If it's alive and it lives wild, it's wildlife.

Kevin J. Cook                                              Kevin@WildlifeWindow.com

Book Reviews

Book Review Criteria

Score 0–10 in each category; highest possible score 50

 

Literary merit: artistic quality of word selection and syntax.

 

      Seminal Question: Was the text written or was it crafted?

 

Attention to detail: relevance, connectedness, and completion of topics; content and copy editing; typesetting, layout, and design; printing and binding.

 

      Seminal Question: Is the book a professionally complete package in all respects, or do one or more elements present distracting conflict?

 

Factual content: accuracy of information in all scholarship categories and filtering out errors of cultural perception.

 

      Seminal Question: Can the reader trust this book, or must the reader confirm points of fact with outside sources?

 

Voice: narrative or storytelling vehicle and overall tone.

 

      Seminal Question: Does the delivery match the content?

 

General impression: reader satisfaction and future utility.

 

      Seminal Questions: Does any line, paragraph, or chapter make me, as a writer, wish I had written it?  Will I want to save this book for future reference or rereading?  Does it make me want to explore or investigate its topic further?

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A Naturalist’s Perspective

Four Books You Should Read in Succession – and Why

    
"Nature-deficit disorder" sounds like a promise of euphoria for everyone. Liberal environmentalists and social-reform activists can sink their teeth into this disorder and propose all manner of government programs to correct it, and conservative newspaper columnists and talk-radio hosts can engage their superlative powers of gymnastic argumentation to dissect and criticize both the disorder and the people who believe it.
    
Richard Louv formally introduced the premise of "nature-deficit disorder" in 2005. Applying a relentless leave-no-stone-unturned approach to substantiate his premise with examples, Louv artfully engaged stepwise redundancy to elaborate a good magazine article into a 334-page book, Last Child in the Woods (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina).
    
Separately and collectively, the book and its premise offer opportunity for critical personal reflection and interpersonal discussion. One particular facet of the "nature-deficit disorder" concept every modern-day naturalist should reflect on long and hard: Those who are most likely to have and to exhibit "nature-deficit disorder" will almost uniformly shrug it off with a dismissive "I don’t care." Addressing this dismissal alone is worth a book because every analysis of it bogs down in a heads-and-tails reality.
    
For example, one cannot miss what one has never had; yet a person can suffer a chronic sense of absence often described as an inner feeling that "something is missing in my life."
    
But the "I don’t care" dismissal bears a more salient cause for reflection and discussion.
    
Louv argues that "nature-deficit disorder" can lead to lesser physical and mental health. This may be true for the individual who strongly senses that "something is missing in my life." But our society is full of happy people whose only connection to nature is swatting mosquitoes and presenting a spouse with flowers on special occasions. Louv’s attempts to link crime and degraded health with "nature-deficit disorder" completely disregard the reality that in nature animals commit "crimes" against each other all the time.
    
House Wrens fill cavities with twigs so that other birds cannot or will not nest there, and they destroy the eggs of other birds by pecking holes in the eggs’ shells.
    
So is it possible for a House Wren to suffer "nature-deficit disorder" or is it likely that belligerent and aggressive behaviors are more biological than cultural? If you think this question needs an answer, you missed the point.
    
Louv’s concept of "nature-deficit disorder" makes a catchy premise for discussion, but it is not a political issue; liberal-conservative discourse can only muddle it beyond recognition. It is, however, seminal to the philosophical heartbeat of the naturalist profession, which is why perspective is so vital. Perspective houses the heartbeat.
    
Four particular books, read in a specific sequence and in a short time span, can establish a perspective that will transform Last Child in the Woods into a wholly different book. Each is an autobiography in which the respective authors describe, directly or indirectly, how their childhood connections to nature molded their adult lives.
    
Read these books then reflect on Louv’s premise of "nature-deficit disorder" from this perspective: not everyone who grew up "back then" became a John Burroughs, an Edwin Way Teale, or a Rachel Carson. You just might discover that "nature-deficit disorder" is more a perennial lament that somehow, some way, the olden days were always more golden than those of today.

First Read

Dune Boy by Edwin Way Teale (1943).

    
Teale narrates his double life spent in a town during the school year and on his grandparents’ farm during summers and holiday breaks, a double life that lasted until about 1914. It is noteworthy because it was the life on the farm that set the pattern for his life and ultimately motivated the autobiographical tale. The book is devoted to Teale’s experience-by-experience encounter with the natural world.

Second Read

Country Editor’s Boy by Hal Borland (1970).

    
This autobiography is more cultural than natural history; yet Borland held a reputation – dubious in my estimation – as a nature writer and even won the John Burroughs Medal in 1968 for his book Hill Country Harvest. Still, Borland’s account of living in Flagler, Colorado, from 1915 to 1918 paints a vivid portrait of rural childhood.

Third Read

The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be by Farley Mowat (1957).

    
Mowat’s body of work has earned praise for his skill as a storyteller and his craftsmanship as a writer but also scorn for his willingness to prevaricate. This autobiography of Mowat’s youth in the 1920s and 1930s details a family’s penchant for travel and for wildlife. It clearly establishes a childhood pattern of wildlife encounters that shaped the subsequent adulthood.

Fourth Read

Naturalist by Edward O. Wilson (1994).

    
As the dust jacket reads, Wilson "...traces the trajectory of his life – from a childhood spent exploring the Gulf Coast of Alabama and Florida to life as a tenured professor at Harvard – detailing how his youthful fascination with nature blossomed into a lifelong calling." Considering the giant shadow Wilson casts, knowing how the boy’s connection to nature became the life-calling of the giant is a tale worth reading.

 



 


 

For Love of Insects

Thomas Eisner                                                                                                            Score

Belknap Press: Harvard University Press; Cambridge, Mass.                    6–9–9–8–10

(2003;  448 pp.)                                                                                                          Total: 42

  

 

      As insects challenged Thomas Eisner, For Love of Insects will challenge readers.

      Some will hunger for more explanation of the chemical and biological science behind the author’s work; and the careless reader may become more infatuated with the human documentation of wildlife than truly in love with the wildlife itself, begging the question: Is the majesty in the research or in the subject?  Some will find the explanations of chemistry and experimentation procedures tedious.  And some readers may slip into a mindset that the book is too self-aggrandizing.

      In the long tradition of scholars, Insects focuses on intellectual accomplishment; information about Eisner as a person would not fill a half page.  This autobiographical vehicle and softened presentation of technical chemistry disqualify Insects as science writing.  Emphasizing scientific procedure and experimentation, routinely crediting colleagues, and confusing the moniker “naturalist” with “biologist”  challenge categorizing the book as nature writing.  And yet...

      Eisner writes about being unabashedly in love with life and unapologetically devoted to pursuing that love.  His enthusiasm oozes from his book like a pheromone wafts from a beloved insect, enticing the reader afield to find the beetles, harvestmen, spiders, and millipedes that sang their Siren call to him. 

      Read it as a passion viewed through insects or as an insect treatise viewed through a passion, but read For Love of Insects with uncluttered heart and mind.  You will find wonderment.

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