MixedThe New York Review of BooksSmith is a professional archaeologist who has excavated many ancient ruins around the world. As she conjures the lives lived among those now tumbled stones, she depicts people who bear an uncanny resemblance to contemporary, urban Californians. If she has conjured aright, the nature of the urbanite has been more or less set from the start ... Smith seems to view inequality as a natural condition for humans, and writes that in the first cities it led not to oppression but opportunity. She sees the elites of ancient cities as \'patrons.\' Nor is there the slightest sense in her book that the consumption that occurs in cities, with its rapid uptake and discarding of the latest fads, is related to the current environmental crisis. She finds city life—with its consumerism, fashion, and constant interaction—so attractive that she can’t conceive of life without it. I put down her book filled with dread, fearing that if cities have always generated prodigious mountains of waste, then perhaps our environmental problems have no solution.
PositiveThe New York Review of Books... both a timely and important book. A 2016 survey revealed that Britain was ranked twenty-ninth out of 218 countries examined for nature depletion.
PositiveThe New York Review of Books\"... as Lisa Margonelli so elegantly demonstrates in Underbug, when we look at social insects, all too often we see only what we want to see ... Despite falling far short of Marais’s The Soul of the White Ant in clarity and poetry, Underbug is an extraordinary provocation. Those willing to follow its meandering arguments may find intriguing clues to humanity’s fate.\
RaveThe New York Review of BooksJoel Berger’s extraordinary new book Extreme Conservation reveals just how hard-won knowledge about various Arctic species is ... Some of Berger’s interactions with musk oxen are deeply disturbing, and it’s greatly to his credit that he admits to the failures as well as the triumphs ... The bleak nature of Berger’s work comes through strongly ... Berger is a committed conservationist whose work has increased the chance that musk oxen, saiga antelopes, takin, and pronghorns will survive. But is such altruism sufficient to induce someone to live a life of freezing discomfort, trauma, frequent failure, and social alienation? ... He is a hero of biology who deserves the highest honors that science can bestow.
PositiveThe New York Review of Books\"... a grand and sprawling book ... Along the way, the book provides many amusing historical anecdotes and important scientific insights ... Some of the most fascinating material Zimmer covers concerns the phenomena of mosaicism and chimerism ... As bizarre as chimeras might seem, they represent only the surface waters of Zimmer’s deep dive into the nature of inheritance...\
RaveThe New York Review of BooksDuring the excavation of Herod’s palace at Masada between 1963 and 1965, a pottery jar was unearthed that contained a great many seeds of the Judean date palm, which had been extinct for some eight hundred years ... one sprouted, becoming the oldest seed to have germinated with human assistance and the only living example of this variety of palm. Methuselah...it has been named ... Methuselah’s story is emblematic of the astonishing potential and the excruciating limitations faced by researchers trying to save the world’s rarest plants. Carlos Magdalena is at the forefront of these efforts, and his The Plant Messiah is a gripping account of both his successes and failures ... The work done by Magdalena and others like him is nothing short of miraculous ... And it must be said that for all of Magdalena’s professions of single-minded dedication to saving plants from extinction, he seems to find ample time to follow his other great passion—waterlilies. Whole chapters of The Plant Messiah are devoted to his search for unusual waterlilies and other peripheral matters. The book nevertheless illustrates just how much can be done to save even species that all but the greatest optimist would consider doomed.
Richard O. Prum
PositiveThe New York Review of BooksThat said, Prum does a great service in showing how limited research into human sexuality is ... Despite these quibbles, The Evolution of Beauty has much to recommend it, both as a provocation to the complacency of much contemporary evolutionary thinking and as a scientific hypothesis to be tested.
James C. Scott
RaveThe New York TimesScott, an anthropologist and political scientist, has never wielded a trowel, but his research is extraordinarily meticulous and detailed, and the lives of his imagined first citizens are unlike anything existing today. His analysis implies that the history of the metropolis has been marked by one long struggle by ordinary citizens to free themselves from oppression ... Against the Grain deserves a wide readership. It has made me look afresh at the urban world. Now when I see monumental architecture, I think of the workers who in many cases literally slaved over its construction. And, having been awakened to the concept, I see cases of near-politicide everywhere, from the growing inequality of wealth in our societies, to the taxpayer-funded bank bailouts following the 2008 financial crisis. If Scott is right about the world’s first citizens, then cities and their inhabitants have been on quite a journey.
PositiveThe New York Review of BooksIn many ways The Green and the Black is well balanced, reporting accurately and entertainingly on the attitudes and beliefs of oilmen and environmentalists about fracking and the oil industry in general. Strikingly, however, Sernovitz believes that the oil and gas business has changed fundamentally over the past two decades, and mostly in ways that benefit the fight against climate change. The reason, he argues, is fracking ... Sernovitz says that 'the ability to extract oil and gas from shale...has domesticated, for everyone on Earth, the snarling threat of destructive oil and gas prices,' by which he means, in part, that the propensity of the US to go to war when its oil supply is threatened has been diminished by the cheap domestic oil provided by fracking. Just how true this will be in the future is unclear.