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text 2017-09-04 05:04
My Kindle First choice for September
The Naturalist (The Naturalist Series Book 1) - Andrew Mayne
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review 2017-06-10 00:00
The Naturalist: Theodore Roosevelt and His Adventures in the Wilderness
The Naturalist: Theodore Roosevelt and H... The Naturalist: Theodore Roosevelt and His Adventures in the Wilderness - Darrin Lunde https://msarki.tumblr.com/post/161653555123/the-naturalist-theodore-roosevelt-and-his

Perceived as a swash-buckling president, a rough rider, hunter, and preservationist dressed in a buckskin suit, Teddy Roosevelt has, in my lifetime, maintained his larger-than-life persona and for good reason. This book is the first study I have been subjected to regarding the man, and I could not have been more surprised over how much I did like him early on in my reading as I learned of his exploits, trials, and personal loss. Roosevelt like many others did not escape a lifetime of personal tragedy. He endured more than his share. And his evolvement as hunter to protector is of course as unsettling as it is amazing. Roosevelt lived in a vastly different time than we can comprehend fairly today. Financial and societal privilege afforded him many opportunities that most of us have only read about. But unlike others born into this privilege Roosevelt used his to further an agenda for good and to mark his time in history as significant and admirable. Theodore Roosevelt overcame poor health, a weak body, a childhood of city privilege and elitist pressures, to become a naturalist of the first rank. Focussing on the naturalist and human side of his subject Darrin Lunde provides his reader with a most-rewarding portrait of one of our country’s larger-than-life individuals who ever walked the earth.

After his evolvement as a naturalist and his two terms as president of the United States, Roosevelt seemed to change. And the last quarter of the book disturbs me to no small degree. What had previously come in the opening three quarters was a fascinating study of a man engaged with principal and courage. But beginning with the eagerly anticipated and extravagant African safari at the end of his presidency this endearing portrait of Roosevelt became a bit disgusting as he seemed to posture and demonstrate a pretentiousness absent in his early years. Cloaked behind a Smithsonian facade of scientific collection marched a loud and obnoxious cavalcade of pomp and bulge. For example, his sanctioned and personal killing of so many lions appeared to be wasteful, cruel, and extreme. Each subsequent page to follow felt uncomfortable. My disgusting reading about this particular safari was growing by the page and it became more difficult to remain enamored with the man who did so much to protect our lands. Though he did preserve a mass of wilderness for us, he failed in many respects to save the creatures inhabiting these spaces. Roosevelt was a hunter first who protected his sport through conservation. But, in fact, he was a killer of trophy wild animals who, with bad eyesight and poor skills, maimed and made suffer the most beautiful ones roaming the wild among us.

…Scouting around the first day, they saw seventy or eighty buffalo grazing in the open about a hundred yards from the edge of the swamp. It was too dark to shoot, but, heading out again early the next morning, Roosevelt and his party let fly a hail of ammunition to bring down three of the massive bulls.…It was a real chore for him to write in the field, and he joked that it was his way of paying for his fun.

What confounds me is the thinking that must go on in the head of any blood sport hunter. These men must have ignored the fact they were killing a creature that belonged on the planet just as much, or more, than they did. A wild creature of feeling, free to roam the plains being massacred by a privileged as well as massive and pretentious army hiding behind a cover of science, their rabid blood lust and joy celebrated on these killing fields. Conservation’s legacy handed down by Mr. Roosevelt is sadly tarnished by this horrid and destructive behavior not only by him but also by the hand of his son, Kermit.

…his Scribner’s accounts almost gave the impression that he was trying to provoke a reaction from the anti-hunting factions, as he documented his kills—botched shots and all—in unashamed detail…”I felt proud indeed as I stood by the immense bulk of the slain monster and put my hand on the ivory,” said Roosevelt, and then everyone began the work of skinning …

During this African safari Roosevelt and his companions killed or trapped approximately 11,400 animals, from insects and moles to hippopotamuses and elephants. In this biography Darrin Lunde has provided facts and story enough to honor Theodore Roosevelt as one of the most important naturalists who ever lived. And due to countless excesses he did help our evolving natural history museums to thrive. But at the cost of so many innocent and free lives, it saddens me.
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review 2016-05-05 11:00
A Woman’s Misery in a Male World: The House of Ulloa by Emilia Pardo Bazán
The House of Ulloa (Penguin Classics) - Emilia Pardo Bazán,Paul O'Prey
Los Pazos De Ulloa - Emilia Pardo Bazán

As I already remarked two years ago, when I wrote a biography of Emilia Pardo Bazán (1851-1921) on my main book blog Edith’s Miscellany (»»» read her author’s portrait there), the important Spanish author unlike her male counterparts from English-speaking countries and France began to fall into oblivion rather soon after she gained considerable fame for her work. Several of her books have been translated into English. Two of them are her most famous novel The House of Ulloa from 1886, which has been reissued in English translation only in 2013, and its often overlooked sequel Mother Nature from 1887. As an example of Spanish Naturalist writing above all the first deserves a closer look.

 

The House of Ulloa is set towards the end of the reign of Spanish Queen Isabel II, more precisely just before the liberal revolution of 1868. Father Julián Alvarez enters into service with Don Pedro Moscoso who has a remote country estate in Galicia and is generally known as marquis of Ulloa although in reality the title belongs to a cousin living in Santiago. The young priest is supposed to take care of the marquis’ affairs sorting papers in the library that are in a complete mess, but to his great dismay he finds that his private life is in disorder too and the estate threatened by ruin. In fact, his employer turns out to be a man of loose morals who openly consorts with his mistress Sabel working in the kitchen and treats his illegitimate four-year-old no better than his hounds. Moreover, his daily life is filled with little more than hunting and drinking. When pious and naïve Father Julián asks Don Pedro to change his ways, he admits that he can’t because his steward Primitivo, the father of Sabel, would never allow it and has the power to turn all peasants of the region against him. Nonetheless, the priest hopes to lead his employer back on the path of virtue and suggests that he passes some time in Santiago to choose a wife from his Cousin Manuel’s daughters. Thus he marries Marcelina, called Nucha, and brings her to the house of Ulloa as his wife and new mistress of the estate, but the discreet young woman soon realises that she isn’t accepted and that her husband goes on with his life as if she weren’t there. She suffers and makes Father Julián her confidant. The priest, though, is powerless and can only watch what is going on. Meanwhile, Don Pedro gets involved into politics which at the time is inseparably linked with corruption and risks his estate…

 

In this naturalist masterpiece the nineteenth-century author Emilia Pardo Bazán skilfully interweaves the main story of predominantly male decadence and corruption in politics as well as society with a feminist critique of a patriarchal world that submits women of all classes to a sexual double standard, violence and abuse in the name of Catholic religion and often with the help of clerics. Although the novel touches very serious topics and has a not less serious plot, its tone is not only gloomy like the wintry landscape of Galicia but also full of wit and clever irony. Moreover, it’s a timeless work of literature that has lost none of its power and meaning in this modern world. In other words, The House of Ulloa is one of those almost forgotten classics that deserve being read more widely outside its country of origin Spain.

 

Nota bene:

The original Spanish versions of Emilia Pardo Bazán’s work have long entered into the public domain and many of them as well as some older translations are available for free via the Virtual Library Miguel de Cervantes, on Feedbooks, on Project Gutenberg, on Wikisource, and several other sites of the kind.

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review 2013-08-29 00:00
Review: Death of a Naturalist by Seamus Heaney
Death of a Naturalist - Seamus Heaney

Some books are so thin and light, yet they carry so much weight, like Heaney's 'Death of a Naturalist'. Each poem in this collection is a work of art, a masterpiece. There is neither pretentiousness nor symbolism here. Each poem is a story in itself and in this, Heaney has mesmerized me. I just imagined someone who had written an entire collection of short stories and then thought: "Let's see how we can strip away all the unnecessary words and images to just capture the essence of the tale in as few words as possible".

The autobiographical nature of these poems adds further weight, and exhibits the emotional investment that Heaney imparts on his reader, like in 'Digging' where we see the Heaney descended from a lineage of famers who takes the path of the writer (an excerpt):

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review 2012-10-21 00:00
The Immense Journey: An Imaginative Naturalist Explores the Mysteries of Man and Nature - Loren Eiseley 3 1/2 stars.

This is a hard book for me to rate.

It started off really strong (first five essays), I lost a little bit of interest & got annoyed around the middle, and it ended strong--the last three essays being especially good.

I guess this means, looking back over the chapters, that what worked for me was his perspectives on nature as a whole--water, earth, plants, animals, the long process of evolution, wonderings about various aspects of our world. What I didn't like so much was when he started talking about humankind specifically, and what this or that skull "means."

It should be of no surprise to anyone who knows me that his use of the word "man" and male pronouns as a blanket term for all people was annoying; I was also suspicious of his seemingly racist language. I'm not sure how much of it is just a sign of the times, the field of physical anthropology itself (which has been, historically, used to justify racism), or Eiseley's own beliefs. He praised people who fought the out & out racism of their time, but he also made a couple statements that I was uncomfortable with (in one of them, which I did not have the supplies on hand to sticky-note, he said something about undeveloped something or other and "looking at the Eskimos" and I was just like--woah hold on one second there, dude!). Adding to this, the book is somewhat dated, the most recent essay in being published in 1957 (and the first in 1946). This made me somewhat dubious of accepting all his claims and opinions.

Other things I didn't like: his use of the words primitive, higher (and yes, even though he often put it in quotes to show that he had personal disagreement with its use in certain cases...it wasn't a good enough disclaimer for me *nose in the air*), savage (same as with his use of "higher"--he doesn't seem to embrace the use of "savages" personally, but he doesn't dissocate himself from it enough for my tastes), and the way he said the city was man's "greatest" creation, that man was the "master" of the world and so on. At various points he seems to be writing from a different (and one more closely aligned with me) mindset--I guess that's the nature of collecting essays that span a decade. Anyway, I enjoyed it much more when he was talking about human ego and conceit.

Besides the qualms I've detailed, I thought it was quite nice (I notice I never seem to detail what I do like, only what I don't). His writing really shines when he's talking about critters & ideas bigger than humans. The story in "The Bird and the Machine" moved me to tears, his subject and writing were generally interesting to me, and every so often had a beautiful turn of phrase on some profound something or other.

So, all in all: it was a worthwhile read. Some of these essays I would gladly read again, and some of them kinda bugged me.
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