Few forces of nature are as terrifying and unpredictable as forest fires, particularly those in America’s arid West and Southwest. Depending on size, such a fire can create its own shifting weather patterns, each posing a new danger, a different path of destruction. That’s what happened in Yarnell, Arizona, on June 30, 2013, when 19 of the 20 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots firefighting team were burned to death in a blaze sparked by lightning.
Thor Hanson’s The Triumph of Seeds is an unexpected delight. Composed in charming and lively prose, the book introduces readers to a variety of quirky figures—biologists, farmers, archaeologists and everyday gardeners—who have something profound to say about a seemingly mundane topic: those little kernels that, against tremendous odds, have managed to take root all around us.
Originally published in Israel, Dr. Yuval Noah Harari’s brilliant history of humankind has already become an international bestseller. A specialist in world history, Harari undertakes a daunting task in Sapiens: to examine the rise of our species and discern the reasons behind our remarkable success.
At the age of 85, Edward O. Wilson, one of our foremost evolutionary biologists (and a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner), has written a provocative book that is so fascinating it nearly lives up to the stunning ambition of its title.
Michele Raffin was a suburban California mom who’d finally signed up to join a gym when, to her dismay, her personal trainer was extremely late for their session. When he finally arrived, he had a good reason for the delay: He’d come across a wounded bird by the side of the freeway. In what would become a life-changing moment, Raffin met that dove and tried to save it. And though it didn’t survive, she found herself a few days later responding to a newspaper ad seeking someone to rescue another dove. Her course in life was set.
Ah, we humans, what have we wrought? Essayist and naturalist Diane Ackerman (author of A Natural History of the Senses, The Zookeeper’s Wife and many other books) tackles this musing—and not merely rhetorical—question in The Human Age: The World Shaped by Us, examining what geologists are calling our current epoch, the Anthropocene, or Human Age.
Upon hearing that Randall Munroe, NASA roboticist turned webcomic all-star, is writing a collection of “What If?” columns, a number of you will immediately make plans to buy the book. Don’t worry, you’ll love it. But this review is for the rest of you, who are curious if a bit confused.
Nature writer Nick Jans first spotted the large tracks of a wolf while cross-country skiing near his home in Juneau, Alaska, in December 2003. Two days later, while relaxing in his hot tub, he caught a glimpse of the animal itself. Nick raced out to see him, and soon he and his wife, Sherrie, became infatuated with the beautiful black wolf.
While teaching a group of volunteers about marine stewardship one morning, researcher Ken Balcomb was confronted with a crisis the likes of which he'd never seen: an inexplicable mass stranding of beaked whales. While racing up and down the Bahamas coastline, trying to save lives or at least preserve specimens for autopsy, he struggled to comprehend what could have caused the whales such trauma. When the U.S. Navy's sonar program was implicated, Balcomb was torn; proud of his own service record, he nonetheless broke confidentiality about Navy practices to try and save the lives of whales. Joining forces with environmental lawyer Joel Reynolds, the two face off against a government in the throes of a national security panic in War of the Whales.
Seven out of 12 young men on the Wilcox Expedition perished on the mountain during the storm. Many elements—inexperience, illness, personality conflict—may have played a role in the overall situation, but as Hall demonstrates, the ultimate factor was environmental. No one could have survived the 100 mile-per-hour winds strafing the upper limits of the mountain for a week.