Tim Flannery’s Europe: A Natural History was ­published last year. (March 2020)


The First Mean Streets

A panel from the Sumerian Standard of Ur depicting fish, animals, and goods being brought in procession to a banquet, circa 2600 BC

Cities: The First 6,000 Years

by Monica L. Smith

Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States

by James C. Scott
The rise of the city is looked upon as the dawn of civilization, but a deep mystery surrounds the first city-dwellers. All we are left with as we strive to understand their lives are fragments unearthed by the archaeologist’s trowel, and that is a slender basis on which to reconstruct …

Man’s Biggest Friend

An elephant and mahout doing relief work after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, Banda Aceh, Indonesia, January 2005

Giants of the Monsoon Forest: Living and Working with Elephants

by Jacob Shell
The Asian elephant is the second-largest land mammal on earth. Highly intelligent, immensely powerful, and with life spans as long as humans’, they have forged a unique relationship with us. Jacob Shell is a geographer whose new book, Giants of the Monsoon Forest, posits a novel and challenging view of this association. While acknowledging that elephants can suffer at human hands, Shell believes that the relationship has helped both Asian elephants and the humans who work with them to survive in the modern world.

Our Twisted DNA

Frida Kahlo: My Grandparents, My Parents, and I (Family Tree), 1936

She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity

by Carl Zimmer
Tracing genealogies has become immensely popular of late, and numerous companies offer to help you search through historical records or analyze your DNA. The pastime is no doubt enlivened by the scintillating possibility that you might discover noble blood, or even a notorious rogue, hiding in your family tree. But such discoveries generally don’t tell the searcher much; most of us have little idea of how our genes are bequeathed to us at all. Carl Zimmer’s interest in genetic inheritance began when his wife, Grace, was pregnant with their first child, and the couple met with a genetics counselor.

Hive Mentalities

A sweat bee (Halictus ligatus) coated with pollen, 2013; digital composite photograph from the USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab’s catalog of native bees. It appears in the book Animal: Exploring the Zoological World, just published by Phaidon.

Buzz: The Nature and Necessity of Bees

by Thor Hanson

Underbug: An Obsessive Tale of Termites and Technology

by Lisa Margonelli
Bees evolved from wasp ancestors around 100 million years ago. Most wasps are sleek carnivores, but bees are flower-loving, long-haired, and often social vegetarians (the branched hairs that cover their bodies trap pollen, which, along with nectar, is their principal source of food). Their shift to a vegetarian diet had a profound effect on the evolution of flowering plants. If we want to know what a world without bees looks like, Thor Hanson writes in his book Buzz: The Nature and Necessity of Bees, we should visit the bee-less island of Juan Fernández off the coast of Chile, where, despite varied vegetation, almost all flowers are small, white, and inconspicuous. But it is not just gloriously colored flowers that we owe to bees, for many of our crops rely on them for pollination. Both our world and our brains, it seems, have been profoundly shaped by bees.


Pandemic Journal, March 30–April 5

The latest edition in a running series of dispatches by New York Review writers documenting the coronavirus outbreak with updates from around the world, including Danny Lyon in Bernalillo, Andrew McGee in New York, Nicole Rudick in South Orange, Ali Bhutto in Karachi, Jamie Quatro in Chattanooga, Edward Stephens in Athens, Carl Elliott in Auckland, Liza Batkin in Rhinebeck, Tim Flannery in Sydney, Ian Johnson in Beijing and London, and more.

Australia: The Fires and Our Future

Ember and thick smoke from bushfires, Braemar Bay, New South Wales, Australia, January 4, 2020

Australia is no stranger to bushfire. In 1994, in Sydney, I lost a house to one, and in 2002, just north of Sydney, I fought off another. But I’ve never experienced anything like the current fire season before. These bushfires have been burning since September, taking lives and property across the nation, but the worst came in late December, just as families were settling into their holidays. Our country is the world’s fifteenth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases and at the back of the pack for climate action, as its emissions from the burning of fossil fuels continue to grow. Australians now understand that each ton of CO2 we emit will fuel tomorrow’s fires. As a result of the last decade of lost opportunities, much future damage is already locked in. But things can always get worse—and only decisive global action on climate change, with Australia playing a central role—can avert that.

The Paris Catastrophe

New Orleans, 2005

If the Paris agreement falters and we are forced to wait another decade for a new one, we would have no way of avoiding a dangerous and increasingly unstable future. Far from damaging the US economy as President Trump argues, the Paris agreement offered it a lifeline. Sadly, it’s a lifeline that Trump has just thrown away.

Lilliput Under the Sea

Pacific Giant Octopus, Enteroctopus dofleini, 0.6 inches long without arms, 2014

Susan Middleton’s Spineless reveals a world where hermit crabs resemble wizards carrying their own magic mountains on their backs, and where worms are transformed into exquisite, pearly necklaces. Marine invertebrates—from octopuses to hermit crabs and creatures like the bizarre holothurians—are the focus of this photography book.