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It’s clear from the jump of Jasmin Graham’s marvelous Sharks Don’t Sink: Adventures of a Rogue Shark Scientist why the author feels such a kinship with the titular fish. Sharks, who have survived five mass extinctions, are survivors. As Graham narrates her journey to becoming a marine biologist, from a childhood spent fishing with her Black family in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; to founding Minorities in Shark Sciences, an organization that funds research opportunities for people of color; to becoming a “rogue” scientist, we see that Graham, too, is a survivor resistant to easy classification.

In conversational prose that makes marine biology both accessible and exciting to a layperson, Graham describes the slings and arrows of shark research as a Black woman who has an infectious curiosity in and reverence for the natural world and refuses to be pushed out of it by the white men who still dominate shark science. As some of these men devolve into a screaming match about affirmative action at a professional conference, Graham locks eyes with the only other person of color, thinking, “What on earth have we gotten ourselves into?” Five years later, Graham had enough. In 2022, after questioning if she should leave science entirely, Graham became a rogue scientist, without a permanent academic affiliation. Like her beloved sharks, she adapted.

Along with Graham’s abiding love of all things oceanic, the other most potent force in Sharks Don’t Sink is her persistent belief in community. Graham pays tribute to the many scientists who paved the way for her, from a professor who offered her master’s level work while she was still an undergraduate, to the field-defining work of Japanese American shark researcher Dr. Eugenie Clark. This careful tending by her community has allowed Graham to thrive as a “Black, proud, nervous, and nerdy” scientist who has become one of the most prominent voices in marine conservation.

The cartilaginous skeletons of sharks have made it nearly impossible to leave fossil records.  Likewise, the history and triumphs of too many Black women scientists have been lost. Graham’s story of charting her own course is both an important record and a delight. “You don’t need to change the world,” Graham writes, as she thinks back on the group of Black friends she made as a child at her mostly white magnet school. “You just need to change your small piece of the world.”

 

In Sharks Don’t Sink, marine biologist Jasmin Graham pushes for diversity in her field while also celebrating her deep, abiding love for the titular fish.

Brandon Keim’s thought-provoking, beautifully written Meet the Neighbors: Animal Minds and Life in a More-Than-Human World is perfect for those who love to read al fresco, surrounded by the very creatures the author urges us to view with curiosity, compassion and kinship.

From adorable bumblebees to fearsome grizzly bears and everything—well, everyone—in between, Keim is a staunch advocate for viewing animals as fellows, and not just those we’ve brought into our homes: “Even as we recognize our beloved pets as thinking, feeling beings with a first-person experience of life, and grapple—however inconsistently—with the selfhood of animals used for food and research, that’s not how we’re socialized to regard wild animals.”

So what if, in addition to cats and dogs plus “a select few stars, such as chimpanzees and dolphins,” we acknowledge that raccoons, coyotes and salamanders are just as capable of thinking and feeling as we are? There’s plenty of scientific evidence that wild creatures are self-aware and think strategically, Keim explains, even if it’s not always in a form we recognize. To wit, earthworms can distinguish between soil displaced by their own slithering and the push of a shovel, coyotes can invent games, and starlings are more relaxed after having bathed—just like us!

In addition to translating copious scientific revelations with reverence and aplomb, Meet the Neighbors sheds light on damaging biases in conventional wisdom, such as the value of instinct. ’Tis true, humans are encouraged to follow their instincts to boost awareness, safety or success. However, Keim notes, “When applied to animals, it’s used dismissively. Then instinctive means thoughtless, the opposite of reasoned, a lesser form of intelligence than our own.”

The journalist and author of 2017’s The Eye of the Sandpiper also delves into animal rights philosophy, hunting regulations, wildlife management and more. Through it all, Keim exhorts readers to consider: “How might an awareness of animal minds shape the ways we understand them and, ultimately, how we live with them on this shared, precious planet?” Meet the Neighbors offers an edifying, awe-inspiring start.

Brandon Keim’s awe-inspiring Meet the Neighbors exhorts us to consider that all animals, from dolphins to salamanders, are just as capable of thinking and feeling as we are.

If your favorite part of social media is posting and seeing pet photos, you’re not alone. In Why We Photograph Animals, historian Huw Lewis-Jones reveals that more than three million dog photos are uploaded to Instagram daily—from the U.K. alone! What’s behind this urge to photograph animals, both domestic and wild? And is this a new phenomenon? 

Lewis-Jones explores these questions in nearly 300 images, both historical and contemporary. Many are breathtaking: a luminous, double-page spread of a black leopard and a gorilla strolling through clouds of butterflies. Others challenge us to examine our relationship with nature: A shot of tourists at a zoo, watching in an aquarium-like setting as a baby elephant is made to perform underwater, is especially disturbing.

Along with stunning images, this beautifully designed book features thought-provoking essays by a distinguished group of nature photographers, cinematographers and scientists. Why We Photograph Animals encourages us to think deeply about the creatures that share our world—and our responsibilities toward them and our planet. Lewis-Jones reminds us that photography can play a role, writing, “With admiration and with art, we raise our cameras as tools of advocacy and action.” 

Why We Photograph Animals encourages us to think deeply about the creatures that share our world—and our responsibilities toward them and our planet.
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Cool off this summer with 5 splashy books

These books starring bodies of water include Morgan Talty’s latest and everything you never needed to know about sea turtles.
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Book jacket image for My Life with Sea Turtles by Christine Figgener

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Morgan Talty follows up Night of the Living Rez with Fire Exit, a beautifully written novel that is sometimes funny, often heartbreaking and hopeful against

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These books starring bodies of water include Morgan Talty’s latest and everything you never needed to know about sea turtles.

Almost 60 years ago, herpetologist and conservationist Archie Carr introduced the beauty and splendor of sea turtles to the world in his now classic So Excellent a Fishe. It was 1967, and Carr was already warning readers of the dangers these magnificent creatures faced due to fishing nets, ocean pollution and human encroachment on breeding grounds. The plight of sea turtles hasn’t improved much since Carr’s time, but thanks to marine biologist and ecologist Christine Figgener’s captivating My Life With Sea Turtles: A Marine Biologist’s Quest to Protect One of the Most Ancient Animals on Earth, readers can understand the life cycle of sea turtles, the forces that endanger them and the steps we must take to save them from extinction.

Figgener was in an undergraduate research program in Egypt when she encountered her first sea turtle and, mesmerized, watched it swim through the waters of the Red Sea. She moved to Costa Rica to work as a research assistant in an organization devoted to saving endangered leatherback turtles from extinction. Figgener recounts this early research with urgency that brings you right into the moment with her, peering at a sea turtle as she lays her eggs in the sand. 

With zeal and passion, Figgener shares a wealth of information about these creatures. For example, sea turtles migrate back and forth between their nesting beaches and their feeding grounds, some species covering as many as 7,450 miles from site to site. Nesting female sea turtles lay hundreds of eggs each year, but only 50-60% hatch, and once the hatchlings leave the nest, only a small percentage survive the arduous journey back to the ocean, sneaking or scuttling by predatory birds and crabs. Once in the ocean, the newborns face marine predators and must navigate polluted waters filled with plastics and fishing nets that can ensnare, maim or kill them. 

Part memoir, part science reporting and part conservationist tract, Figgener’s illuminating My Life With Sea Turtles sheds light not only on the beauty and mystery of sea turtles, but also on the urgent need to save them.

The illuminating My Life With Sea Turtles sheds light not only on the beauty and mystery of sea turtles, but also on the urgent need to save them.
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The Internet of Animals: Discovering the Collective Intelligence of Life on Earth is a bonkers, delightful read if you are interested in any of the following: space and satellites, animal migration and behavior, analog versus digital technology, and the many complications that come from following through on the whiff of a very good idea.

Scientist Martin Wikelski had such an idea decades ago: Tag large numbers of animals and track them digitally via satellite. He envisioned a global community of animal researchers all pursuing projects using the same satellite and tracking technology, and making some portion of the reams of resulting data public. In a moment of either brilliance or dark insight into the troubles ahead, he dubbed the project ICARUS: International Cooperation for Animal Research Using Space. From the beginning, this was a project that aimed to fly near the sun and see the world anew.

But like the mythic story of Icarus, there were unforeseen complications: identifying the technology needed to create a satellite, fine-tuning the technology needed to tag the animals effectively, and finding global collaborators. This story of scientific advancement is also, like so many others, tied up in cultural differences, funding, politicking and geopolitics. A project that Wikelski thought would take only a few years has taken decades, and it’s still unfolding. Still, his good idea remains as captivating as ever.

Wikelski probes the mysteries of the animal world and shares vivid anecdotes of field research, from unusually sociable rice rats in the Galapagos Islands, to a wandering egret who made friends with a family in Bavaria (when he was supposed to be migrating to a different continent). Wikelski situates these stories within the big questions about animals and how they live on Earth—what they know innately and what they could tell us, if they only had a way. He convincingly argues that these questions should animate us all, and his vision of creating a way for animals to communicate what they are remains a vital, galvanizing example of how human ingenuity and persistence can make a difference in how we understand the world around us.

The bonkers and delightful The Internet of Animals tells the story of author-scientist Martin Wikelski’s efforts to connect animal researchers across the globe, and understand animals anew.

“One last job” is a popular story trope, from the prolific criminal’s last heist before going straight to the world-weary detective’s final case before turning in their badge. In Dogland: Passion, Glory, and Lots of Slobber at the Westminster Dog Show, it’s a much-lauded samoyed named Striker who’s on the verge of retirement, and his big finale is the 2022 Westminster Dog Show.

Tommy Tomlinson, a Pulitzer Prize finalist and author of The Elephant in the Room, leads readers behind the scenes and in front of the judges as he crosses the country touring 100-plus dog shows, a three-year-long venture he affectionately calls “Dogland.”

With wry wit and fascinating detail, Tomlinson explores what it takes to be a contender for Best in Show. For example, dogs must first compete in often ill-attended smaller shows, called clusters, to gain experience and name recognition: “If Westminster is the Super Bowl, clusters are the regular season.” The dogs must be the best of “breed standard,” as if “humans decided that George Clooney was the consummate man, and we measured all other men by which ones were the Clooneyest.”

“Are those dogs happy?” is a question on the author’s mind as he tours the swirl of training, grooming and “for your consideration” ads in trade publications. Tomlinson spends copious time with Striker and his handler, Laura King, traces the history of canine competition and takes a look at dog shows in popular culture. (Perhaps not surprisingly, “People I talked to in Dogland seem ambivalent about [2000 mockumentary] Best in Show.”)

There’s no ambivalence in the connection between Striker and his handler, forged via countless hours together and a remarkable 111-show-winning partnership. Tomlinson’s love for dogs shines through in a moving essay about his late pooch Fred, and his playful “Pee Break” interludes that rank dogs in art, advertising and the like make Dogland ever more jovial. To wit, those lucky enough to meet a show dog mustn’t pet the dog’s carefully coiffed head, but rather “go for the scritch under the chin.” Wise words from a winning read.

 

Tommy Tomlinson’s wry, witty Dogland leads readers behind the scenes and in front of the judges at 100-plus dog shows around the country.

In most parts of the United States, homeowners share the land with herds of deer seen nibbling on garden plants, wandering through neighborhoods and running across highways. They are so ubiquitous that it is difficult to imagine a time when they were not so abundant. But as poet and journalist Erika Howsare explains in The Age of Deer: Trouble and Kinship With Our Wild Neighbors, the clearing of forests and constant unchecked hunting that Europeans wrought upon the land in colonial America began to decimate deer habitats and communities. By the early 20th century, deer populations had “gone down to zero” in many areas, only to rebound as conservation efforts allowed deer to multiply in droves throughout the U.S.   

Through carefully wrought prose and evocative imagery, Howsare depicts how deer and human populations have both relied on and butted up against one another for eons. Traveling through history and culture, she provides insight into the practical, environmental and spiritual “kinship” between our species: Cherokee hunters were mindful of Awi Usdi, a white deer who reminded them to ask each felled deer for forgiveness; villagers in the West Midlands of England celebrate the animal with a centuries-old pagan tradition called the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance; and deer riders abound in mythology, such as the Hindu god Chandra and Slavic hunters called vile, who bewitch men with their beauty. 

The animal, Howsare writes, “perfectly symbolizes the way we live with nature now, and the way we will carry on into whatever weird, paradoxical future awaits.” Her rigorous research, along with personal anecdotes, relates the impact of human intervention on the deer population and the damage that overpopulation wreaks on forests. Howsare rides along on a culling mission with Princeton, New Jersey’s sole animal control officer, and she discusses other methods government and wildlife officials have used to reduce their numbers, like sport hunting and sterilization.

Throughout the book, Howsare returns to a proposition stated in her introduction: “To look at our modern relationship with deer . . . means asking the biggest question of all: How will we live on this planet?” The Age of Deer is a thorough, eye-opening invitation to ponder our own relationships with the natural world, practically and reverently.

Erika Howsare’s The Age of Deer invites us to consider the practical, environmental and spiritual relationships we share with a most ubiquitous species.

The Hidden Language of Cats

Sarah Brown knows and loves felines: She has a doctorate in the social behavior of neutered domestic cats, and the dedication page of her new book simply reads, “For the cats.”

Those who said “Aww!” at that information will delight in Brown’s The Hidden Language of Cats: How They Have Us at Meow. It’s a fascinating compendium of scientific information about our furry friends’ modes of communication interwoven with interesting anecdotes about Brown’s 30 years of fieldwork (plus her own cats’ hijinks at home).

Brown traces the history of cats’ evolution from solitary wildcats to the creatures who now reside in 45 million households in the U.S. alone. A crucial step in that process: “Cats supplemented their original scent-based language with new signals and sounds, designed for life alongside humans and other cats.” In a more recent development, researchers released data in 2017 about the “Feline Five,” a set of “personality dimensions similar to those of humans” (such as agreeableness and neuroticism) that people can use to better relate to their cats. After all, Brown notes, “Just like people, cats have complex personalities.”

Whimsical line drawings by Brown’s daughter Hettie add to the fun of this informative, accessible guide to what cats are telling us, whether through tail twitches, meows or exceedingly slow blinking.

Fifty Places to Travel With Your Dog Before You Die

For many dog owners, traveling with their pooch in tow is a must, but it’s not always easy to figure out where to go or how to prepare. There are rules of entry to consider, not to mention pet-friendly lodging. If border crossing is involved, vaccines and paperwork come into play too.

Not to worry: Fifty Places to Travel With Your Dog Before You Die: Dog Experts Share the World’s Greatest Destinations was created by Chris Santella and DC Helmuth to demystify the process of traveling with dogs and “provide a road map and inspirational guide for those who would take Fido along wherever they go.”

The duo turned to seasoned “dog travelers” to help them compile a list of superlative spots in the U.S. and abroad. Fittingly, it begins with Anchorage, Alaska, home to the Iditarod and Yukon Quest dog races. Those who seek a slower pace may want to relax in Palm Springs, California, or visit wineries in the Margaret River region of Australia. Hiking in Yosemite National Park could be fun, or perhaps a trip to Venice, Italy, where “dogs are typically welcome on gondola rides.”

Gorgeous color photos of people and their pets accompany each detail-packed entry in this practical and aspirational world tour for dog owners.

For the Love of Dog

In the introduction to her edifying and entertaining For the Love of Dog: The Ultimate Relationship Guide, author Pilley Bianchi notes that “The New York Times alone has published almost two hundred thousand articles on dogs and is currently averaging a new one every other day.” Many were about “a member of my family . . . a world-famous dog” named Chaser.

In 2011, Bianchi’s father, Dr. John W. Pilley, and their border collie Chaser went viral for their work together, particularly with regards to Chaser’s 1,022-word vocabulary and the revelation that “dogs are not only smarter than they have been given credit for, but capable of so much more.”

Bianchi, who refers to herself as “Chaser’s coteacher, producer, roommate, and water girl,” partnered with U.K.-based illustrator Calum Heath to honor her late father and their dog while showing readers how to tap into their own dogs’ special capabilities—for learning, for fun and for love.

In service of that goal, she shares a history and philosophy of dogs that name-checks Odysseus and Descartes; deeply ponders the values of play and praise; and cautions against making assumptions about breeds, which “can often lead us to miss the individual nature of a dog.” Heath’s illustrations frolic across the pages, adding humor and beauty to this eclectic, heartfelt tribute to the dogs we love.

These 3 charming nonfiction books about dogs and cats are the perfect pet-centric holiday gifts.
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In Archives of Joy: Reflections on Animals and the Nature of Being, French Canadian author Jean-François Beauchemin looks back, around and into the mystic, to great effect. His brief and often breathtaking reflections on creatures he has encountered throughout his life meld into a salve for the troubled, weary or distracted mind and will appeal to fans of Brian Doyle, Ross Gay and Margaret Renkl.

In a one-paragraph essay called “Useful,” Beauchemin writes, “It might be said that I am rummaging around a lot in that great big suitcase of my childhood, but why the devil do we age, if it is not to encounter ourselves once more?” In “A Visitor,” he recounts a spiritual encounter from childhood, when “I had just learned my dog’s life expectancy was only fourteen years.” Immediately after reading this piece, I snapped a picture of it and sent it to a friend who is grieving a beloved pup; that’s the kind of small treasure this book is.

Jean-François Beauchemin’s brief, breathtaking reflections on creatures he has encountered throughout his life will appeal to fans of Brian Doyle, Ross Gay and Margaret Renkl.

Did you know octopuses can shift their skin to create papillae, bumps or folds? Or that they don’t see color but can see polarized light? Did you know they can be cannibals but also seem to live in relationship with other creatures?

In Many Things Under a Rock: The Mysteries of Octopuses, David Scheel shares these facts and many more. Scheel is a professor of marine biology at Alaska Pacific University, but Many Things Under a Rock is accessible regardless of the reader’s amount of scientific knowledge. Scheel’s straightforward prose places readers beside him as he gets to know the elusive, intriguing octopus. He describes the molluscs, their habits, their characteristics and their habitats in detail gathered from 25 years of research and observation.

And the book is well researched, with dozens of pages of meticulous notes as evidence. But Scheel doesn’t overload his text with annotations, and he never turns to jargon or complex explanations to ensure that he’s perceived as an expert. Instead, Scheel invites readers along on a journey of discovery. He shares the lessons he’s learned about octopuses by recounting research trips and personal anecdotes, writing like a teacher who is eager to invite readers into octopuses’ magical world. It’s as though he’s in the water with us, lifting a stone or pushing aside seaweed to show off the many things that can exist under a rock (which is a translation of the Eyak word for octopus).

Scheel’s curiosity about octopuses parallels his curiosity about Alaska Native history, and his respect for Indigenous experiences is obvious. Particularly in the early years of his studies, Scheel turned to Native people for insight into the cephalopods they’ve hunted for centuries. He weaves their knowledge and stories into this book, showing appreciation for shared wisdom and making Many Things Under a Rock a treasure trove of expertise, generously shared.

David Scheel’s straightforward prose places readers in the water beside him as he lifts a stone or pushes aside seaweed to show off the elusive, intriguing world of the octopus.
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Gloria Dickie, an award-winning journalist and climate correspondent for Reuters, begins her intensive study of the eight remaining species of bears by recalling the familiar children’s story of Goldilocks. “We have entered the bears’ home without permission and selfishly laid claim to what we found there,” Dickie writes in Eight Bears: Mythic Past and Imperiled Future, alluding to everything humans have done to endanger these creatures.

Dickie brings readers along for the global trek she took while reporting and writing this book. Eight Bears is divided into three geographic parts, according to her subjects’ habitats: South America is home to the elusive spectacled bear in Ecuador and Peru; sloth, sun, moon and panda bears live in Asia, including India, Vietnam and China; and in North America, readers meet the American black and brown bears (United States) and the polar bear (Canada).

There is a lot to learn here about the mythic panda, the shy spectacled bear, the aggressive sloth bear, the controversial grizzly, the potentially doomed polar bear and others, and Dickie shows just how vulnerable they all are. Climate change is everywhere, threatening animals and humans with droughts, deforestation, warming seas and withering food sources. Human greed, corruption and exploitation make things worse; the captors of sloth “dancing bears” in India and the extractors of bear bile in Vietnam, for example, have earned their infamy. In the U.S., the pros and cons of continuing to protect grizzlies while ranchers and farmers deal with the dire consequences of their predation are up for debate. In other parts of the world, different species are being forced to share dwindling food sources, such as the spectacled bear and the puma as lowlands warm in the Andes. Six of these eight bear species are on the verge of extinction, and in addition to outlining their peril, Dickie also speaks with several of the activists and scientists who are working to secure a better future for them.

Our relationship with bears has been complicated but tender, Dickie notes. Remember the whimsical Paddington Bear, the beloved Berenstain Bears, the cute stuffed teddy bear in a baby’s crib? And the panda bear, so idolized that it is given as a political gift to China’s favored friends? Perhaps it is just such a history that can inspire more work to save them from extinction.

Gloria Dickie’s study of the eight remaining species of bears is laced with climate change warnings as she explores all the ways humans both love and endanger these creatures.

Owls are adorable, alluring and enduringly fascinating. They’ve been featured in everything from ancient cave paintings to the works of Picasso, iconic Tootsie Pop commercials, the Harry Potter series, mythology and poetry.

“What is it about owls that so enthralls us?” asks bestselling author, prolific science writer and passionate bird advocate Jennifer Ackerman (The Genius of Birds, The Bird Way) in the very first line of her wide-ranging and wonderful new book, What an Owl Knows: The New Science of the World’s Most Enigmatic Birds. She explores this question with her trademark thoroughness and care, leading readers on an in-depth tour through the extraordinary world of owls. Scientists, field researchers, academics and volunteers (aka “citizen scientists”) serve as dedicated guides, as eager as the author to share knowledge and admiration in hopes of inspiring others to protect these special birds.

Jennifer Ackerman shares which owly items in her home and closet are her favorite.

Ackerman chronicles her travels to places such as the Mission Mountains in Montana; Norfolk Island in Australia; southeastern Brazil; and Waynesboro, Virginia, in chapters covering owls’ evolution, communication, breeding, migration and—of course—wisdom. She visits wildlife centers, peers up at countless trees and tromps through nighttime landscapes with fellow owl lovers to hear about the astonishing things they’ve discovered. There are funny tidbits, too; as one Montana field researcher quipped, “This is not the first time we’ve found a nest when someone had to pee.”

Less quotidian revelations include the thrill of first hearing great horned owlets vocalizing in their eggs and the gratifying achievements of education in Kikinda, Serbia, where hundreds of long-eared owls roost in the town square. (A public awareness campaign transformed superstitious fear into immense hometown pride.) During her reporting, Ackerman also learned about new research indicating that owls are more clever and intentional than previously realized: They have emotions, engage in altruism and play. “We think we know something about them, and then, poof! they dispel our theories, offering up bent or broken rules and unexpected qualities,” she writes.

Ackerman also reminds readers that owls are at risk of extinction, thanks to “human-induced climate change” via deforestation and development, rodenticides, wildfires, et al. What should we do? “Everything in our power,” she writes, to learn about and preserve owl populations around the world. Reading the edifying and immersive What an Owl Knows is an excellent place to start.

Bestselling author and passionate bird advocate Jennifer Ackerman goes around the world to find out why owls so intrigue humans in her wide-ranging and wonderful new book.

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