Teaser Tuesdays: Refuge by Terry Tempest Williams

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

I am pleased to have found the time, finally, to pick up more work by Terry Tempest Williams. Refuge is her well-regarded memoir of her mother’s life and death within the region of Great Salt Lake, in Utah.

Today I chose a few lines that not only tell succinctly what this book is about, but speak to me personally as I work through my own relationship to place.

Most of the women in my family are dead. Cancer. At thirty-four, I became the matriarch of my family. The losses I encountered at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge as Great Salt Lake was rising helped me to face the losses within my family. When most people had given up on the Refuge, saying the birds were gone, I was drawn further into its essence. In the same way that when someone is dying many retreat, I chose to stay.

I am, of course, very excited about this book, as Terry Tempest Williams consistently impresses me. I am also already planning to reread one I loved as a kid: Pieces of White Shell. So look out for that one to come.

Teaser Tuesdays: Life and Death in the Andes by Kim MacQuarrie

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

I am loving Life and Death in the Andes. It’s a moderately fat book at nearly 400 pages, but never less than captivating in all its various stories. Stay tuned for my review to come in December.


Today’s teaser is, of course, related to a sense of place.

“It is the fate of every voyager,” Darwin wrote later in his autobiography, “[that] when he has just discovered what object in any place is more particularly worthy of his attention, to be hurried from it.” Right now, however, Darwin was so upset he could hardly eat.

Why was Darwin so upset? It wasn’t seasickness, although his early days on the Beagle were beset by that complaint. No, he was dismayed to discover after the fact that he wasn’t such a professional naturalist, after all. Do pick up this engaging history to learn more!

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.

Maximum Shelf: The Annihilation of Nature: Human Extinction of Birds and Mammals by Gerardo Ceballos, Anne H. Ehrlich and Paul R. Ehrlich

Maximum Shelf is the weekly Shelf Awareness feature focusing on an upcoming title we love and believe will be a great handselling opportunity for booksellers everywhere. The features are written by our editors and reviewers and the publisher has helped support the issue.

This review was published by Shelf Awareness on September 23, 2015.

annihilation of nature
Three academic scientists–Anne H. Ehrlich and Paul R. Ehrlich of Stanford University and Gerardo Ceballos of National Autonomous University of Mexico–come together in a plea to halt Earth’s sixth mass extinction. The attractive, large-format The Annihilation of Nature: Human Extinction of Birds and Mammals contains original illustrations by Ding Li Yong and 83 color photographs to accompany the authors’ heartfelt arguments about the value of global and regional biodiversity and the danger of extinction that currently faces so many species.

As stated in the preface, the goals of this project are to share the dire conditions with the general public, and convince that audience of the relationship between the continuing health of these diverse species and human well-being. In pursuit of these objectives, the authors have chosen to highlight mammals and birds specifically, because they are visible, sympathetic and thus likely to appeal to human compassion. The Annihilation of Nature is plainly written, well-organized and filled with arresting images.

Ceballos, Ehrlich and Ehrlich begin by describing the incredible richness of Earth’s diverse forms of life, which they call a “legacy”–humanity’s duty to protect and appreciate. They outline the planet’s previous five waves of mass extinction and their natural causes, making the point that the present sixth event is different in that it is caused by human actions. The current time period is called by many scientists “the Anthropocene,” in which “a huge and growing human population has become the principal force shaping the biosphere (the surface shell of the planet’s land, oceans, and atmosphere, and the life they support).” To illustrate the interrelatedness of human actions with every natural system, basic concepts such as the food chain are reviewed. The bulk of the book is then devoted to four chapters on extinct birds, endangered birds, extinct mammals and endangered ones. A combination of illustrations and photographs brings the reader’s attention to the long-gone dodo and the passenger pigeon, and species in need of conservation like the Philippine monkey-eating eagle and the New Zealand kakapo (a nocturnal flightless bird). Extinct mammals include the baiji–a freshwater dolphin endemic to China, called the “goddess of the Yangtze”–and the Tasmanian tiger, a marsupial predator with several unique physical features including striped patterning and rearward-facing pouches on individuals of both sexes. Mammals in danger today include a variety of large species: whales, big cats (lion, tiger, cheetah), bears, apes, rhinoceros and elephants, joined by the small but scrappy Tasmanian devil.

All life forms in an ecosystem are intricately interconnected. When gray wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park, their impact was profound and widespread: elk populations came under control and trees such as aspen, willow and cottonwood began to recover. The health of the willow helped beavers to rebound and beavers in turn improved riparian conditions and contributed to healthy populations of fish, waterfowl, amphibians and reptiles, as well as regulating stream flow. Songbirds have returned to the park in greater numbers with its new tree growth. Smaller predators have declined in numbers, which in turn increases numbers of small prey and then of mid-level predators like foxes and bald eagles. All these benefits came from the reintroduction of one keystone predator.

Having shared the remarkable and evocative profiles of so many creatures, the authors make their central point in chapter 8, “Why It All Matters.” Here they lay out the many human-caused factors that contribute to species extinction and population extinction, including habitat destruction; chemical pollution and plastic debris; the introduction of non-native species and diseases; legal hunting and illegal poaching for meat or valued body parts such as tusks, horns and organs; and killing because of competition for food sources (the Sumatran orangutan, which vies with farmers for fruit) or because some species are seen as pests (crop-raiding Asian elephants) or predators of livestock (the gray wolf). Finally, climate change is deemed a major cause of ecological upheaval and extinction. If forced to choose a number-one factor, the authors name toxic pollutants, but climate change “may be the most threatening problem ever faced by humanity” and “climate change alone could be sufficient to finish the sixth great extinction now under way.”

Finally, Ceballos, Ehrlich and Ehrlich argue that biodiversity must be valued and protected for many reasons, from the aesthetic and ethical through the services they provide to the world’s ecosystems and to humans: dispersal of seeds, insect and pest control, pollination and the sanitation role of scavengers such as vultures. Keystone species are described as those with an outsized impact on their environment. In an impassioned final chapter, the authors touch on means to conserve threatened species, including the question of direct or personal action versus institutional change. They consider ethical questions, such as whether to allow limited sport hunting of African elephants to help fund their conservation, and end with a message of hope, despite the dire picture painted by most of the book. “If we could just adopt a global policy of humanely and fairly limiting the scale of the human enterprise, gradually reducing the population size of Homo sapiens, curtailing overconsumption by the rich (while increasing needed consumption by the poor), then we might leave some room for the natural systems all humanity depends on.”

The Annihilation of Nature shows a deft hand with the complexities of its subject, as when wind turbines–good for the reduction of fossil fuel use–turn out to threaten insectivorous bats and the endangered California condor, or in discussing the economic inefficiency of allowing a species to die off to the brink of extinction (or even paying subsidies to kill them, as with the black-tailed prairie dog) and then spending millions to conserve the same species. This is a beautifully produced, deeply moving, powerful story that communicates what it intended to, with great emotional impact.

Rating: 7 extant individuals.

Come back on Monday for my interview with Paul Ehrlich.

Teaser Tuesdays: Thunder & Lightning by Lauren Redniss

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

thunder lightning

This is a lovely, gorgeous art book, you guys, and isn’t weather fascinating? Clear win all around, and I can’t wait to share my review with you. For now, I couldn’t help but indulge in these lines, which cracked me up, in a men-Mars-women-Venus sort of way.

Look at men’s and women’s boots. The first chill in the air in September or October, women’s boot sales go right through the roof. Now, the weather’s still nice at that time of year in a lot of the U.S. Men’s boot sales don’t budge. Men’s boot sales move much later in the season, in late October or November when it’s really cold and really wet and men’s socks are getting wet.

(From a lengthy quotation by Frederick Fox, CEO of Planalytics.)

Even with intriguing and whimsical text, the visual art is the best part. Sign up for your copy now.

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.

Voices of the Wild: Animal Songs, Human Din, and the Call to Save Natural Soundscapes by Bernie Krause

An engaging introduction to the science of soundscape ecology, from a pioneer of the field.

voices of the wild

With Voices of the Wild: Animal Songs, Human Din, and the Call to Save Natural Soundscapes, Bernie Krause shares his delight in the sounds of the natural world and makes an impassioned case for the importance of such acoustics.

Krause is a soundscape ecologist who’s been recording the noises of natural settings for nearly 50 years. As a pioneer in his field, he’s acquired his knowledge the hard way, beginning with the technological challenges of recording with equipment designed for indoor use, and has seen changes as the field has grown. For example, the scientific establishment’s emphasis on single-species recording is giving way to Krause’s preference for capturing an entire biome.

Voices of the Wild is designed to educate laypeople on the existence and significance of soundscapes, and how to undertake amateur recordings. Krause introduces the terms “geophony” (non-biological sounds, as of wind and water), “biophony” (non-human biological sounds, like bird- and whalesong) and “anthropophony” (human-created sounds, from speech to traffic). He makes predictions about the future of soundscape ecology, including technologies that will change the field and its impact on various disciplines, from architecture (interior soundscapes have implications on education and psychology) to biology (in which soundscapes inform our understanding of biodiversity), and many more. The field has enormous scientific and cultural relevance, for example in comparing the therapeutic value of biophonies to that of music: the former “may be more beneficial, perhaps because they are culture neutral.” Accompanied by recordings available online, Voices of the Wild offers a mildly academic but fascinating look at a little-known but potentially influential field.

This review originally ran in the September 4, 2015 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!

Rating: 6 orcas.

While Glaciers Slept: Being Human in a Time of Climate Change by M Jackson

A scientist’s personal reflections on climate change and personal loss.

while glaciers slept

“I cannot untangle in my mind the scientific study of climate change and the death of my parents.” M Jackson is a scientist, National Geographic Expert and glacier specialist, but her memoir While Glaciers Slept: Being Human in a Time of Climate Change rarely takes a scientific perspective and never claims objectivity. Rather, Jackson tells the story of losing both her parents when she was a young woman just embarking on life, and the trauma and extended grieving process that resulted.

Following a brief, lovely foreword by Bill McKibben, Jackson poetically conflates her loss with the slow and still mysterious effects of anthropogenic climate change. Her scientific background and explorations of fascinating places–Denali and Chena Hot Springs in Alaska, Zambia with the Peace Corps–inform her writing and yield striking images, as she runs on spongy Alaskan tundra or contemplates cryoconite holes atop glaciers. But it is the personal side of her narrative that allows Jackson to address society’s psychological difficulties with climate change.

Each chapter of While Glaciers Slept is a finely braided essay, considering an aspect of her parents’ lives or deaths alongside a facet of climate change’s challenges. Jackson mourns her mother with the help of Joan Didion’s writing; windmills offer possible “undulating answers” and comfort her on her drive home upon learning that her father is dying. She employs a disordered chronology that slightly disorients her reader, just as Jackson was disoriented. The effect is an evocative, lyrical work of musing and allegory rather than a scientific treatise.

This review originally ran in the September, 4, 2015 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!

Rating: 7 check marks in a dictionary.

Teaser Tuesdays: The Annihilation of Nature by Ceballos, Ehrlich and Ehrlich

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

Look out for a forthcoming Maximum Shelf issue on this beautiful coffee-table book about Earth’s sixth mass extinction event, which is human-caused and going on now.
annihilation of nature

The Tasmanian tiger, with its remarkable coloration and tiger-like stripes, was the largest predator marsupial. Females were unique in that their pouch opened to the rear and, interestingly, the males also had a pouch into which they could withdraw their scrotum. The last captive individual died in 1936.

If that is not fascinating stuff about this species, I don’t know what. And the tragedy of losing such singularities cannot be understated – and this book is full of it, I’m afraid.

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.


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