Vanishing: The World’s Most Vulnerable Animals (National Geographic, $40), by Joel Sartore, is unlike any other photography book. Sartore is a National Geographic Fellow and photographer. After a career of wildlife photography documenting the loss of species and the desperate need for conservation, Sartore felt he needed to change his approach. Despite his efforts, extinctions continued unabated with no systemic response from humankind. To help raise the alarm, fifteen years ago Sartore founded the Photo Ark project. Its continuing mission has been to create portraits of all the animals in human care worldwide. The reason for this new focus was simple and yet profound: wildlife centers have become the last refuge for many creatures facing extinction. By creating studio-like conditions where animals would be comfortable, Sartore was able to capture stunning and moving portraits. You have never seen images like these. The level of detail and intimacy each one conveys is both breathtaking and heartbreaking. Another key facet of Sartore’s method is to present all animals equally, giving species that typically do not capture the popular imagination the same space as those that do. Accompanying the portraits is text that also powerfully conveys the dire circumstances of animal life on this planet and the desperate need for action.
Fabulous mortician extraordinaire and founder of the Order of the Good Death Caitlin Doughty is back with another book, this one specifi cally designed to educate and create a more honest engagement with death. Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? (W.W. Norton, $25.95) includes answers to more than fifty questions posed to Doughty by her young fans. The kids are great at getting to the heart of any matter, even death, in the most straightforward fashion, hence their no-nonsense queries such as, “why do we turn colors when we die?” and “what happens when the cemetery is full?” Doughty is equally candid in her answers, bringing both her expertise and her engaging writing style to brief and fascinating chapters. The essays are accompanied by wonderfully macabre and quirky drawings by Dianné Ruz, making this book a great library addition for readers of any age.
Letters from an Astrophysicist (W.W. Norton, $19.95,) by Neil deGrasse Tyson, is exactly what the title says it is: a collection of correspondence, via letters, emails, and social media posts, between the director of the Rose Center’s Hayden Planetarium and members of the general public. As you would expect, a lot of those missives contain science-related questions—including Tyson’s role in demoting Pluto—but many also concern hope, fear, religion, and even parenting. As Tyson notes, “there’s a longing we’ve all experienced at one time or another: the search for meaning in our lives; an evergreen urge to understand one’s place in this world and in this universe.” Addressing matters both philosophical and astronomical, his responses are relatable, thoughtful, and funny; reading them, you will be amused and charmed—and you will most definitely learn something new.