daunting ... Williams consistently balances...the question of who ought to be able to own natural history, like fossils—offering a fair, balanced, and nuanced treatment of her subjects ... Part of the reason that the Tarbosaurus story is so compelling is that the fossil smuggler was, for once, caught, tried, and served time in jail, while the fossil was sent back. It’s a neat and tidy narrative.
RaveThe Los Angeles Review of BooksThe two narratives — excavator and the excavatee; human and Neanderthal; present and past — are inexorably intertwined and neatly juxtaposed with authentic details and captivating characters. The Last Neanderthal could easily be the first of a new, compelling genre of prehistoric fiction ... It’s clear that Cameron has done her hominin homework. Her Neanderthals are tantalizingly authentic ... Cameron’s approach is to give Neanderthals their own agent-driven literary space — consequently, this could easily be the best book that shakes up the classic Neanderthal tropes in science fiction and fantasy.