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John Kwok (New York, NY USA)
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Five Star Billionaire
Five Star Billionaire
by Tash Aw
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.81
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Beguiling Fictional Portrait of Modern Shanghai, April 21 2014
This review is from: Five Star Billionaire (Hardcover)
Chinese-British writer Tash Aw’s “Five Star Billionaire” is really more a fascinating fictional portrait of modern Shanghai replete with all of its contradictions - a thriving megalopolis which yearns to hold onto its Chinese and Western European past, as it becomes a dynamic economic and cultural beacon of hope and success to countless scores of people across the globe – than it is a novel focused solely on a few protagonists. Here Aw renders Shanghai as both the stage and the key character in his vast, sprawling, novel that introduces us to four different people whose fates become intertwined and, indeed, orchestrated by the shadowy figure of Walter Chao, the “Five Star Billionaire” himself. Aw’s exuberantly descriptive prose and superb storytelling skills offer readers a beguiling fictional portrait of Shanghai as seen through the eyes of each of the five main characters. We are introduced immediately to Phoebe, who arrives in Shanghai with the promise of a factory job, but discovers that the job doesn’t exist, and must survive with her wits intact long enough to attract the attention of Chao himself. Gary is an up and coming pop star who has enjoyed some success, having fled the country for the dazzling lights of Shanghai, but finds his life spiraling out of control as his success begins to ebb. Justin has inherited the reins of his family’s vast real estate empire in Shanghai, but he is torn between adhering to his family wishes and gaining the love and trust of someone whom he has had a crush on for years, Yinghui, a former leftist activist, turned successful businesswoman, who is passionate about preserving Shanghai’s Western European past, even as she contemplates major financial deals with the likes of Walter Chao. Aw may be one of the best literary stylists writing now in the English language as well as a fine storyteller who manages to make readers care deeply about each of the five protagonists in “Five Star Billionaire”; I look forward to reading his earlier novels, “The Harmony Silk Factory” and “Map of the Invisible World”, even as I wonder what else he may write that could match the breathtaking scope of his latest.

Bark: Stories
Bark: Stories
by Lorrie Moore
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.77
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Compelling Short Story Collection about Relations between the Sexes, April 14 2014
This review is from: Bark: Stories (Hardcover)
Among the most acclaimed writers of mainstream literary fiction of her generation, Lorrie Moore’s latest, “Bark: Stories”, may be remembered as one of the finest short story collections published this year. These are eight compellingly readable tales about relations between the sexes, with Moore demonstrating that she is both a memorable storyteller and prose stylist. “Departing”, the first story, chronicles an older man’s efforts in winning the heart of a divorced pediatrician with an adorable tenth grader of a son. It is followed by “The Juniper Tree”, a surreal remembrance of a friend who dies, but returns for one last meeting at home with her close circle of female friends. In “Paper Losses”, a husband and wife who met during the 1960s peace movement, contemplate one last fling of marital bliss during a vacation in the tropics before filing for divorce. In “Foes”, set sometime during the 2008 Presidential campaign, art, literature and politics intrude upon a dinner conversation somewhere in Georgetown. In “Wings”, the collection’s longest story, two friends see their lives from the perspective of notable pop and rock songs. In “Referential”, one of the collection’s shortest, a woman tells her lover that she’s decided to bring home her deranged son who is institutionalized for his mental health disorder. In “Subject to Search”, a couple meet in a French café, discussing their lives in the context of the Iraq War and the upcoming 2004 Presidential election. Last, but not least, “Thank You for Having Me”, recounts how a single mom bonds with her daughter as she mourns the death of singer-songwriter Michael Jackson the day after his death.

The Word Exchange
The Word Exchange
by Alena Graedon
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.77
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars An Exchange Best Ignored - A Pale Reflection of Gibson and Shteyngart, April 9 2014
This review is from: The Word Exchange (Hardcover)
For those who think speculative fiction can be written well by those who have degrees from notable MFA writing programs and have secured grants to write at notable literary retreats like Yaddo and the MacDowell Colony, but lack some familiarity with speculative fiction, fellow Brunonian Alena Graedon's "The Word Exchange" will be hailed as a great instant literary classic, a brilliant exploration of the power of words and how their meanings - or lack thereof - can transform the lives of people living sometime in the not too distant future in an alternate history New York City that is both recognizable, and yet, different from our own. However, it is yet another literary debut by a writer unfamiliar with the literary conventions of speculative fiction, ignorant of superb prior work by such notable literary stylists and storytellers as Ursula K. Le Guin ("The Left Hand of Darkness", "The Dispossessed"), Samuel R. Delany ("Dhalgren", "Nova") William Gibson ("Neuromancer", Count Zero", "Idoru", "Zero History"), John Shirley ("A Song Called Youth"), Michael Swanwick ("Stations of the Tide", "Jack Faust", "Dancing with Bears"), Neal Stephenson ("The Diamond Age", "Anathem"), China Mieville ("The City and The City", "Kraken" and "Embassytown") and Catherynne Valente ("Palimpsest"), to name but a few. Many of the novels I have cited offer far more profound literary explorations of personal relationships, communication, and the meaning of language than what I have read in "The Word Exchange" even if they may be dismissed by literary mainstream fiction writers as examples of popular genre fiction, who are unaware of the superior literary craft demonstrated by the writers I have cited. For example, Neal Stephenson and China Mieville have excelled in crafting superior novels rich in philosophical content that contain engrossing, vividly realized, plots, in settings as remote as the distant world of Arbre ("Anathem") or as close as a contemporary London cloaked in a dark fantastical realm ("Kraken").

Graedon's fictional depiction of an alternate history near future New York City lacks the detailed plotting and poetic lyricism I have encountered in fictional visions of New York City conjured memorably in Mark Helprin's "Winter's Tale" or his recently published "In Sunlight and In Shadow"; the latter, a mesmerizing, quite captivating, tale marking the long awaited return of one of the world's greatest novelists and storytellers writing in the English language. Her alternate history near future New York City lacks the compelling realism of the contemporary Brooklyn depicted in Lev Grossman's "Magician" fantasy novels. Nor does her near future New York City seem as genuinely inhabitable as Michael Chabon's Federal District of Sitka, the alternate history Alaskan Jewish refuge of his Hugo Award-winning novel "The Yiddish Policeman's Union", or as plausible as Matt Ruff's post 9/11 alternate history Baghdad ("The Mirage"); much to their credit, both writers devoted ample time in crafting compellingly realistic settings for their exceptional alternate history speculative fiction novels.

Anana Johnson, the protagonist of "The Word Exchange", searches for her missing father, Doug, the editor of the North American Dictionary of the English Language, as the civilized world falls prey to a series of word viruses that leave victims in varying degrees of aphasia, culminating in death, who are susceptible to misspelling and mispronouncing words. (As someone who has worked in HIV/AIDS epidemiological research, I regard the modes of transmission of these viruses sufficiently implausible to be viewed as credible speculative fiction.) She lives in a world in which information is exchanged via machines called "Memes", and stored online in "word exchanges" which have virtually replaced the printed word. (Much to his credit, my friend Gary Shteyngart was far more inventive in conceiving a similar device, the "apparat", in his great post-cyberpunk mainstream literary science fiction novel "Super Sad True Love Story", than in "borrowing" the term for cultural exchange coined by noted British evolutionary biologist and writer Richard Dawkins in his landmark book "The Selfish Gene".)

Great speculative fiction, whether it is written by those who have devoted their lives to this genre like Le Guin, Gibson, Mieville, Stephenson, and Swanwick or by those who have made occasional forays, like Chabon and Shteyngart, is notable for using the literary conventions of this genre in making profound, often riveting, and emotionally compelling, observations on the human condition. Such observations disappear quickly within Graedon's noteworthy prose, since she has crafted a work of fiction destined to win ample praise from those who are familiar only with mainstream literary fiction and its publication, trapped in a set of plot and setting conventions which fantasy writer Ellen Kushner has dubbed "domestic reality fiction". Fine prose which misses the magical lyricism I have read from the likes of Catherynne Valente ("Palimpsest") and fellow Brunonian Madeline Miller ("The Song of Achilles"). For those who are interested in reading great speculative fiction from the likes of notable mainstream literary fiction writers the choices are quite few, but they include not only Chabon and Shteyngart, but also Iain M. Banks, Victor LaValle, Jonathan Lethem, and Rick Moody. Otherwise, I would recommend ignoring "The Word Exchange" and reading instead, memorable works by speculative fiction writers who deserve ample recognition from literary mainstream fiction for the exceptional quality of their craft, not just Delany, Gibson and Le Guin, but the others I have cited too. It's exactly thirty years since William Gibson's great debut novel "Neuromancer" - hailed by Lev Grossman as our most important novel of our time - was published originally as a paperback first edition; in stark comparison, "The Word Exchange" is merely a pale reflection of it and Shteyngart's "Super Sad True Love Story".

Neanderthal Man: In Search of Lost Genomes
Neanderthal Man: In Search of Lost Genomes
by Svante Paabo
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 19.44
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Exceptional Account on How Cutting Edge Science Is Done, April 9 2014
Back in May, 2008, I attended a two-day symposium devoted to current advances in molecular evolutionary biology and on research pertaining to the origin of life on Earth at Rockefeller University in New York City, organized in honor of the 150th anniversary of the reporting of the discovery of Natural Selection by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace at the Linnean Society of London and the forthcoming Darwin Bicentennial celebrations in honor of his birth in 2009. Organized by Rockefeller University molecular biologist James Darnell, the symposium had received support from an organization I belong to, the National Center for Science Education, with its then executive director, physical anthropologist Eugenie C. Scott, chairing one of the sessions. As someone not trained in biochemistry and molecular biology, I found some of the talks difficult to comprehend, but one talk in particular stood out, delivered by molecular biologist Svante Paabo of the Leipzig, Germany-based Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, most notably because he claimed that his team had within its grasp, virtually the entire Neanderthal genome. Had it been someone other than Paabo, I might have scoffed at that risible claim immediately, but I had heard of his prior work, and his very presence at this symposium emphasized his important status as a notable researcher in molecular evolutionary biology.

Now, in what is one of the most important books on science published this year, Svante Paabo takes us on both a personal and scientific journey in “Neanderthal Man: In Search of Lost Genomes” that, to paraphrase E. O. Wilson, really shows us “how science is done” in molecular biology, and one that is as cutting-edge as Paabo’s research has been for nearly two decades. Part memoir, part science book, Paabo gives readers a rare view into the relatively cloistered world of lab science, describing both his frustration as well as elation as he navigates through the sociopolitical landscape of scientific research as seen from the perspective of “Big Science” in the realm of molecular biology. This may be the most honest account I have read from the bird’s eye view of a researcher explaining how research teams are created, how collaborative partnerships in research spanning continents and oceans can be forged and then, if necessary, torn asunder, as scientists, motivated by personal reasons, opt for competition with their former partners. He is especially candid in his portrayal of himself, even delving into personal matters some might find potentially scandalous, as well in describing his interactions with his lab colleagues at the Max Planck Institute and elsewhere. Readers with little or no prior background in molecular biology will be able to understand much of Paabo and his team’s research, since he describes, often extensively, various research methods and tools needed for collecting genomic data. Though Paabo’s writing may lack the elegance and sophistication often seen from the likes of the late Stephen Jay Gould and E. O. Wilson, nevertheless he tells a compelling story explaining how an early interest in obtaining DNA from Egyptian mummies led eventually to his noteworthy research in sequencing not only the Neanderthal genome, but in obtaining portions of the genome of a hitherto unknown group of hominids, the Denisovans, and explaining how some of their genomic material persists within populations of non-African Homo sapiens, thus giving us a far more complex history of human prehistoric migrations across the globe than what was previously thought possible from both paleobiological and molecular data. This complex history led him to propose the “leaky replacement hypothesis”, suggesting that migrating bands of hominids entering into new Eurasian territories eventually supplanted preexisting populations via sexual relations with the previous occupants, with the resulting fertile hybrids becoming the dominant hominid populations, accounting therefore, the existence of traces of Neanderthal and Denisovan genomes within most modern Homo sapiens populations. Anyone who wishes to understand “how science is done” in contemporary molecular evolutionary biology will be well rewarded by reading “Neanderthal Man: In Search of Lost Genomes”

Black Moon: A Novel
Black Moon: A Novel
by Kenneth Calhoun
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 16.93
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3.0 out of 5 stars A Good, Not Great, Dystopian Insomniac Fiction Novel, April 9 2014
This review is from: Black Moon: A Novel (Hardcover)
“Black Moon” is a very well written novel of ideas, but it is not, contrary to what Charles Yu has noted on its jacket blurb, “….a novel of ideas wrapped in a gripping, expertly constructed story, full of feeling and intelligence”. Instead, it comes across as a paler version of Ben Marcus’s “The Flame Alphabet”, matching the former only with regards to the superb quality of Kenneth Calhoun’s prose, without having the ample imagination and wit demonstrated by Marcus in his critically acclaimed novel. “Black Moon” is meant to be a near future dystopian view of an insomniac plague, in which the relative few, among them the main protagonist Biggs, seem immune to the plague’s effects, searching through deserted towns and streets for those whom they hope may have survived. However, it merely mirrors what I have seen regrettably as a less than positive trend, by those fluent in mainstream literary fiction who think they can write well about some near future dystopian scenario without displaying any familiarity with or understanding of contemporary speculative fiction. Those who prize literary quality above all will be drawn immediately to Calhoun’s prose, but it is fine prose in search of a compellingly meaningful plot which is all but absent in this relatively terse novel. If Kenneth Calhoun had shown as much attention to detail as Peter Heller did in his wonderful near future dystopian debut novel “The Dog Stars” with regards to both the setting and a plausible dystopian scenario, then “Black Moon” would indeed be a great novel of ideas, instead of a mere bagatelle of contemporary fiction pretending to be superb speculative fiction.

Every Day Is for the Thief: Fiction
Every Day Is for the Thief: Fiction
by Teju Cole
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 16.89
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Native’s Long Awaited Return to his Nigerian Hometown, April 9 2014
In plain, often unadorned, but still gracefully eloquent, prose, Teju Cole does for his Nigerian hometown, Lagos, Nigeria’s capital city, in his latest novel “Every Day Is for the Thief”, what he did for New York City in his memorable debut novel “Open City”. Using a literary style that could be mistakenly viewed as memoir, and in prose that may remind readers of a compelling, often intoxicating, blend of Ernest Hemingway, Frank McCourt and Paul Theroux, Cole takes us on an illuminating journey through Lagos, via the eyes of a young writer who is returning from the United States to his hometown for the first time in years. A young, carefully observant, writer who misses nothing due to his keen powers of observation and superlative skills as a photographer. (A noteworthy emerging photographer of “street” documentary fine art photography whose work has been exhibited in the United States and in India, Cole’s own photographs of Lagos are included in almost every chapter.) He confronts the “informal economy” of Lagos frequently during his sojourn, dealing with corrupt government officials, tollbooth clerks and police, as though they were necessary, almost indispensable, aspects of the city’s complex governmental landscape. He takes us to bazaars where teens are surfing the web, willingly committing e-mail fraud, as though it was a daily, almost routine, aspect of their lives. He shows us a city, Lagos, and a country, Nigeria, that is far more religiously and ethnically diverse than those of us in North America might be willing to admit. A city where he can hear classic American jazz from superb local musicians and, quite unexpectedly, discover a relatively new Western classical music conservatory where students can study and perform if they possess the financial means to own their own musical instruments. Through his eyes we learn much about his hometown and country’s history, pondering the lingering melancholy aftermath of the African slave trade, and the sharp ethnic and religious divisions which remain evident in Nigeria, decades after the bloody civil war which pitted the Christian Ibos of the south against the rest of the predominantly Muslim Yoruba north. Suffice it to say, “Every Day Is for the Thief”, is an admirable, melancholy, fictional valentine from Cole’s unnamed narrator and protagonist to Lagos itself. What Cole has wrought in “Every Day Is for the Thief” will be regarded by many as among the finest tersely written novels in recent memory, and one of the most notable Anglo-American literary mainstream novels published this year.

In Paradise: A Novel
In Paradise: A Novel
by Peter Matthiessen
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 20.65
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Holocaust Remembrance Novel is Among the Year's Best, April 9 2014
This review is from: In Paradise: A Novel (Hardcover)
Acclaimed by William Styron as “…a writer of phenomenal scope and versatility”, Peter Mathiessen’s latest novel, “In Paradise”, is an unforgettable novel of Holocaust remembrance which will be viewed not only as among this year’s best, but as one of his finest novels in his long storied literary career. It is an especially moving, often poignant, novel that deals not only with history, but also remembrance and reconciliation as it pertains to the Shoah, the Holocaust, itself. During a week-long remembrance by more than one hundred people at Auschwitz in the late fall of 1996, Matthiessen introduces us to a most captivating, quite compelling, cast of characters, of whom the most memorable is an American scholar, Clement Olin, a descendant of Polish aristocracy, who attends merely to research the odd suicide of an Auschwitz survivor, feeling disengaged from those in attendance as one of the few who isn’t Jewish. What Olin discovers will shatter his knowledge of his family’s history immediately before and during World War II, and more importantly, alter forever, his own understanding of who he is, exposing a dark secret hidden carefully by his parents for decades. Matthiessen adroitly weaves in the Holocaust’s Polish history with the stories of those attending the Auschwitz memorial, as we see them clash over contemporary issues like the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as lingering anti-Semitism expressed by some of the local Polish population near Auschwitz. Matthiessen demonstrates anew why he is worthy of Styron’s notable accolade, reminding readers that he is indeed a master storyteller and prose stylist who ranks among the finest writers in American fiction, as well as nonfiction. What Matthiessen has written is for me, the best new novel I have read so far this year. I won’t be surprised if “In Paradise” is short-listed for many literary prizes; even if it isn’t, it will be remembered as one of the best novels published this year.

The Evolution of Reptilian Handbags and Other Stories
The Evolution of Reptilian Handbags and Other Stories
Price: CDN$ 3.32

5.0 out of 5 stars A Fantastic Short Story Collection Brimming with American Fantastic, March 11 2014
“The Evolution of Reptilian Handbags And Other Stories” is a remarkable short story collection from debut author Melanie Lamaga, and one worthy of comparison not only with Karen Russell’s “Vampires in the Lemon Grove” but also with Brian Evenson’s “Windeye”, especially with regards to her great storytelling and prose. Earning lavish praise from Elizabeth Hand for writing “….beautiful, eerie stories that hover on the cusp between nightmare and sunlit dreaming, the everyday and the never was…”, and from Andy Duncan for writing stories that are “…weird, wry, startling and passionate….”, Lamaga’s writing is hauntingly beautiful, poignant and lyrical, possessed with the uncanny ability of rendering what seems to be ordinary into the fantastical, jumping easily between realism, fantasy, and horror. Her writing excels regardless of the story’s length, though her two finest are among the longest in this ten story collection; “Mr. Happy The Sharpshooter”, in which a Korean war veteran stalks his doppelganger, the affable host of a children’s television program, and “The Seduction of Forgotten Things”, an especially poignant, incredible love story between a rebellious high school senior and a homeless man who isn’t what he seems to be. The title story is brimming with wit, making some wry observations about merchandise marketing. She delves into mythology, writing memorable stories about a modern day Medusa (“Medusa”), and how a pair of women struggle for survival in cold, wind-swept, post-apocalyptic Iowa (“Black Crater, White Snow”), and an inside-job of a bank heist (“Invisible Heist”), the collection’s concluding tale, that is especially remarkable given its brevity, but one that demonstrates the exceptional qualities of Lamaga’s storytelling, imagination and prose. “The Evolution of Reptilian Handbags And Other Stories” is one of the most impressive recently published short story collections I have read, and one especially noteworthy as the debut of someone who should be viewed as an important new talent in American speculative fiction; one who bears favorable comparisons not only with Russell, but especially with Catherynne Valente and Erin Morgenstern.

Lighthouse Island: A Novel
Lighthouse Island: A Novel
by Paulette Jiles
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 23.99
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Very Good, Not Great, Mainstream Literary Dystopian Novel, March 6 2014
Writing dystopian speculative fiction novels and getting them published are the latest trend in publishing, whether they are Suzanne Collins' "Hunger Games" trilogy, or notable debuts like Peter Heller's "The Dog Stars". Paulette Jiles' "Lighthouse Island" is a very good example of this, especially since it is a dystopian speculative fiction novel written by someone who has little knowledge or understanding of the genre. (An observation which is rather surprising considering that her literary agency represents the likes of Stephen King and Neal Stephenson; Stephenson should be viewed as one of the great speculative fiction writers of our time, while King has made some noteworthy contributions as well.) "Lighthouse Island" is a novel that J. G. Ballard could - and did - write over the course of his distinguished literary career, but, unlike Jiles, gave readers far more plausible dystopian futures rooted well in credible scientific extrapolation, with prose more luminous and lyrical than what Jiles has written. However, to her credit, Jiles has written a compellingly readable love story set in a dystopian future, replete with a memorable heroine, Nadia, who finds herself trapped in a bizarre set of situations reminiscent of those depicted in Terry Gilliam's film "Brazil". I also commend Jiles' referencing of Patrick O'Brian's superb Aubrey/Maturin novels as well as occasional references to J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-Earth. While "Lighthouse Island" pales in comparison with Ballard and Stephenson's best, it is still a novel worthy of attention by a large readership.

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History
by Elizabeth Kolbert
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 20.06
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Clarion Call for Ending the Current Mass Extinction, Feb. 12 2014
As a former invertebrate paleobiologist, "The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History" is the book I have been waiting for years to be written. It is a clarion call for ending the current mass extinction that we humans are causing, and a book that should be, according to Scientific American, "this era's galvanizing text", worthy of comparison with Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring". It is also a vastly superior popular science book than last year's "Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction" written by IO9 science editor Annalee Newitz, simply because Elizabeth Kolbert, a staff writer at The New Yorker, has done a superlative job in science reporting, accurately reporting and interpreting work done by some of the most notable researchers of our time studying mass extinctions, whether it is research from Berkeley vertebrate paleobiologist Anthony Barnosky (The lead author of a 2011 Nature paper estimating that current extinction rates are equivalent to those of the five great mass extinctions recognized from the fossil record; the terminal Ordovician, terminal Permian, terminal Triassic and the terminal Cretaceous; the latter in which non-avian dinosaurs became extinct.) or American Museum of Natural History curator of invertebrate paleontology Neil Landman, a noted researcher of Cretaceous ammonites, or evolutionary geneticist and anthropologist Svante Paabo, whose team is sequencing the entire Neanderthal genome and recognized the existence of another late Pleistocene hominid species, the Denisovans, from genomic material in a fragment of a finger bone found in a Siberian cave. What Kolbert has written is a spellbinding work of science journalism worthy of comparison with David Quammen's "The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinctions", and one that belongs on the bookshelves of anyone interested in science, and especially those who may not grasp the full extent of the ongoing mass extinction being caused by us, humanity. Moreover, at the end of her book, she provides an extensive bibliography which notes many of the most important relevant scientific papers as well as important texts written by the likes of notable ecologists James H. Brown and Michael Rosenzweig, and paleobiologists Michael Benton, Douglas Erwin and Richard Fortey. Without question, "The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History", may be one of the most discussed, most important, books of popular science published this year.

In her opening chapter, "The Sixth Extinction", in prose that is hauntingly beautiful and poignant, Kolbert cites the disappearance of Panamanian frogs and toads as one emblematic of the ongoing crisis in biodiversity, noting that of all the major groups of terrestrial vertebrates, amphibians are the ones which are most rapidly going extinct before our very eyes. She uses the discoveries of fossil mastodons and mammoths in North America and Europe in the 18th and early 19th Centuries in the second chapter ("The Mastodon's Molars") to introduce readers to the great French naturalist Georges Cuvier who was the first to recognize the existence of extinct species and the likelihood that they died during great cataclysms in Earth's history. Her third chapter, "The Original Penguin", is an especially lucid account of British geologist Charles Lyell's uniformitarian view of Earth's history, and how that inspired Charles Darwin's thinking, not only in geology, but especially, in his conception of the Theory of Evolution via Natural Selection, while describing the rapid extinction of the Great Auk - which was the first bird to be dubbed a "penguin" - in the North Atlantic Ocean along the northernmost coast of North America and Iceland. In the fourth chapter, "The Luck of the Ammonites", she offers an especially lucid account of geologist Walter Alvarez's discovery of the iridium-rich clay at the end of the Cretaceous, leading to the development of the asteroid impact theory for the Cretaceous mass extinction, while also discussing work by such notable invertebrate paleontologists as David Jablonski, David Raup, Jack Sepkoski, and Neil Landman, in noting how the Cretaceous mass extinction that wiped out the non-avian dinosaurs, ammonites and other notable terrestrial and marine organisms, was simply a case of bad luck, which she emphasizes further in describing the probable causes for the terminal Ordovician and terminal Permian mass extinctions (Chapter V).

Kolbert devotes two chapters (Chapters VI and VII) to the ongoing "experiment" humanity is performing on the world's oceans, ocean acidification, caused by an excessive increase in carbon dioxide being dumped into them, and noting that it was a likely cause for several of the mass extinctions known from the fossil record. I must commend her for an excellent discussion of the species-area curve known for decades by ecologists, especially through the important research by E. O. Wilson and his colleague Robert MacArthur in the early 1960s (Chapter VIII), as a means of understanding habitat fragmentation (Chapter IX) as a major contributing factor in determining a species' prospects for survival. There are also excellent discussions on how human activity has fostered the unexpected dispersal of animals and plants, creating, in essence a "New Pangea" (Chapter X), that has only accelerated the tempo of the ongoing mass extinction, and the "Pleistocene Overkill" hypothesis (Chapter XI) proposed by geologist Paul S. Martin that has been confirmed, in spectacular fashion, by palynological (fossilized pollen and spores) data from Australia and North America. She describes the extinction of Neanderthals as another, much earlier, example of human-driven extinction (Chapter XII) relying on the notable research by Svante Paabo and his team, noting the importance of the "Out of Africa" theory in explaining Homo sapiens' global dispersal, while also discussing Paabo's "leaky-replacement" hypothesis that accounts for Neanderthals' eventual replacement by Homo sapiens through interbreeding, resulting in hybrids whose descendants include all non-African populations of humanity, contributing between 1 and 4 percent within the genomes of non-African populations, remnants of the Neanderthal genome. In the concluding chapter (Chapter XIII), Kolbert acknowledges she has been amassing evidence demonstrating why the current mass extinction exists, and warning us that "...we are deciding, without quite meaning to, which evolutionary pathways will remain open and which will forever be closed. No other creature has ever managed this, and it will, unfortunately, be our most enduring legacy."

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