An appealingly written, enlightening, and sometimes eerie journey into the extraordinary possibilities for the human senses.

SENTIENT

HOW ANIMALS ILLUMINATE THE WONDER OF OUR HUMAN SENSES

An exploration of the ways the animal kingdom is providing insight into human senses.

What can we learn about ourselves by studying a vampire bat, a cheetah, or a moth? According to Higgins, who works for Oxford Scientific Films, quite a bit. In a series of essays, each focusing on an extraordinary sense of a specific animal, the author invites us to open up “to the everyday miracle of being sentient.” While we are taught that humans only have five senses, Higgins argues that we are capable of perceiving the world to a much greater degree than we may think. The limitations we put on ourselves become apparent as we study the ways in which animals use their senses. For example, the peacock mantis shrimp has spectacular eyesight largely due to additional photoreceptors that allow it to see colors that are invisible to the human eye. But as Higgins explains, many humans unknowingly possess a condition known as tetrachromacy, in which they have four cones (instead of three) and perceive the world in a wider range of colors, including a “rich and beautiful mosaic of lilacs, lavenders, violets, emeralds.” In a chapter on the great gray owl, the author suggests that anyone can learn a version of echolocation. When placed in a room similar to Beranek’s Box, the echo-free chamber created by acoustics scientist Leo Beranek during World War II, humans are able to hear blood rushing through their own veins. The reason is that our ears “become more sensitive as a place gets quieter.” In an authoritative and captivating tone, Higgins provides numerous entertaining lessons regarding how information gained from animals can be applied to humans. In fact, scientists are already utilizing this information to develop devices and enhancements to “cure” conditions such as blindness and deafness. Though full of arcane scientific information, the book is narrated in an easily readable tone, and Church’s well-rendered illustrations are a bonus.

An appealingly written, enlightening, and sometimes eerie journey into the extraordinary possibilities for the human senses.

Pub Date: Feb. 22, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-982156-55-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2021

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Gates offers a persuasive, 30,000-foot view of a global problem that, he insists, can be prevented given will and money.

HOW TO PREVENT THE NEXT PANDEMIC

The tech mogul recounts the health care–related dimensions of his foundation in what amounts to a long policy paper.

“Outbreaks are inevitable, but pandemics are optional.” Thus states the epidemiologist Larry Brilliant, a Gates adviser, who hits on a critically important point: Disease is a fact of nature, but a pandemic is a political creation of a kind. Therefore, there are political as well as medical solutions that can enlist governments as well as scientists to contain outbreaks and make sure they don’t explode into global disasters. One critical element, Gates writes, is to alleviate the gap between high- and low-income countries, the latter of which suffer disproportionately from outbreaks. Another is to convince governments to ramp up production of vaccines that are “universal”—i.e., applicable to an existing range of disease agents, especially respiratory pathogens such as coronaviruses and flus—to prepare the world’s populations for the inevitable. “Doing the right thing early pays huge dividends later,” writes Gates. Even though doing the right thing is often expensive, the author urges that it’s a wise investment and one that has never been attempted—e.g., developing a “global corps” of scientists and aid workers “whose job is to wake up every day thinking about diseases that could kill huge numbers of people.” To those who object that such things are easier said than done, Gates counters that the development of the current range of Covid vaccines was improbably fast, taking a third of the time that would normally have been required. At the same time, the author examines some of the social changes that came about through the pandemic, including the “new normal” of distance working and learning—both of which, he urges, stand to be improved but need not be abandoned.

Gates offers a persuasive, 30,000-foot view of a global problem that, he insists, can be prevented given will and money.

Pub Date: May 3, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-53448-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2022

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A quirky wonder of a book.

WHY FISH DON'T EXIST

A STORY OF LOSS, LOVE, AND THE HIDDEN ORDER OF LIFE

A Peabody Award–winning NPR science reporter chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century scientist and how her quest led to significant revelations about the meaning of order, chaos, and her own existence.

Miller began doing research on David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) to understand how he had managed to carry on after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his work. A taxonomist who is credited with discovering “a full fifth of fish known to man in his day,” Jordan had amassed an unparalleled collection of ichthyological specimens. Gathering up all the fish he could save, Jordan sewed the nameplates that had been on the destroyed jars directly onto the fish. His perseverance intrigued the author, who also discusses the struggles she underwent after her affair with a woman ended a heterosexual relationship. Born into an upstate New York farm family, Jordan attended Cornell and then became an itinerant scholar and field researcher until he landed at Indiana University, where his first ichthyological collection was destroyed by lightning. In between this catastrophe and others involving family members’ deaths, he reconstructed his collection. Later, he was appointed as the founding president of Stanford, where he evolved into a Machiavellian figure who trampled on colleagues and sang the praises of eugenics. Miller concludes that Jordan displayed the characteristics of someone who relied on “positive illusions” to rebound from disaster and that his stand on eugenics came from a belief in “a divine hierarchy from bacteria to humans that point[ed]…toward better.” Considering recent research that negates biological hierarchies, the author then suggests that Jordan’s beloved taxonomic category—fish—does not exist. Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence.

A quirky wonder of a book.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6027-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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