Naming Nature

Carol Kaesuk Youn wants to puzzle out an important question: How did science, a discipline rooted in human hunger to make sense of the known and felt natural universe, paradoxically make ordinary people feel more distant from it? Her search for an answer takes her deep into the history of Western scientific classification, and beyond, into various cultures? strategies for naming, classifying, and therefore knowing the natural world around them. Beginning with Linnaeus, and moving toward Darwin, she ends in a world where a group of evolutionary biologists called cladists have made a genomically correct, but socially abstruse discovery -- that what we lay-people have known and called fish for centuries -- do not in fact exist as an evolutionarily intact group. How did we get here? asks Youn. Is this -- scientifically accurate but surely inaccessible wisdom -- helpful in a world in which need to reinstate rather than further disrupt what connections to nature we do have? In a delightful, ruminative romp through the seemingly dry field of taxonomy, Youn explains the evolution of western taxonomical systems and also points out non-Western ones, trying to show the key ways that humans have always lived alongside, reached out toward, and made sense of their time on earth among plants, bugs, birds, and beasts. She argues that our need to connect to plants and animals is more similar across cultures than separate, and she wants us to reconnect with the living world now -- in ways scientific, and also in ways purely joyful -- which may or may not, at different moments, feel the same. To name is to know is to love is to steward -- and with mass extinctions of everything from wild beasts to songbirds, Youn urges us to know, in whatever direct ways we can, the animals around us, and to care for them, as directly as possible, now.

April 23: " 'A job,' the woman repeated again, smiling, as if I hadn't heard her. 'Would you like one?' "

Kenneth Calhoun (Black Moon) and Lysley Tenorio (Monstress) of the Discover Great New Writers program on B-movies, heritage, and finales.

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Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
In the Light of What We Know

Zia Haider Rahman's mystery of a brilliant Bangledeshi mathematician and the haunting crime he's committed barrels through the Ivy League, London high finance, and ravaged Afghanistan with vinegar-steeped prose recalling the best of George Orwell and Joseph Conrad.

The People's Platform

Why is the Internet - once touted as the democratizer of the future - ruled by a few corporate giants, while countless aspirants work for free? Astra Taylor diagnoses why the web has failed to be a utopian playing field, and offers compelling ways we can diversify the marketplace and give voice to the marginalized.

A Private Venus

Dubbed "the Italian Simenon," Giorgio Scerbanenco (1911-1969) began his crime-writing career with books set in the USA, but quickly shifted scene closer to home, the city of Milan.  In this adventure, appearing in English for the first time, his underdog hero Dr. Duca Lamberti finds himself in the middle of a seedy, scantily clad criminal racket, where the presence of an outsider could result in death.