There were some nice moments in this book but, ultimately, I think the author reads more into his case studies than is warranted. Johnson asserts that our political leaders often ignore or even denigrate science (certainly true) and, in the process, betray the fundamental, American values of our founding fathers (may be true of Franklin and Jefferson, but I'm not so sure on Washington, Adams, and the rest of the gang). The book is one part biography and one part contemporary political commentary.
There are some very interesting ideas here and some good thinking/research behind them but, in the end, I would have rather heard more about Priestley's methods and discoveries (many get barely a mention) and less in the way of musings from the author. Priestley's accomplishments and influence are intriguing and amazing enough without the need to tie them to today's political discord.
Overall, enjoyable but a bit like a dinner conversation with a person who's learned a whole lot about a subject and wants to interpret too much through its lens.
Okay, Alex and Dr. Pepperberg are a story that everyone should know. With creative, intuitively-devised methodology, Irene was able to shatter ideas of animal intelligence. Alex's accomplishments are the kind of jaw-dropping items you'll find yourself sharing with friends and family. I have the highest respect for their work and wish they were even more widely known than they are.
The thing is, you could learn just about as much watching some YouTube videos and listening to some interviews with Dr. Pepperberg (FreshAir has a great one). The book is padded with a lot of biographical information that I just didn't find that compelling and the real insights could be related in one hour rather than nearly six. The reading was adequate but the writing is just not that compelling and there's not enough science here to keep my interest.
Very well-drawn characters based on historical figures that really takes the reader to the times and places of Victorian-era England. It's a lot of fun to "meet" Charles Lyell and William Buckland as well as, of course, Mary Anning. I'm going to insist that my daughter read/listen to this and, if you have a daughter at all interested in the natural sciences, this is a must-read.
The narrators were superb. One reads the chapters from Mary Anning's point of view with a Cockney accent and the other reads the parts of Elizabeth Philpot with an aristocratic tone befitting the character's high-class background.
I could have used more of the science and a little less of the drama but I recognize I'm a little more science-hungry than your average reader. It's probably about right for most folks? Definitely will get you Googling various fossils and the Lyme Regis.
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