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Featured Children's Book Review

Wenger, Sharon. Nitty-Gritty Gardening Book: Fun Projects for All Seasons(Photographs by Jennifer S. Larson.) Brookfield, CT: Millbrook Press, 2015. 48pp. $26.65. 2014009384. ISBN 9781467726474. Glossary; Index; C.I.P.

EP, EI, EA, JH, T, GA
Rating: **

The Nitty-Gritty Gardening Book by Kari Cornell, is a nicely written book of gardening projects for children, providing numerous ideas that kids interested in growing things can pursue year round with minimal assistance from adults. The book is divided into four sections, one for each season, and gives clearly written, easily understood instructions with good explanations for the “why” of most steps. Projects range from starting your own seeds (using homemade pots) in the spring, to building a birdbath in the summer, making an herb window box in autumn, and sprouting avocado seeds during the winter. Each season has three main projects with a list of needed supplies and equipment, as well as a time-frame for the project from start to finish. Most projects are for outdoors, but the winter ones are mainly inside. Brightly colored photographs and drawings accompany the text, emphasizing and clarifying the instructions and background information. Also provided are a glossary, index, resource information sources, and sources for materials and supplies that are listed for each project. The reading level would be most appropriate for upper elementary into middle school, but I feel with a little more adult assistance, younger children could also be involved. This would be a great addition to elementary and middle school libraries, science classrooms, and home libraries. Being an avid gardener myself, I highly recommend this book.--Sharon Wenger, Lawrence Public Schools, Lawrence, KS

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Featured Young Adult Book Review

Carroll, Alan R. Geofuels: Energy and the Earth. Princeton, NJ: Cambridge University Press, 2015. 362pp. $29.99. 2014038370. ISBN 9781107401204. Index; C.I.P.

YA, C, T, GA
Rating: **

This book is Earth Science 101 viewed through the lens of human resource demands for power generation. Oil, coal, uranium, and even soil are at center stage—each a limiting resource that is very slowly renewable if at all, while human expansiveness and energy needs persist and grow. The author even-handedly examines the goods and the bads of energy supply and consumption. Humans need energy; they've powerfully exploited it in the past two centuries; and there are now—for the planet and the human future—outcomes to reckon with and new tradeoffs to be made in the time ahead. Discussion of economic tradeoffs is at the heart of the author's analyses across the spectrum of energy sources. (More nuclear? What kind of nuclear? More solar? How concentrate it? More wave and tidal energy? How engineer it?) The author conceives the modern evolution of energy consumption analogously to the eras of geologic time, coining the terms paleothermic, mesothermic, and cenothermic. Paleothermic-period (pre-twentieth century) energy came from coal, an accessible and hot fuel enabling locomotion and heavy industrial processes; oil shale was known in the same period but then had different economics and went neglected. The mesothermic era was roughly the 20th century. Coal had been easy to get at, but now high-value liquids and gases, harder to locate and sequester for economic advantage, became a primary driver of world politics and economics. The author distinguishes “reserves” of an energy source from actual resources in the ground, noting that reserves usually expand apace with utilization. The current cenothermic era confronts policy makers today. In terms of extraction, we now are tapping widely disseminated pockets of resources, be they fracked gases from horizontally drilled, high-pressure extraction tools or exotic methane hydrates at continental shelf margins, which are known but not available, pending further demand and extraction ingenuity. The author addresses the diffuseness of sunlight that has always been for human power extraction a severe impediment—until perhaps today when solar energy has begun to show promise (photoelectric and wind power mainly but not exclusively). Written in a conversational style, the book is replete with casual witticisms of the lecture hall. It’s a comfortable read and will make you smarter at the lunch table.--Blanchard Hiatt, Working Messages LLC, Scotch Plains, NJ

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Featured Adult Book Review

 

Tattersall, Ian. Rickety Cossack: And Other Cautionary Tales from Human Evolution. NY: St. Martin's, 2015. 244pp. $27.00. 2014038032. ISBN 9781137278890. Index. C.I.P.

C, T, GA

Rating:  **

Ian Tattersall is a curator emeritus and prominent researcher in paleoanthropology at the American Museum of Natural History. In this book he gives a chronological account of the changes and advances (or steps backward) in the perspectives and interpretation of hominid fossils. This is the story of the evolution of man, and of our understanding of this evolution. It begins in the mid‑1800s with first Neanderthal skulls, examined by Darwin and others, and then fossil discoveries of much older hominid species. The story marches forward through technical advances such as radio‑dating, cladistic methods and fossil DNA analysis. There is an in‑depth discussion of the current knowledge of Neanderthals, their genetics and place among family of man.

The author gives a fascinating personal perspective of his topic, beginning with his early career visits to Madagascar in hopes of studying lemur evolution. Stories of his career paths and detours, key mentors, and his strong opinions are threaded throughout the book. Tattersall makes the strong case that paleoanthropology was dominated historically by a fairly small number of prominent scholars, whose pronouncements about “their” fossil hominid skulls were reached with methods that were intuitive, or worse.

There was no unbiased, rigorous process for evaluation and interpretation of these fossils. The fossil’s discoverer was its keeper and access to it was guarded fiercely. Happily, this approach did not infect other fields of paleontology, which the author feels advanced more rapidly and rationally. The study of human fossils stood apart, and still does today, to some extent.

This book is required reading for anyone in the field of paleoanthropology. And for those lay‑people who wish to learn about the arcane inner workings of paleontology, and its history.  It is densely packed with detailed information.  The book is illustrated with line drawings, it is indexed, and there is a bibliography for each chapter.‑‑Blaise J. Arena, Arena Consulting, Des Plaines, IL