The women and men who rehabilitate and care for wildlife are a unique and interesting tribe. They doThis is a gorgeous, remarkable, outstanding book.
The women and men who rehabilitate and care for wildlife are a unique and interesting tribe. They do the often tedious, thankless, exhausting jobs that we all like to imagine we'd like to do. They're fascinating people. Sadly (for us) very few of them are also gifted writers. Terry Masear is one of the few who excels in both worlds. The result is this jewel of a book offering a glimpse into the world of hummingbird rescue.
Masear is a wonderful writer, and this book is one of the most beautiful, and most enjoyable, I have read this year. Often, when a rehabber writes a book, they focus on the sweeping challenges they face, dwell on the logistics of care or diagnoses, or drown you in an unorganized spate of natural history facts. Those are all interesting, of course, but they're not what you would ask Masear (or any rescuer) about if you got her all to yourself over dinner. You'd want to hear the stories. This book is full of stories, and stories told well. She gives you the quotidian details of her life, the humor and the heartbreak, and (best of all) anecdotes about the personalities of the hummingbirds.
Not just a tale of hummingbirds, this is also a song of hope for the condition of humans, and our ability to share the planet with non-human denizens. It's full of fascinating facts, turning you into a walking, talking, probably annoying-your-friends stream of very cool things to know and share. (Did you know hummingbirds eat fruit flies and have to have protein to thrive? Did you know that to get a hummingbird out of the fire station, all you have to do is pull the trucks into the driveway? Did you know that there are 330 species of hummingbirds?? Did you know a mother will run her feet along a fledgling's back to encourage it to leave the nest? Me, neither!)
I have already made a list of the people I know who need this book. It is not a short list. I highly recommend this book to everyone.
(Also: This book rehabilitated the name Gabriel for me, which, after Dorothy Dunnett, I didn't think anything could do.)...more
I'm running out of words to describe this book, and the way I feel about iMind-blowing, breath-taking, stunning, amazing, outstanding, extraordinary.
I'm running out of words to describe this book, and the way I feel about it. Safina is passionate, thought-provoking, persuasive, and compelling. His discussions of anthropomorphism and the evolution of the fields of behavior and the study of animal intelligence and emotions is unparalleled.
This is one of those books, like Silent Spring or A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There, that marks a turning point for the philosophy of science and the public attitude towards an entire field. On top of that, it's also smoothly readable and one of those books packed with such engaging anecdotes and such amazing facts that you become a font of information to all those around you. (Kind of whether they wanted you to or not.)
Safina specifically focuses on dolphins, wolves, and elephants, and each section, on its own, would earn a five-star rating from me. Together, they make one of the most astonishing books I've ever read. ...more
This is one of those books that, if it weren't so rigorously foot-noted, one would accuse the author of making up.
Actually, if an author wrote this bThis is one of those books that, if it weren't so rigorously foot-noted, one would accuse the author of making up.
Actually, if an author wrote this book as fiction, the publisher would send it back marked "too unrealistic," and imploring the author to add a "dark side" to the hero.
It reads, almost note-for-note, like a Disney adventure movie from the latter half of the 20th century. Something in between Swiss Family Robinson and White Fang.
There are people who might be bothered by the Pollyannaish nature of the story and the characters.
It goes without saying that I am not one of them. I absolutely adored this book. I loved Elephant Bill, I loved the elephants, I loved every single one of the dogs, the otter we only met in passing, and I loved Susan. There is a part of me that wishes Croke had been a little bit less wholely uncritical, but some people are just good, some stories just don't have a dark side.
The story is thrilling, the characters and the setting are enchanting, and the details are enthralling.
If it weren't absolutely unfilmable, this would make for a knockout of a Hollywood blockbuster. It writes itself. (Note to all the Hollywood moguls who no doubt follow my Goodreads reviews: DO NOT ATTEMPT to film this. It doesn't matter how many people you have on set, you're not going to be able to get the elephants right safely. Maybe if you animated it. MAYBE.) As it is, it's a gripping book that reads more like an adventure novel (and a really good one) than a nonfiction book. ...more
Lyanda Lynn Haupt wrote this book as a new mother, observing birds that live near her, and thinking about what thI love finding new favorite authors.
Lyanda Lynn Haupt wrote this book as a new mother, observing birds that live near her, and thinking about what they mean--to her, to science, and to the world as a biosphere.
I'm a new mother, who just moved to a house on three acres of woods and streams and little clearings, and I find I spent a LOT of time watching birds at our feeders.
Haupt is an evocative, perspicacious author, and this book is a joy to read. She has humor, goodwill, and a love of both humanity and the natural world. Her innate optimism, balanced by her depth of knowledge, makes her an ideal observer and writer of natural history. This book offers a blends of information, philosophy, anecdotes, and insights that is intoxicating. It's the kind of book that makes you keep reading excerpts to your family and friends.
I highly recommend this book, and can't wait to read her others. ...more
An excellent look inside the world of bird rescue and rare bird breeding. In addition to being apparently very good at raising and caring for birds, RAn excellent look inside the world of bird rescue and rare bird breeding. In addition to being apparently very good at raising and caring for birds, Raffin is an excellent writer: a rare combination.
Reading this book will first make you wish you, too, could fill your house with birds. Then you'll think about it a bit and be glad that you're not Raffin (probably). But you'll be glad you read this book, and wish that you could visit Pandemonium. (Which, apparently, you cannot, though you can support Pandemonium Aviaries.)
I just wish there were more pictures, as the aviaries themselves sound stunning....more
I didn't realize that living with an owl was something people did. I've met falconers and people who own parrots, butThis is an enchanting true story.
I didn't realize that living with an owl was something people did. I've met falconers and people who own parrots, but never thought about owls. It's one of those things that, once you know it exists, immediately becomes something you fantasize about doing.
Martin lived with an owl, Mumble, for more than a decade. He's an intelligent, perceptive observer, and one who clearly adored his owl and significantly changed his lifestyle to give her the best life possible.
A well-written, engaging, and stimulating book that I highly recommend. ...more
Unfortunately, the book ended up being less about dogs and philosophy and more about the author's divorce and subsequent romance. He came off as more navel-gazing and . . . well, whiny, than he probably intended to. I'll probably still check out some of his other dog books, but I'll steer clear of anything that's this autobiographical and introspective....more
This is an interesting, intriguing book. Kilham has lived with and studied black bears for decades, and this book talks about many of the conclusionsThis is an interesting, intriguing book. Kilham has lived with and studied black bears for decades, and this book talks about many of the conclusions he has drawn from those studies. Do I think his conclusions run ahead of his evidence? Yes, I certainly do. Do I think that necessarily means his conclusions are wrong? No, just that they merit more study.
He makes much of the fact that his style of science is the same as that practiced by Lorenz, Schaller, and Goodall. And that may be true. But even their conclusions have had to be backed up and replicated by others. That's the nature of science. Just because someone see something cool doesn't mean we automatically add it to the scientific canon. It something is true, then many researchers will find the same thing. Replication, or at least multiple samples, is key.
Leaving that to the side, though, this is a very interesting book. Kilham's conclusions are fascinating, and this book is very definitely worth reading. ...more
War of the Whales is a book without parallel. My only complaints about it are about the narration of the audiobook, not about the book itself.
It's eaWar of the Whales is a book without parallel. My only complaints about it are about the narration of the audiobook, not about the book itself.
It's easy to believe that, in the fight for the planet, there are Good Guys (all of whom we like and approve of) and Bad Guys (all of whom we hate and despise). Sadly, that's not the way the world works. It's also not the way this book works. It would be so easy to paint this as a black and white issue of the Big Bad Navy and the good, innocent whales. And there is that aspect to the story, but Horwitz does massive amounts of research, and manages to flesh out all sides of this debate.
I know people in the Navy, whom I admire and respect. They believe in hard work, duty, sacrifice, and patriotism. I believe that they all want to protect the oceans. I am less trusting of the Navy as an overarching, enormous, well-funded organization. It's important to draw that distinction (as Horwitz does in the book).
The issue is sound. Whales and dolphins perceive the world very differently from the way we do. They have extraordinarily sensitive hearing. Many species can communicate across tens, hundreds, even thousands, of miles. We know very little about their abilities and vulnerabilities in this area.
On the other hand, there are bad humans on the planet. Some of them may be thinking about (or even planning) to attack innocent civilians at any moment. One of the way that the world's navies guard against, and prevent, this is by keeping an eye on ship and submarine movements, something that gets harder every year. Navies of the world (including the United States Navy) are solving this by using active sonar to scan for threats. They have to practice with these techniques so that they know how to use them if and when a clear and present danger arises. The problem is that this active sonar 1) may be hurting, or killing, thousands of whales and dolphins and 2) some of this testing is taking place in some of the most sensitive, diverse, ostensibly protected areas in the ocean (Hawaii, Monterey, the Caribbean).
Horwitz takes a fascinating look at the issue, beginning with a mass stranding of beaked whales on the Bahamas in 2000. The scientist who reported the stranding, Kenneth Balcomb, is a retired Navy sonar specialist, which makes him the perfect central character for this story. Horwitz follows the lawsuits, media coverage, public opinion shifts, inter-agency politics, and conservation actions that ensue. It sounds dry, but it's more engrossing than a Tom Clancy novel.
Incredibly well researched, impeccably written, this is a gem of a book. I highly recommend it to anyone, not just those interested in cetaceans or national defense.
My only complaints, as I said, were with the narration. The narrator kept saying "mink" whale rather than "minke," and it just drove me up the wall. ...more
If you would not love an personal, guided tour of Yellowstone with Doug Smith then either 1) You have not thought about it hard enough or 2) You haveIf you would not love an personal, guided tour of Yellowstone with Doug Smith then either 1) You have not thought about it hard enough or 2) You have not yet watched a sufficient number of nature documentaries on Netflix.
Smith has studied wolves all his life, in the West and on Isle Royale, and he was part of the Yellowstone reintroduction from its very beginning. He knows each of the wolves like members of his extended family and is as familiar with the progress and quirks of wolf research as a BBC fan is with theories of Sherlock's survival.
This book is fascinating. It's conversationally written so that you can pretend that you and Doug Smith are just riding along on trail horses in the backwoods and he's telling you stories about his friends, the wolves.
The study was publIn November, I stumbled across this intriguing blog post about the first canine fMRI study and I immediately needed to know more.
The study was published in PLOS ONE, which means you can go read it, but I wanted to know the backstory.
Happily, the lead scientist anticipated this reaction and published a book. This book tells the story of the circumstances that lead to dogs being trained to sit in an MRI machine while awake. It's fascinating as a behind-the-scenes look at the way science proceeds, but it's also interesting because it tells the story that doesn't fit into the scientific paper: the triumph of training the dogs and the impetus behind the questions.
It's well-written, makes a quick read, and is an encouraging look into the future. I would highly recommend this to anyone interested in how dogs (or animals) think, or in how humans interact with animals....more
Sometimes a book slots itself right into your psyche as if you'd been saving a seat for it.
This book is that kind of book.
David Powell is the aquaristSometimes a book slots itself right into your psyche as if you'd been saving a seat for it.
This book is that kind of book.
David Powell is the aquarist who started the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Of course, he did much more than that. He's a legend in the fields of diving, collecting, managing, and exhibiting fish and sea critters.
The book is delightfully written. You can easily imagine, on the strength of this book, inviting Powell to every dinner party you will ever throw. It's funny, smart, educational, and just fun to read. Plus, there is a whole section on the quirky intelligence and charm of mola molas.
I can't recommend this book highly enough. Possibly the best nonfiction book I've read in a year....more
I love it when liberal arts city folk move to the country, acquire animals, discover love, and then feel the urge to get philosophical about it all. TI love it when liberal arts city folk move to the country, acquire animals, discover love, and then feel the urge to get philosophical about it all. The books they write are wonderful.
In this case, the deep question at the root of the book is: Do animals have souls? Katz has obviously done some of his own soul-searching on the subject. He ponders what it would mean for animals to have souls: he ponders why the question matters so much to some people. In the end, his conclusion is an intriguing one: Animals either have souls, or don't, independent of how much human angst is spent on the subject. Animals are what they are.
This is a much stronger conclusion than I was hoping for. I was worried he was going to conclude for or against souls definitively. Which was worrisome to me, as I can't recall any quantitative, scientific study proving humans have souls, and there's certainly a high degree of debate about at what point in development humans are issued souls.
On one hand, this is an extremely interesting debate. It we take it as read that humans have souls, it makes sense that other animals would as well. There are very few things, evolutionarily, that separate us from non-human animals.
On the other hand, this is really a question of faith. I believe that I, and all humans, have a soul. I can't prove this, any more that I can prove love exists. On this basis, and this basis alone, I believe that other creatures have souls. I'm especially sure of mammals and birds. I don't know where the line is. Do frogs have souls? Or snakes or lobsters or beetles? What about tuna? Do cephalods have souls? What if I can only recognize souledness in animals that think relatively like me, and cephalopods have them, they're just too alien to me for me to understand?
With all that in mind, I can forgive the length to which Katz thrashes around philosophically. It's a very deep question. And it touches on the question of animal intelligence. What frustrated me is his immovably anthropocentric viewpoint. At several points, he concludes that we need animals to have souls more than they themselves need to have souls. And that animals "don't think like us" and so may not have souls.
Even more frustratingly, this line of thinking got a Disney song stuck in my head (always the mature response to a philosophical debate): "You think the only people who are people, are the people who look and think like you." Just because they don't think like us, doesn't mean they don't have souls.
He also talks about his dogs "becoming the dogs [he] needed them to be." I'm sure to some point that's true, but it's also a dangerously egocentric way to think. Dogs aren't blank slates when they come to us. They're hard-wired for aspects of their personality and intelligence, and, if I'm to be believed, they already have a soul, regardless of who owns then or how they're treated.
The other part of this book that required some deep thinking on my part was his discussion of the morality of our interaction with pets. He frequently disparages people who treat dogs like children or treat them "better than humans." I will agree that treating dogs (or any animal) like human children is dangerous, unhealthy, and unfair to both human children and the animals.
But the "treating dogs better than humans" link smacks of the argument "Why are we spending all this money on dogs when there are hungry humans?" implying that we can take care of the animals only once we've saved all the people. He brings this up as he's discussing the dog rescue movement, snidely writing that it "says something" about our society that there's no parallel rescue network for humans.
To counter the last argument first, there are rescue networks for humans. All sorts of government programs, church outreach programs, non-profits, you name it. It's just that, logistically, it's way easier to rescue a dog, so the networks aren't as well meshed together. You don't have to worry about what the dog wants, for instance. It's much easier to take a dog away from bad owners than it is to take a child away from bad parents, which is as it should be. It's also much easier to care for a dog once you have it than it is to care for a baby, a child, a teen, an adult, or a family.
This book made me think very deeply. It made me laugh, and cry, and while I didn't agree with everything he said, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, and will seek out some of the sources he references....more