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The SB&F Reviews page is updated regularly with new reviews. See our featured reviews below. Check back often for the latest science book reviews from SB&F.

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Featured Children's Book Review

Markle, Sandra. The Great Monkey Rescue: Saving the Golden Lion Tamarins. (Illus.) Minneapolis, MD: Lerner Publishing Group, 2016. 40pp. $30.65. 9781467780308. Glossary; Index.


Rating: **

Once every decade or two a science book hits the shelves and pushes aside all its competitors. It becomes an instant classic. This is one such rare and glorious book. Sandra Markle's narrative of efforts to save the golden lion tamarins of Brazil captures the reader's interest from page one with the cliffhanger tale of a young female searching for a family group that will accept her. She fails, and her plight sets the stage for the recounting of a scientific and political drama that began in the 1960s. Scientists worked for many years to determine why tamarins, severely endangered in the wild due to habitat destruction, seldom reproduced in captivity. Investigators learned that family groups were key, and teams then went to work to devise ways of breeding tamarins in zoos for subsequent release into forest preserves in Brazil. Government agencies, environmental activists, and volunteers joined forces to create new habitat corridors and expand the range available to the tamarins. The result is a success story that points the way toward similar rescue efforts for other endangered species. The story is also a model of the scientific process in action: how observational research methods can solve a mystery and how new knowledge can spur positive action in the political and social arenas.

The book is visually appealing, featuring numerous photographs of the monkeys and of scientists at work to save them. Markle's story is beautifully written and organized, and the book includes a timeline, glossary, index, and list of resources for further study. The reading level is perfect for upper elementary and middle school readers, but younger children will be fascinated with the story when it is presented as a read‑aloud book. A must‑buy, must‑read acquisition.‑‑Faith Brynie, Science Writer, Bigfork, MT

Featured Young Adult Book Review


Zickefoose, Julie. Baby Birds: An Artist Looks into the Nest. (Illus.) New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin, 2016. 352pp. $28.00. ISBN 9780544206700. Index.

YA, C, T, GA

Rating: **

This lovely book by Julie Zickefoose could turn anyone into a birdwatcher, or take an ordinary birdwatcher to greater heights. Zickefoose is an excellent storyteller and observer. She leads readers on an account about the early days—from egg to fledgling and sometimes beyond—of 17 different species of bird she’s watched mainly from her home over a period of 13 years. She lifts the littlest hatchlings from their nests, lovingly feeds them the innards of mealworms or other preferred “baby” foods as she quickly draws their emerging features, and returns them to grow another day for yet another sitting (or sleeping or squirming) in her studio. The result is a hand illustrated book showing the brief span of bird development from infinitesimal feathers and gaping maw to independent adolescent.

The author considers her book a scientific document and I agree. It is well researched and documented. She raises theories like why a particular point of maturation takes days in some species and just hours in others. The fastest among the 17 is the yellow billed cuckoo whose “...sudden transformation from pin cushion [long blue quills] to a miniature of its parents...has been likened to popcorn popping.” (318) The author describes the birds amongst fields, trees, shrubs, flowers, and weather conditions in much the same way John James Audubon placed his birds in their native environment. Zickefoose’s writing is lively, like the birds she’s getting to know. It’s obviously an act of love and I’m a much better birdwatcher for her experience.--Elaine A. Richman, EAR Medical Communications, Baltimore, MD PA

Featured Adult Book Review

Close, Frank. Half-Life: The Divided Life of Bruno Pontecorvo. New York, NY: Perseus Books, 2015. 378pp. $29.99. 2014041019. ISBN 9780465069989. Index. C.I.P.

C, T, GA

Rating: **

This is a well orchestrated, dynamic account by professor Frank Close of Oxford of the, some would say, tragic life of Bruno Pontecorvo, a brilliant Italian physicist , of Jewish tradition, whose life was twisted by the political forces of Fascism and Communism that were sweeping Europe in the 1930s, 40s,and 50s, and their repercussions in North America. He and some members of his family were Communist sympathizers at a time when not being a Communist meant you are a Fascist, who blamed the ills of the economy on the Jews. Pontecorvo was a promising young physics student in Enrico Fermi’s laboratory in Rome. With the accession to power by Mussolini, life became intolerable for Jews in Italy and many including Fermi and Pontecorvo left their homeland, some initially to Paris, then with the fall of France to the Nazis, to North America: some to the United States, others to Canada.

Pontecorvo’s scientific career began in Enrico Fermi’s laboratory in Rome at a time of great fervor and discovery in the field of nuclear physics. The author takes great pains to try to educate the reader in the nuclear model of the atom and the various processes involved in radioactivity, particularly beta decay and the neutrino hypothesis of Fermi. It was hypothesized initially by Fermi in order to preserve the law of the conservation of momentum in the radioactive process called “ beta decay,” in which some nuclei eject electrons. The understanding of the neutrino in its various manifestations became a lifelong ambition of Pontecorvo. But it was his involvement in the field of neutron physics and, in particular, nuclear fission at Los Alamos in the US and Chalk River in Canada that embroiled him in the world of secrecy and espionage. It seems he was surrounded by double agents such as Philby and Fuchs, etc., who maintained a flow of nuclear secrets to the Russians. There appear to be some people who were motivated by the belief that the US should not be the only power with an atomic bomb.

Pontecorvo and his Swedish wife and three children, with the assistance of the Soviets, were able to defect to the USSR and join the nuclear facility at Dubna.--Fouad G. Major, Retired