An absolutely captivating nature book.



An exploration of the history and biology of mollusks.

As environmental journalist Barnett notes, humans have long been captivated by seashells (“the work of marine mollusks”), collecting and using them for art, jewelry, and currency. In this well-researched, consistently illuminating work, the author smoothly combines environmental science and cultural history to trace the origins and decline of mollusks. The book is divided into chapters based on a particular species—among others, the chambered nautilus, the lightning whelk, the money cowrie, the lettered olive, and the queen conch. In each chapter, Barnett discusses the biology of the species, including the formation of its shell, as well as related culture and history. She also explores the factors that have led to the declines of all of these species, including climate change and overfishing. Barnett discusses observations and writings of other naturalists and scientists that she has found significant. Among them are Leonardo da Vinci, who wrote about visible fossils in the hillsides of Italy, testifying to changes the Earth has experienced across millennia; Julia Ellen Rogers, who authored The Shell Book (1908), which “brought the world of seashells to Americans during the national zeal for nature as a hobby”; and Thomas Say, the "father of American Conchology.” Barnett explores the many ways that Native Americans used shells in their daily lives—as tools, in trade, and for ceremonial purposes—as well as the various historically significant shell mounds that have been discovered throughout the U.S. The author also takes us around the world: to the Maldives, where ancient folktales of queens and a “cowrie monopoly” are vanishing; the Lowcountry coast of the Carolinas and Georgia, home of Gullah Geechee tradition; Andros Island in the Bahamas, where Barnett investigated the effects of the annual Conch Fest; and Florida’s Sanibel Island, where “every tide brings a treasure hunt.” Fans of Rebecca Giggs’ excellent Fathoms will find much to savor here as well.

An absolutely captivating nature book.

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-393-65144-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2021

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A lucid (in the sky with diamonds) look at the hows, whys, and occasional demerits of altering one’s mind.


Building on his lysergically drenched book How to Change Your Mind (2018), Pollan looks at three plant-based drugs and the mental effects they can produce.

The disastrous war on drugs began under Nixon to control two classes of perceived enemies: anti-war protestors and Black citizens. That cynical effort, writes the author, drives home the point that “societies condone the mind-changing drugs that help uphold society’s rule and ban the ones that are seen to undermine it.” One such drug is opium, for which Pollan daringly offers a recipe for home gardeners to make a tea laced with the stuff, producing “a radical and by no means unpleasant sense of passivity.” You can’t overthrow a government when so chilled out, and the real crisis is the manufacture of synthetic opioids, which the author roundly condemns. Pollan delivers a compelling backstory: This section dates to 1997, but he had to leave portions out of the original publication to keep the Drug Enforcement Administration from his door. Caffeine is legal, but it has stronger effects than opium, as the author learned when he tried to quit: “I came to see how integral caffeine is to the daily work of knitting ourselves back together after the fraying of consciousness during sleep.” Still, back in the day, the introduction of caffeine to the marketplace tempered the massive amounts of alcohol people were drinking even though a cup of coffee at noon will keep banging on your brain at midnight. As for the cactus species that “is busy transforming sunlight into mescaline right in my front yard”? Anyone can grow it, it seems, but not everyone will enjoy effects that, in one Pollan experiment, “felt like a kind of madness.” To his credit, the author also wrestles with issues of cultural appropriation, since in some places it’s now easier for a suburbanite to grow San Pedro cacti than for a Native American to use it ceremonially.

A lucid (in the sky with diamonds) look at the hows, whys, and occasional demerits of altering one’s mind.

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-29690-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

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A straightforward, carefully detailed presentation of how ``fruit comes from flowers,'' from winter's snow-covered buds through pollination and growth to ripening and harvest. Like the text, the illustrations are admirably clear and attractive, including the larger-than-life depiction of the parts of the flower at different stages. An excellent contribution to the solidly useful ``Let's-Read-and-Find-Out-Science'' series. (Nonfiction/Picture book. 4-9)

Pub Date: Jan. 30, 1992

ISBN: 0-06-020055-3

Page Count: 32

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1991

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