March 2023 • Non-fiction
Now and then, I like to read a big book. Vast and memorable biographies, monumental essay collections, or sprawling, epic works of fiction—books that cover long, impressive lives or astonishing topics, and leave you sitting in awe when you close them.
The book I'm telling you about this month is that kind of book. It's grand and all-encompassing and covers a topic much larger than anything I think I've ever read about. At the same time, it is tiny—a minute and microscopic journey.
An Immense World, written by Ed Yong, uncovers the senses found in the animal kingdom (“nonhuman perception”) in splendid detail. A Pulitzer Prize-winning science journalist, Yong takes you by the hand and guides you from one mind-boggling observation to the next.
From a catfish and its body, which is covered in taste buds (“if you lick one of them, you'll both simultaneously taste each other”) to flowers and the dramatic UV patterns they use to attract pollinators (“bees can see the UV patches at the bases of their petals, which form vivid bullseyes”); from forest fire-chasing Melanophila beetles (“the beetles have perhaps the most dramatic sex in the animal kingdom, mating as a forest burns around them”) to a library of treehopper recordings (“the songs are haunting, mesmerising, and surprising”): he makes you feel like our planet is (terrifyingly) larger than it already seemed, and (reassuringly) smaller than ever before.
I think this book, filled to the brim with itsy-bitsy bewilderments, has the power to shift the way many a reader observes the world and sees their place in it.
If you give it the attention it deserves while you read it, and allow it to draw you in—really draw you in—our planet could, possibly, never look, sound and feel the same to you again.
It's a monumental book, bound to leave its readers flabbergasted by nature.
An Immense World by Ed Yong
Published by Random House in 2022
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One book recommendation, once per month.
Book #4 • March 2023