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Island Press Staff Picks

This week's pick is from Assistant Editor, Erin Johnson. The book I’d recommend is The Remarkable Life of William Beebe: Explorer and Naturalist, by Carol Grant The Remarkable Life of William BeebeGould, published in 2004. It’s not one of our more recent books, but at the time I read it (actually, I proofread it), I had not heard of Beebe and was astounded by his story. He was one of our great American naturalists of the early twentieth century. From early on, he possessed an intense, curious scientific mind, and over the course of his lifetime advanced knowledge in not just one but numerous fields of sciences: ornithology, marine biology, tropical ecology, entomology, and ichthyology, traveling the world to study organisms and ecosystems directly in their natural settings in a way that no one (or few) had done before. I’d point to chapter 30, “Half Mile Down” as a riveting description of his first-ever descent in a bathysphere to explore depths of the ocean unknown to humans at the time. This was in 1932 and at the time the expedition made headlines around the world. Millions sat by their radios to hear his voice broadcast from 2000 feet below the surface in a small metal sphere only several feet in diameter, describing what he saw to the world above. What amazed me (as a very claustrophobic person) was his fearlessness in the quest for scientific discovery. This was true not only for his descents in the bathysphere but in almost every expedition he embarked upon. I think there’s a tie between the type of natural history Beebe practiced to several books we’re publishing this year that argue for the importance of natural history and direct field observation in scientific study after a long drift toward specialized science that has promoted laboratory study over the field.