What An Owl Knows, by Jennifer Ackerman

Staff Pick

A book of questions, theories, and answers—all the more intriguing for being partial—Ackerman’s compelling third study of birds could as well be titled “What Humans Don’t Know about Owls But are Determined to Find Out.” Each of the thematic chapters delves into a basic “how” of owl life—from courting, mating, and breeding to migrating, hunting, feeding, nesting, and perceiving the world—and explores how different species have adapted to their particular niches. A burrowing owl will collect (or hoard?) a wide range of colorful, often man-made objects to decorate its underground nest, for instance. A saw-whet owl is so “cryptic” it can stay invisible even as it calls from a tree beside you. And urban owlets practice hunting by raiding clothes lines. But owl behavior is just half of Ackerman’s story. She also introduces the many, equally fascinating humans who study these creatures, reporting on the awe and wonder that drew them to the woods in the first place and that—literally—keeps them up nights listening to calls, searching high and low for elusive nests, counting and banding birds, and solving one mystery with the discovery of several more.

What an Owl Knows: The New Science of the World's Most Enigmatic Birds By Jennifer Ackerman Cover Image
ISBN: 9780593298886
Availability: Coming Soon—Pre-Order Now
Published: Penguin Press - June 13th, 2023

The Devil's Element, by Dan Egan

Staff Pick

In 1969 the shock of the Cuyahoga River (among others) bursting into flames prompted passage of the Clean Water Act. But even in that era of political will, agriculture was given a pass; chemical fertilizers were crucial to the industrial farming needed to feed the growing human population, so their usage wasn’t regulated. As Egan shows in this urgent account of our relationship with phosphorus, this lapse set in motion some of today’s most intransigent problems, notably the growing size and numbers of toxic algae blooms, whose thick waves of cyanobacteria close beaches and fisheries around the countryYet even as marine life continues to die and humans to sicken, phosphate levels keep rising. To understand the problem, Egan takes us on a fast-paced tour of the confounding nature of this “devil’s element,” tracing its role as both a toxin and a crucial element in the evolution and sustenance of earthly life, a nonrenewable resource vulnerable to ruinous exploitation, a World War I weapon, whitener in laundry detergent, and more.


The Devil's Element: Phosphorus and a World Out of Balance By Dan Egan Cover Image
ISBN: 9781324002666
Availability: In Stock—Click for Locations
Published: W. W. Norton & Company - March 7th, 2023

The Last Cold Place, by Naira de Gracia

Staff Pick

The reality of five months at an Antarctic research camp is constant wind and cold, cramped and damp cabin quarters with four other people and wet socks hanging from the ceiling. It’s a shower every two weeks and no days off.  But it’s also magical snowscapes, “a momentary rainbow” in sunlit sea foam, penguins with personality to spare, the privilege of holding seal pups absorbed in REM dreams, and much more. Demonstrating how “wonder is the fire behind” so much science, de Gracia found her own wonder only increasing as she tirelessly counted, weighed, measured, “pumped,” and banded chinstrap and gentoo penguins during a summer at Cape Shirreff. Her account is as beautiful as it is brutal, showing us twilight’s “dramatic, angled shadows,” elaborate penguin pebble nests (and the bowing ceremonies that accompany their construction), and the fledglings leaping into the sea--but also penguin chicks devoured by skuas, fur-seal pups snatched by leopard seals, a yearly decrease of ice and, most threatening of all, unstable krill populations. To a future field technician, de Gracia warns “you will probably be heartbroken.”

The Last Cold Place: A Field Season Studying Penguins in Antarctica By Naira de Gracia Cover Image
ISBN: 9781982182755
Availability: In Stock—Click for Locations
Published: Scribner - April 4th, 2023