A captivating nature tour and a convincing warning that “the deep needs decisive, unconditional protection.”

THE BRILLIANT ABYSS

EXPLORING THE MAJESTIC HIDDEN LIFE OF THE DEEP OCEAN AND THE LOOMING THREAT THAT IMPERILS IT

An investigative foray into the world of deep-sea waters with a veteran marine biologist.

“This is without a doubt a golden era for deep-sea exploration,” writes Scales in this beguiling journey into the ocean’s deep, a wondrous landscape full of mystery and adventure: “Here lie entire ecosystems shut away in the dark that are based around the chemical powers of microbes, where worms are nine feet long, crabs dance, and snails grow suits of shiny metal armor.” At the same time, however, the ever increasing knowledge of the abyss leads to further evidence that there is money to be made by harvesting the resources held there. Scales begins by describing the deep sea’s uniqueness and biodiversity. She examines many of its miraculous denizens, such as the “bone-eating snot flower,” found off the coast of Sweden; the ultra-black fish; and gossamer worms, which “wriggle elegantly in tight pirouettes through the water.” Scales also discusses such features as seamounts, coral beds, and hydrothermal vents as well as chemical reactions such as bioluminescence and chemosynthesis (the dark equivalent of photosynthesis). Tracking the massive circulatory patterns of the ocean currents, the author demonstrates how they are disrupted by the forces of climate change, and she looks into possible medical advances that could originate from the ocean floor, including chemotherapy ingredients, genetic-testing materials, and new antibiotics. As in her two previous books, Spirals in Time and Eyes of the Shoal, Scales offers crisp, engaging prose, linking everything together in an accessible, entertaining manner. With plenty of scientific research to back her up, the author displays legitimate concerns about a wide variety of maladies, including plastic waste, raw sewage, oil spills, radioactive elements, and deep-sea mining, which “pose[s] dangerous risks to biodiversity and the environment, on timescales and intensities that cannot yet be fully quantified but could be catastrophic and permanent.”

A captivating nature tour and a convincing warning that “the deep needs decisive, unconditional protection.”

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-8021-5822-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 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.

THIS IS YOUR MIND ON PLANTS

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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Exemplary writing about the intersection of the animal and human worlds.

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VESPER FLIGHTS

Falconer and writer Macdonald follows on elegant memoir H Is for Hawk (2015) with a set of essays on nature.

“I choose to think that my subject is love,” writes the author at the beginning, “and most specifically love for the glittering world of non-human life around us.” Love sometimes turns to lamentation as she notes how much of the natural world has been destroyed in her lifetime. There are some particularly wonderful moments in this altogether memorable collection, as when Macdonald recounts retreating from a shy girlhood, teased and even bullied by her schoolmates, with the aid of binoculars and field guides that allowed her to escape into a different, better world: “This method of finding refuge from difficulty was an abiding feature of my childhood.” Later in that passage, she continues, “when I was a child I’d assumed animals were just like me. Later I thought I could escape myself by pretending I was an animal. Both were founded on the same mistake. For the deepest lesson animals have taught me is how easily and unconsciously we see other lives as mirrors of our own.” The author also recounts her treks looking for wild boars, the descendants of once-domesticated pigs that are now not quite like pigs at all, having reclaimed ancestral fierceness. Macdonald allows that while her encounters with such creatures are eminently real, she’s fully open to the possibilities of symbolic encounter as well. Anthropomorphism may be a sin among biologists, but as long as it doesn’t go to silly lengths, she’s not above decorating a nest box—and those decorations, she writes in a perceptive piece, are as class-inflected as anything else in class-conscious Britain. Perhaps the finest piece is also the most sobering, a reflection on the disappearance of spring, “increasingly a short flash of sudden warmth before summer, hardly a season at all.”

Exemplary writing about the intersection of the animal and human worlds.

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2881-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: April 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020

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