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Suburban Safari: A Year on the Lawn Paperback – February 21, 2006


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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

When science writer Hannah Holmes decided to spend a year studying the inhabitants of her 0.2-acre patch of ground in suburban Portland, Maine, she went about the task with an ecologist's enthusiasm and a scientist's compulsive eye for detail. The result is an entertaining and effortlessly compelling examination of nature's stubborn (and successful) struggle to exist in the face of daunting manmade challenges. Holmes's lawn, unfertilized and rarely mowed, turns out to be a surprisingly diverse ecosystem of bird, mammal, and insect life--a self-perpetuating, constantly evolving community of chipmunks, ladybugs, spiders, slugs, and crows. These creatures, and the complex relationships between them, are the raw material for Holmes's incisive reflections on natural history, urban ecology, and the ignominious story of the over-irrigated, pesticide-laced American lawn--rolling out, Holmes notes, at a rate of one million acres per year. What drives Holmes is not just concern for the natural environment but a ravenous curiosity about every aspect of the world around her, from the sex lives of dragonflies and squirrels, to the murderous tendencies of the English sparrows that have colonized her land, to the survival strategies of the mosquitoes, sow bugs, and slugs that inhabit her yard by the hundreds. Holmes is an environmentalist to the core, but she never sermonizes. With Suburban Safari, an intimate, wry, and often challenging look at a world most of us never bother to notice, she ably demonstrates humanity's responsibility to a natural world that exists all around us--even in our own backyards. --Erica C. Barnett --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

When science and travel writer Holmes (The Secret Life of Dust) turned her attention to her suburban backyard, she discovered a community of wildlife desperately trying to survive in a sprawling world of "Wal-Marts and White-Crowned Sparrow Estates." Holmes manages to find signs of hope and humor amid the spread of civilization, and she reports animal activities in her yard with the fervor of Wild Kingdom's Marlin Perkins and the laconic glee of Garrison Keillor. "I'm a bit embarrassed to report that Cheeky has become the sun around which my world revolves," she confesses about her resident chipmunk. That small mammal is just one of the many creatures to whom Holmes gives names and personalities, but she keeps her naturalist credibility intact by inviting scientists and other experts to join her in her lawn chair vigil. With their help, she includes plenty of facts about the habits of common crows, insects, squirrels and even trees. Science and humor serve as well-managed launching points for environmental lessons. By the end of her year, Holmes has gently taught us that the American lawn is a pesticide-laden patchwork that's increasing by a million acres every year, that heating a house can produce five tons of pollutants annually and that stewardship of our own backyards is our responsibility.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA (February 21, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1596910917
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596910911
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.5 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,134,394 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

www.hannah-holmes.com
Hannah Holmes is a cheeky science writer whose expertise lies in the conversion of molehills to mountains. Bending her curiosity on the overlooked and the unassuming, she discovers the enormous miracles that nature and science have wrought in every living thing - and in unliving things, as well. She has written extensively for the Discovery Channel Online and dozens of national magazines; and has authored four books: The Secret Life of Dust; Suburban Safari; The Well Dressed Ape; and most recently Quirk, a gleeful examination of the evolution of personality in mouse and humankind.
www.hannah-holmes.com

Customer Reviews

Hannah Holmes is an intelligent and endearing writer.
suec.
P.S. - For a book that brings wilderness closer to home, check out Holmes's other book The Secret Life of Dust.
A fellow with a keyboard
As a scientist, I'm thrilled that so much information is present in clear, personal, and entertaining writing.
Stephanie Richards

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

48 of 49 people found the following review helpful By An Avid Reader on March 4, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Battling crickets. Tailless squirrels. Weeds as our friends. Crow antics. A Cheeky chipmunk. Drama, comedy, and huge life and death decisions compete for writer Hannah Holmes's attention out on her two tenths of an acre back lawn. This is a wonderful book in so many ways. Number one - it's beautifully written. Passionate, funny, informative, and engrossing, Holmes's prose has been honed as fine as one blade of feral grass on the Freedom Lawn she so treasures in her back yard. Number two - it's chock full of details regarding some of the common, yet extraordinary, things we see every day. The reader may laugh over the antics of Holmes's crows, but at the same time, she is teaching us about crow ecology - what they contribute to our environment and why they're important. She does this with each carefully considered topic - from why weeds are good to how many threads make up Babbette the spider's web in her study. Number three - A Year on the Lawn is an important educational and ecological tool that would be a great asset to high school science classes. Number four - things we idly wonder about while sipping iced tea in our own backyards are honored here in spades. This is a great read, no matter the season, whether you're on a summer-kissed deck or looking out at the piles of snow covering the backyard grill. Move it to the top of your pile.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Jessica Lux on October 12, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Even though this book was so highly recommended, I had trouble picking it up. A year examining the backyard? What?

As soon as I started the book, through, I was hooked on the intense social lives of Holmes's crows, the eating and gathering habits of her local chipmunk, her people-wary squirrel clan (many of whom lost parts of their tails), the oh-so-important bugs, and more. I'm not generally a reader of biology and nature books, so trust me when I say this book reaches across genres to the armchair reader.

In fact, Holmes supports her thrilling narrative with citations from many biology books. I can only imagine how dry these texts are, and I thank her for giving us the "best parts" in narrative form. I learned about the navigational skills of robins and the extensive scientific studies conducted on the species, as well as the fact that hummingbirds have to learn to love the color red for its sugar, and many a baby hummingbird can be found picking at dry brown leaves and stems. Holmes also discusses experiments that were conducted to learn how squirrels know to eat white oak acorns (which germinate before winter) and save red oak acorns (which can be stored through winter without germination). Holmes manages to pack all this scientific information and more into a terrific narrative about a woman and her backyard.

This book is highly recommended. I can think of nothing else that compares, and the story of Hannah and her backyard is anything but mundane.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Suzanne Amara VINE VOICE on December 10, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This is a really fascinating look at the life that exists in a small suburban lawn---the many stories that play out there, with birds, squirrels, trees, grasses, even fungi! It's written in a light and very readable way, and is enjoyable from start to finish.

A few things would have made this book even better in my eyes. I'd have loved a drawing or map of the yard---the author often refers to different regions of the yard, like the Bamboo Forest, and I just couldn't quite picture how the yard was set up. Also, like many people, I didn't have a good idea how big 2/10th of an acre was---It would have been great to have been given something to compare the size of the yard with. At times, also, the author is a little more cutesy that I like, with slangy names for things that seem a little forced, like she was trying too hard not to be technical.

The most interesting thing I learned from this book was how huge the problem of non-native species is in this country! I remember doing a report in high school on periwinkles, which were all over the Maine coast I grew up on, and finding out they were introduced to the coast just centuries before. I checked several other sources as I just couldn't believe that to be true---there were so MANY of them! Now I realize how giant the problem is, and how MOST of the life in the author's yard is non-native. I wonder what we can do about this problem?

Certainly a recommended read, especially for those who enjoy watching the birds and wildlife close to home and would like to better understand what they see!
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13 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Paul Allaer TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 3, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Looking for some books to read before going on vacation recently, I was drawn to "Suburban Safari" for a number of reasons, not in the least because I live in the 'burbs myself, with a backyard, and not much of a gardner frankly.

"Suburban Safari: A Year on the Lawn" is the hilarious tale by the author of how she experienced life in her yard for one whole year. It's amazing what all happens. Bugs, plants, birds, flowers, grass, it all grows and interacts in one way or another. From the book inside cover, I gather that Hannah Holmes has made her name through various science-related writings. It goes to the author's credit that she keeps the book as unscientific as possible, and with a healthy dose of humor. The pages just fly by. In all, if you're looking for a fun yet informative read, "Suburban Safari" easily fits the bill. Highly recommended, and I know that I won't look at my backyard ever the same way again!
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