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Reviews Written by
STEPHEN PLETKO "Uncle Stevie" (London, Ontario, Canada)

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Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space
Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space
by Janna Levin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 22.52
41 used & new from CDN$ 13.20

4.0 out of 5 stars "When black holes collide, they make a sound", Sept. 17 2016

“A campaign to record the [sounds of the universe] began a half century ago. The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) is to date the most expensive undertaking ever funded by the National Science Foundation…

There are two LIGO observatories, one in Hanford, Washington, and the other in Livingston, Louisiana…With integrated costs exceeding a billion dollars and an international collaboration of hundreds of scientists and engineers, LIGO is the culmination of entire careers and decades of technological innovation…

As much as this book is a chronicle of gravitational waves—a sonic record of the history of the universe, a soundtrack to match the silent movie—it is a tribute to a quixotic, epic, harrowing experimental endeavor, a tribute to a fool’s ambition.”

The above extract comes from this well-written and informative book by Janna Levin. She is a professor of physics and astronomy at Barnard College of Columbia University (in Upper Manhattan, New York City). Levin is also director of sciences at “Pioneer Works” (a center for arts and sciences in Brooklyn). As well, she is an author and has recently been named a Guggenheim Fellow (one who demonstrates exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the arts).

This book is about the history of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory or LIGO. But what exactly is LIGO? It is a large-scale U.S. physics experiment and observatory to detect cosmic gravitational waves and to develop gravitational-wave observations as an astronomical tool. The original LIGO observatories (there are two) were conceived, built, and operated by the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Later, the sensitivity of the original LIGO detectors were enhanced to become “Advanced LIGO.”

(Note that the word “Observatory” of LIGO is somewhat deceiving as detection is actually made by sound.)

So, what are gravitational waves? They are ripples in the curvature of space-time that propagate as waves, generated in certain gravitational interactions that spread outward from their source (such as two colliding black holes). They were predicted by Albert Einstein (1879 to 1955) in 1916 on the basis of his Theory of General Relativity (1915).

Levin does a good job in detailing the fifty-year history of LIGO. She gives us the biographies (most obtained through interviews) of the major scientists responsible for bringing the LIGO experiment to fruition (some people may find these biographies tedious to read) and captures quite well their vision, spirit, struggles, obsessions, aspirations, frustrations, and trials as they attempt to capture these elusive waves. All the necessary science is intertwined with this important human element.

The two main things you will learn is: (1) how science works (2) the power of human ability and imagination.

If you read the end of the above quoted extract, you will see that Levin thought LIGO was a “fool’s ambition.” (These are the last two words of the last chapter of this book.) Even many of the scientists working on LIGO had their doubts.

As Levin was about to bring her finished book to her publisher, she received an e-mail in Dec 2015 telling her that LIGO had “recorded a signal consistent with the…merger of two…black holes!!” (Detection of these waves occurred on Sep 14, 2015 with the announcement of this discovery being made on Feb 11, 2016.)

Thus, Levin had to add an “epilogue” to her book. Therefore, the chapters of this book are concerned with the history of LIGO but the epilogue is about the 2015 discovery of gravitational waves.

Finally, the only problem I had with this book is that it screams out for illustrations (pictures, diagrams, etc.). Everything in this book is in words. I would have liked to have seen pictures or diagrams of LIGO and its main components. And portraits of the key scientists involved would have been nice.

In conclusion, at the very beginning of this book, Levin dedicates an entire page to a Machiavelli quotation:

“There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.”

This 1513 quote perfectly describes the true story of LIGO that’s detailed in this revealing book!!!

(First published 2016; 16 chapters; epilogue; main narrative 210 pages; acknowledgements; appendix; notes; index; about the author)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>


Seven Brief Lessons on Physics
Seven Brief Lessons on Physics
by Carlo Rovelli
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 12.88
39 used & new from CDN$ 8.57

4.0 out of 5 stars A riveting distillation of centuries of science that's exceptionally clear and vivid, Sept. 10 2016

“These [seven] lessons were written for those who know little or nothing about modern science. [Science is systematized knowledge derived from observation, study, research, and experimentation.]

Together they provide a rapid overview of the most fascinating aspects of the great revolution that has occurred in physics in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, and of the questions and mysteries that this revolution has opened up. [Physics is the science dealing with the properties, changes, interactions, etc. of matter and energy.]”

The above comes from the preface of this little and surprisingly comprehensive book by Carlo Rovelli. He is an Italian theoretical physicist and the head of the Quantum Gravity group at Aix-Marseille University (in France). As well, he is a co-discoverer of a new theory called “loop quantum gravity.”

These physics lessons are expansions of a series of articles published in the Sunday supplement of an Italian newspaper. They were later translated into English.

This small book contains some BIG ideas. It explains the major concepts of modern physics. Rovelli’s concise and comprehensible writings makes sense of complex scientific notions such as Einstein’s general relativity (“the most beautiful of theories”), quantum mechanics (“shrouded in mystery and incomprehensibility”), cosmology (the study of the universe as a whole), and thermodynamics (the study of the conversion of heat energy into other energy forms).

What makes this book a joy to read is Rovelli’s enthusiastic, poetic, and even philosophical descriptions that communicate the essence of these topics without getting bogged down in excessive details. As well, this book taken as a whole ignites curiosity.

I agree with the first sentence in the above extract in quotations. However, this book is not just for novices. I feel that there is just enough for the well-versed scientific reader.

This book has been a best-seller in Italy and the United Kingdom. This is not surprising since few writers, let alone physicists, capture the beauty of nature and the excitement of its discovery in such clear, rich prose.

Finally, the only problem I had was with the last chapter or lesson. In the previous lessons, the author sticks to his area of expertise but in the last lesson he does not and fails to reference some of the new ideas and concepts he introduces. However, the writing was exceptionally good.

In conclusion, for those that what to learn the beauty of physics in fewer than a hundred pages, this is the book for you!!

(first published in Italian 2014; translated into English 2015; first published in English 2016; preface; 7 lessons/chapters; main narrative 80 pages; index)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>


Earth:  The Inside Story
Earth: The Inside Story
DVD ~ Various
Price: CDN$ 26.98
23 used & new from CDN$ 19.89

5.0 out of 5 stars Do you know how your planet works??, Sept. 3 2016
This review is from: Earth: The Inside Story (DVD)

“Earth, the only planet orbiting the Sun that has continents, oceans, plate tectonics [crustal slabs that slowly move], and the sole planet with an atmosphere that has sustained life for billions of years. How did Earth get this way?

What’s behind the power, the violence, that cracks solid rock in an instant, that shatters buildings, and sends tsunamis [tidal waves] racing for the shore, that erupts seas of lava and billows clouds of ash? ...

Scientists have new answers to questions about our home…

It’s a story that just a few decades ago, could not have been told.”

The above comes from the beginning of this informative and fascinating documentary that traces the geologic story of our home planet beginning with the Big Bang and continuing with its evolution to the present.

There are many questions answered in this film but here are the three key ones important to me that were answered:

(1) What makes Earth’s plates or crustal slabs move?
(2) Where did all of Earth’s liquid water come from?
(3) Is Earth in a period of intense geologic upheaval?

I also found the segment entitled “Climate through geologic time” and the comparisons made to our planetary neighbours, Venus (our sister planet) & Mars, quite interesting.

Besides the excellent narration, there are brief comments from others throughout (NASA geologists, scientists, professors, etc.). The cinematography is astounding and the graphics aid greatly in understanding what’s being said as does the archival footage that’s used.

Finally, here are the “geologic hotspots” on all seven continents where this movie was filmed:

(1) Antarctica (2) Bangladesh (3) China (4) Japan (5) Ecuador (6) Greece (7) Guatemala (8) India (9) Italy (10) Kenya (11) Mexico (12) Mongolia (13) Nepal (14) Pakistan (15) U.S.

Funding for this film was provided by the U.S. Dept. of Energy and the National Science Foundation.

In conclusion, by the end of this documentary you should know definitively how our unique planet works!!

(2015; 56 min excluding end credits; wide screen; 5 chapters; English subtitles; PBS)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>


Living Bird: 100 Years of Listening to Nature
Living Bird: 100 Years of Listening to Nature
by The Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 36.34
29 used & new from CDN$ 30.09

5.0 out of 5 stars This book is dedicated "to all of you who spread your love and knowledge of birds and the natural world to others", Aug. 27 2016

“The beauty of birds, their diversity, their color and flight, their songs and fascinating behaviors, all capture our imagination and inspire us to appreciate the interconnected wonders of nature.

More specifically, the power of science, technology, and human ingenuity help us to understand the mysteries of birds and apply what we learn to make [the twenty-first century] a better one for the environment.

Will we stand by, witnessing more [bird] species blinking out to extinction? Or [will we] channel our passion and expertise to ensure that birds will remain in our world? For those who love birds, it’s not a choice but a burning necessity [that birds remain in our world].”

The above comes from this gorgeously photographed and very informative book by representatives of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (CLO) and its photographer, Gerrit Vyn. CLO, associated with Cornell University, has the following mission: to interpret, and conserve the Earth’s biodiversity through research, education, and citizen science focused on birds.

Vyn, besides being a photographer, is a cinematographer and producer for CLO. He leads expeditions around the world to document wildlife and conservation stories. Vyn’s photographs appear regularly in books & magazines (such as National Geographic) and his audio & video work has been featured on radio & television programs (such as PBS’s Nature). Nine representatives for CLO (including Vyn) are responsible for this book’s text (including photo captions). They have diverse backgrounds such as author, professor, researcher, naturalist, biologist, and science writer.

This book is an intimate yet stunning exploration of North American bird species. Vyn’s color photographs (over 265 of them) of bird species are simply captivating and unforgettable. I, personally, have not seen any better. The interesting essays (including front and back material essays) in this book were written by different people associated with CLO (with the exception of one person writing two essays). Vyn, besides his exquisite photographs, also writes the field essays found after each main essay. Profile essays are found after each field essay.

Vyn’s work focuses on birds. Why? Because they are powerful indicators of environmental health and (climate) change. The birds are telling us all is not well. Thus, parts of some essays, deal with the issue of the environment. (Truthers may not appreciate this.) Note that the title of this review is the actual first of two sentences of this book’s dedication. The second sentence reads as follows:

“You are needed now, more than ever.”

The bird on this book's front cover (shown above by Amazon) is a Tufted Puffin.

Finally, though not absolutely necessary, I would have liked to have seen a listing of the birds photographed in this book (along with the page number the photo is on). In this way, I would have had easy access to my favourite bird photos.

In conclusion, this book is a mesmerizing tribute to our North American flying feathered friends!!

(First published 2015; foreword; introduction; 9 essays; afterword; postscript: The future of birds is in our hands; main narrative 190 pages; about the Cornell Lab of Ornithology; acknowledgements; list of contributors)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>


One in a Billion: The Story of Nic Volker and the Dawn of Genomic Medicine
One in a Billion: The Story of Nic Volker and the Dawn of Genomic Medicine
by Mark Johnson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 29.04
35 used & new from CDN$ 18.80

4.0 out of 5 stars The story of a small boy who is "the face of a new kind of medicine", Aug. 20 2016

“In [a] small Madison [Wisconsin] suburb…a medical mystery is playing out inside the gut of a small boy.

It begins innocently enough one fall morning in 2006, when a mother goes to dress her son in swim trunks at a water park and notices a patch of red, swollen skin on his bottom.”

The above is essentially the beginning of this medical mystery and is the basis of this riveting book that describes the story of the first human being (Nicholas “Nic” Volker, born Oct., 2004) whose life was saved by personalized genomic medicine. It is co-authored by two Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists, Mark Johnson and Kathleen Gallagher, both of whom have won numerous awards for their reporting.

(A genome is all the DNA within a single cell of an organism. Genomics is a discipline that applies various DNA processes to analyze the function and structure of genomes. Genomic medicine is an emerging discipline that involves using genomic information about a person as part of their clinical care.)

This book covers the years from 1993 to 2015.

The authors have detailed every twist and turn in Nic’s medical odyssey. The science is well-explained and most technical words are defined in the main narrative. Biographies of the main characters involved in this story are also given.

How can you be sure everything in this book is accurate? Answer: to get the raw, immediate, and complete material for this book, the authors were allowed to access Nic’s mother’s online journal that chronicled Nic’s years in the hospital. As well, they had access to the doctors and nurses who cared for Nic and the scientists who “read” or sequenced his genetic script.

I counted the number of people interviewed for this book to be a staggering 82.

The number of chapters in this tome is 23. Humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes that contain our essence, the DNA that makes us who we are. I’m not sure if this was done on purpose but I thought this was a nice touch.

Finally, two things could have improved this book: a glossary and illustrations (pictures, diagrams, etc.). Even though most technical words are defined in the main narrative, I think a glossary would have been most beneficial. There is only one black and white picture. I would have liked to see diagrams in this book to aid in explaining major DNA concepts. As well, pictures of the main people of interest in this important story would have added to it.

(Note that the winding staircase on this book’s front cover, shown above by Amazon, depicts the structure of DNA.)

In conclusion, this is a landmark medical narrative that tells the incredible tale of the lives that converged to launch a medical revolution! This book portrays science and medicine at its best!!

(First published 2016; 23 chapters; main narrative 200 pages; acknowledgements; notes; sources; index; about the authors)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>


Antarctic Edge: 70 South (Sous-titres français) [Import]
Antarctic Edge: 70 South (Sous-titres français) [Import]
Price: CDN$ 26.70
16 used & new from CDN$ 18.87

5.0 out of 5 stars Climate Change Science and Antarctic Science at its BEST, Aug. 13 2016

“Scientists and crew from around the world are arriving…for our annual research voyage [by icebreaker] to Antarctica. We have to quickly pack enough food and science equipment for [four] weeks at sea.

We are heading to the fastest warming place on Earth: the West Antarctic Peninsula, which has experienced a winter temperature increase of eleven degrees Fahrenheit over the last fifty years. That’s six times faster than the average global warming.”

The above comes from this extraordinary documentary which follows a team of scientists (oceanographers, seabird ecologists, marine biologists, etc.) as they explore the West Antarctic Peninsula. They want to understand climate change in this place: “the fastest warming place on Earth.”

Just before the voyage, we are told of the “calculated risks” these scientists and researchers are taking by undertaking this task (like encountering 60-foot waves and hulking icebergs). Then weeks 1, 2, 3, and 4 of their research voyage are shown in spectacular detail. We are introduced to the arsenal of cutting-edge technology that these scientists use (that will probably revolutionize how climate change is studied).

We are also informed of the “plight of the penguins.” Specifically, Adelie penguins are studied intensively during this voyage. (Adelie penguins’ conservation status: near threatened.)

The final destination of this voyage, as this documentary’s sub-title tells us, is at latitude 70 degrees south. Not mentioned is the final destination’s longitude of 75 degrees west. These coordinates reveal the location of Charcot Island, a rugged and inhospitable place that lies off the peninsula. Adelie penguins live there in a true sea-ice climate.

The cinematography is… breath-taking. Besides the landscapes, you’ll see animals such as whales, penguins, and seals. Also, I found the animation to be quite instructive.

You may be surprised to learn that the actual voyage does not start until about fifteen minutes into this film. That’s because climate change information is given and dramatic images are shown. I found this to be an effective prelude to the actual voyage.

Finally, the DVD (the one released in 2015) has five extras. All of them are brief and interesting. From these extras, I learned that this film was funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation and the Rutgers School of Environmental & Biological Sciences. (Rutgers is the State University of New Jersey.) As well, over 400 hours of raw footage was edited down to make this film.

In conclusion, this is a mind-boggling and important documentary providing us with conclusive evidence of how melting ice affects climate across the entire planet!!

(2014; 1 hr, 10 min excluding end credits; 10 chapters; subtitles; wide screen)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>


In-Between Days: A Memoir About Living with Cancer
In-Between Days: A Memoir About Living with Cancer
by Teva Harrison
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 19.71
5 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A stranger asks this book's author, "So, what do you do?" The author's reply, "I have cancer. Mostly, I do that", Aug. 6 2016

“I occupy the limited spaces, slipping between unnoticed.

The hours of [breast] cancer are strange. MRIs at 3:00 a.m., pain at 2:00 a.m., capable one day, incapable the next. It’s like living in the shadows.

And so I take the spaces nobody claims and I occupy them in the best way I know how: living life with a sense of wonder and delight.

Because I don’t know how long I get to bask in the glory of this world [her condition is incurable or terminal] and the people I love.”

The above is the entire prologue of this insightful and brutally honest book by Teva Harrison. She is a writer and artist. Harrison has a graphic series on living with cancer which is locally published. She has also commented about her experience on CBC Radio and in Toronto’s “Globe and Mail” newspaper. Many health organizations have invited her to speak publicly on behalf of the metastatic cancer (the spread of cancer throughout the body) community.

This book is memoir of living with cancer. It is divided into three parts. The first part deals with the medical aspects of her disease (for example, treatment), the second part delves into the social ramifications of having this disease (such as marriage), while the third part is concerned with its emotional aspects (like dreams).

When I say that this book is a memoir, I mean that it is half graphic memoir and half written memoir. That is, each of the chapters, generally, are two pages, the left page having a black & white comic book illustration while the right page has a short personal essay. (The title of this review actually comes from the fourth panel of a comic book illustration.)

I found the combination of graphic illustration & personal essay to be quite effective and it really drove home (at least for me) what Harrison is going through.

Finally, I found this book to be beautiful, heartbreaking, honest, inspiring, insightful, contemplative, rational, humorous, and creative. And what major lesson did I learn? That joy and hope can exist in the same place as anxiety and fear.

In conclusion, this is truly one of the most stunning memoirs I have ever read. Considering that it was written by a terminally ill person makes it not only stunning but unique!!

(First published 2016; preface; prologue; 3 parts or 9 chapters; main narrative 155 pages; resources; acknowledgements; colophon; about the author)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>


Anne Frank's Holocaust [Import]
Anne Frank's Holocaust [Import]
Price: CDN$ 19.64
20 used & new from CDN$ 12.10

5.0 out of 5 stars "It's how we...respond to EVIL that's important. And for that reason, the...story of Anne Frank...must be told", July 30 2016

“I feel the beauty of nature and the goodness of the people around me.

Every day I think what a fascinating and amusing adventure this is.

With all that, why should I feel despair?”

The above is from a page (dated May 3, 1944) of Anne Frank’s diary and is found at the very end of this informative and absorbing documentary.

Most people know the story of Anne Frank (1929 to 1945) up until her and her family’s arrest at the Annex on Aug. 4, 1944. This film goes over this but then tells us what happened next as they are absorbed into their oppressor’s system of concentration camps during the Holocaust.

Through eyewitness testimony from camp survivors (including two of Anne Frank’s school friends) and stunning, blemish-free black & white film and still photos as well as brief comments from historians, researchers, professors, etc., the brutality and horror of exactly what happened to Anne Frank and her family is shockingly revealed.

Finally, some of the key questions answered in this film are as follows:

(1) What was the real first name of Anne Frank?
(2) Who arrested Anne Frank and her family at the Annex?
(3) A “miracle” occurred. What was that?
(4) What was the name of the photographer responsible for taking the frightening photos that people remember when they recall the atrocity of the Holocaust?
(5) Why did the oppressors continue with their extermination plans even when they were losing the war (specifically the Second World War, 1939 to 1945)?
(6) Why was the final concentration camp that Anne Frank sent too so bad?
(7) What was the month in 1945 that Anne Frank died and why is that important?
(8) Who was “The Beast of Belsen?”
(9) There were two survivors from the Annex. Who were they?
(10) What did the grandson of the photographer mentioned in (4) above do?

In conclusion, this is an extraordinary documentary that tells us what exactly happened to Anne Frank and her family after their arrest. I leave you with “three commandments” that have emerged from the Holocaust as revealed in this film:

(1) Thou shalt not be a perpetrator
(2) Thou shalt not be a victim
(3) Thou shalt not be a BYSTANDER

(2015; 1 hr 32 min; wide screen; subtitles; 6 chapters; National Geographic)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>


Witness: Passing the Torch of Holocaust Memory to New Generations
Witness: Passing the Torch of Holocaust Memory to New Generations
by Eli Rubenstein
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 19.81
2 used & new from CDN$ 19.81

5.0 out of 5 stars "We do know how to respomd [to the memory of the Holocaust]. The answers resound in the pages of this book", July 23 2016

“Dombrowa, July 22, 1943

My Dear Sister and Brother-in-Law,

I am writing this letter to you during the last days of my life. We are expecting [our demise] any time…

I don’t believe even a miracle can help us now. My little son…and I are the last sacrificial victims…The only thing that makes it easier on my heart is knowing that [my eight year old daughter] will be saved…It is not our fault. We are innocent, our future is lost and it cannot be changed…

It breaks my heart to have to write this letter to you, but you must know what happened to your family and how they disappeared. I am sorry to say that from the whole family, nobody is alive, we are the last. We are in danger and there is no possible way for us to live through this…

I cannot write any more…This is the last letter from me to you.”

The above are excerpts from an actual letter written by a Jewish female prisoner that appears in this unforgettable book compiled by Eli Rubenstein with “March of the Living.” Rubenstein has been involved with Holocaust education for almost three decades. “March of the Living” is an educational program that brings Holocaust survivors and young people (students) from around the world together to march from Auschwitz (concentration camp) to Birkenau (extermination camp) in memory of all Holocaust victims as well as to demonstrate solidarity against prejudice, intolerance, and hate.

The purpose of this book is to keep the memory of the Holocaust or Shoah (1941 to 1945) alive.

This book consists of photographs, archival photos, a map, survivor testimonies, poems, quotations, and text. It proceeds in a logical sequence and answers such questions as:

(1) What happened? And to whom?
(2) Where did the Holocaust take place? Who let it happen?
(3) Who resisted?
(4) Who survived?

Lastly, the students and survivors get together where the “torch of Holocaust memory” is passed on to a new generation. Survivors recount their Holocaust memories to students while students give survivors the emotional support they need to return to the sites where their family members perished.

The students thus become witnesses to what happened. It is this new generation of witnesses that make a commitment.

This book makes it clear that the Jews alone were not only persecuted. Other groups (such as Poles, Soviet POWs, and the disabled) met their fate during this morally fractured time.

Finally, this is an interactive book where you can view on your smartphone or other device survivor testimony from the archives of the Shoah Foundation and March of the Living.

In conclusion, this is an incredible book that, I’m sure, will help to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive!!!

(First published 2015; note to the reader; introduction; 6 chapters; main narrative 115 pages; 2 appendices [not labelled as such]; acknowledgements and credits)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>


Half-Earth: Our Planets Fight for Life
Half-Earth: Our Planets Fight for Life
by Edward O Wilson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 22.13
40 used & new from CDN$ 17.24

5.0 out of 5 stars "The biosphere does NOT belong to us; WE BELONG TO IT", July 16 2016

“I’ve written [this book] as the last of a trilogy that describes how our species became the architects and rulers of the [new] ‘Antropocene’ epoch [the time of human alteration of the entire global environment], bringing consequences that will affect all of life, both ours and that of the natural world, far into the geological future.”

The above comes from this fascinating, well-written book by E. O. Wilson. He is a biologist (his specialty is the study of ants), researcher (especially in biodiversity or biological diversity), theorist (he proposed the biophilia hypothesis: an instinctive bond exists between humans and other living systems), naturalist (conservationist) and a best-selling author (of more than twenty books).

Wilson is now Professor Emeritus in Entomology (the study of insects) at Harvard University and a lecturer at Duke University. He has won numerous awards including the Pulitzer Prize (twice).

Simply put, this book is about nature. Wilson is deeply concerned about it. He shares this concern with the reader by dividing his book into three logical parts: first he identifies “THE PROBLEM,” then he tells us about “THE REAL LIVING WORLD,” and finally he proposes “THE SOLUTION” to the problem that is affecting our living world.

In the first part (nine chapters) he tells us that the wide variety of life-forms on our planet remains unknown to science. The species discovered so far that can be studied well-enough to assess (namely, animals and flowering plants) are declining in number at an increasing rate.

There were three chapters in this part that I found particularly interesting: “Why extinction is accelerating,” “The impact of climate change: land, sea, and air,” and “The most dangerous worldview.” (I found the last chapter mentioned here to be both disturbing and sad.)

The second part consists of seven chapters. A large part of biodiversity still exists in both species (a genetically distinct population of life-forms) and ecosystems (a locality with distinct physical traits and the distinctive species that live within it) of the living world but the time that remains to save this remaining biodiversity is quickly running out. In fact, it can be practically gone by the end of this century. Wilson tells us that “what follows [in this part] is an image of [biodiversity’s] immense surviving breadth.”

There were four chapters in this part that stood out for me: “The unknown web of life,” “The wholly different aqueous world,” “The invisible empire,” and “The best places in the biosphere.” (The “biosphere” is all the organisms alive in the world at any moment, which together form a thin spherical layer around the planet.)

In the last chapter mentioned here, Wilson tells us that “the selections [of best places] described…are subjective assessments by myself and those chosen at my request by eighteen senior conservation biologists based on extensive field experience.”

The last part consists of five chapters. The global conservation movement has reduced but not stopped the ongoing extinction of species. In fact, the rate of loss is actually increasing. If biodiversity is to be returned to the baseline level of extinction before the spread of humanity, and thus saved for future generations, the conservation effort must be raised to a new level. As well, there must be a fundamental shift in moral reasoning concerning our relationship to the living environment.

This part contains the key chapter that may be The SOLUTION to THE PROBLEM: “HALF-EARTH: HOW TO SAVE THE BIOSPHERE.” Note that this is a proposal to halt the accelerating extinction of biodiversity.

I thought this rather a ridiculous proposal but was convinced after I read the rest of this part and read appendix 1 whose first sentence states that “There exist organizations and recent trends in large-scale land and marine conservation that lend credibility to the Half-Earth solution.”

At the beginning of each chapter are impressive black & white line drawings from mainly the late 1800s that show elements from nature (birds, animals, etc.). These highlight the beauty of nature.

Finally, a problem that some people may have with this book is that Wilson occasionally meanders off-topic. Personally, this did not bother me because he gives his own distinctive insights which I appreciated. Some readers may not, however, like this and may even condemn the book for this.

Also, there is a one-page glossary that’s sandwiched in-between other back-material making access to it difficult. This is very important (at least it was to me). Thus, it should be located right after the main narrative ends and, in my opinion, expanded to include more key words. As well, the appendices (there are two, not one, as the table of contents asserts) should be titled and their presence made known in the main narrative. (In fact, I almost missed the important appendix that I mentioned above.)

In conclusion, this is E.O. Wilson’s most impassioned book to date that reminds us that “we remain a biological species in a biological world.”

(First published 2016; prologue; 3 parts or 21 chapters; main narrative 210 pages; sources; glossary; 2 appendices; acknowledgements; index; about the author)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>


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