Had the pleasure of reviewing an extraordinary series of books, the collected travel journals of the students (or erstwhile students) of Carl Linnaeus in the latter half of the 18th century, for WSJ on Feb 4. These travelers become old friends after a while and some of their travels, particularly those to Africa and Asia, are exciting, chilling, frequently personal and sometimes weirdly prescient (such as the moment when one young man traveling in Yemen notices petroleum oozing out of the ground and thinks it might be useful for salves). The dangers were real; half of them died on or as an upshot of their travels. A reader noted in response to the piece that in 1732 as now Lapland was part of Sweden, something I hadn't realized.
... and I could not be in better company.
The Washington Post has included Stolen World among its reviewers' top 50 nonfiction picks for 2011. An honor!
Here's my Nov. 5 review for the Wall Street Journal of a delightful book by David Rothenberg. Though I realize that I've described about the last 5 books I've reviewed as wonderful, great, delightful, etc., I really haven't received many bad books lately and I've got a couple more deserving ones piled on my floor awaiting due praise. In "Survival of the Beautiful" Rothenberg picks up where Darwin left off on beauty in sexual selection, exploring ideas that are sort of inconvenient to present-day "Darwinists" who see utility in everything. The book also introduces the ornithologist/evolutionary biologist Richard Prum. You can't begrudge a guy like Prum his MacArthur fellowship when you read about his work on dinosaur feathers, though the little shits on "ratemyprofessor.com" might.