Book Reviews

RhinoartReviews of Last of the Giants: The Rise and Fall of Earth’s Most Dominant Species



Booklist (starred review), April 15, 2016:

Bigger is better—except when it comes to wildlife. Or at least that’s how mankind has reacted against giant species, causing what scientists are now calling “the sixth extinction.” Campbell opens with an explanation of this widespread wave of extinction and our crisis of coexistence with wildlife. He then focuses on 13 giant species that once thrived—until humans arrived. Using the unscientific term giant loosely, he includes 10 megafauna (a scientific term referring to animals 100 pounds or larger) as well as smaller species that dominated their surroundings. Also representing a variety of species alive in the modern era (the last 500 years), individual chapters are devoted to a range of animals, from lions, tigers, and the California grizzly to the giant tortoises of the Indian Ocean, baiji (a river dolphin), and the passenger pigeon. Complemented by graphic novel–style illustrations, each chapter looks at what life was like when humans were introduced to the animal and the role they had in the animal’s extinction. Campbell is careful, however, to place the human activity in its historical context. Emphasizing the connection between extinction and conservation throughout, the author also relates how scientists are trying to save similar, sub-, and hybrid species of those now extinct. These timely, important, and fascinating stories will encourage readers to save all life, no matter its size.   — Angela Leeper

School Library Journal (starred review), April 2016:

The extinctions of giant (both in size and number) species at the mercy of nature and humanity turn out to be a fascinating and jarring lesson for our present. Chronicling the fates of aurochs, moa, passenger pigeons, and sea cows, alongside the unresolved destinies of today’s lions and tigers, this work gazes back at evolutionary history through a retrospect that, with the aid of Campbell’s humorous and scientific tone, is truly 20/20. Thankfully, the text’s explorations of these annihilated species are complex and perceptive and go beyond the usual worn conclusion of human-wrought woe. Mixing geology, ethnography, history, zoology, biology, industry, and sociology, Campbell demonstrates how interconnected Earth’s species and societies—human and nonhuman—are. By examining the complex web of evolution through the misfortunes of these lost species, the author drives home that our present is not a final, linear result of history but rather an ever-evolving system that needs care and attention. To that end, a “Call to Action” section laden with resources for the aspiring activist appears at the end; though there is no index, an extensive list of works cited illuminates a path for those who wish to read further.

VERDICT: Required reading for the budding naturalist and a good pairing for a STEM or history curriculum, too. —Chelsea Woods, New Brunswick Free Public Library, NJ

VOYA: Voice of Youth Advocates (5Q rating), October 2016 issue:

The scientific term for giant animals, those weighing in at more than one hundred pounds, is megafauna. Seeing megafauna in the wild these days usually means encountering a large deer or maybe even a bear in a national park. However, for the majority of the planet’s history, that has not been the case. Earth used to house many species of large birds, monolithic sea creatures, and gigantic lions, tigers, and bears. Throughout the course of history, mainly because of human interference, these animals have slowly become extinct. Cave drawings from our ancient ancestors and their huge fossils are all that is left behind.

The amount of research that went into this book is evident. Included are the stories of thirteen species; some are long extinct, and others (in a much smaller form) are still with us. The chapters on each animal are well written, full of facts, and engaging. While the sections on extinct species make up the majority of the text, the call to action and lists of resources at the end are valuable. The only design flaw is the special sections that start in the middle of a chapter. They disrupt the flow and might have been a better fit at the end of each chapter. With its engaging cover and easy-to-read sections, this book will circulate but will probably need to be put on display. It is a recommended purchase for all libraries with a young adult nonfiction section. — Morgan Brickey



Reviews of Daisy to the Rescue: Daring Dogs, Paramedic Parrots, and Other Animal Heroes

Foreword Reviews (five stars), January 26, 2015:

Are animals compassionate? Campbell finds fifty reasons to believe they are.

Jeff Campbell explores the idea of animal compassion in his book Daisy to the Rescue: True Stories of Daring Dogs, Paramedic Parrots, and Other Animal Heroes, where he details fifty accounts of animals risking their lives for humans and presents scientific findings that show animals are capable of kindness.

To test whether animals act out of compassion or an instinctual response, Campbell evaluated hundreds of stories from around the globe, whittling the number of entries down to fifty, basing his criteria on credibility, reliable witnesses, and documentation.

The book is helpfully separated into four sections, including domestic animal bravery and legendary acts of animal heroism. Some tales are accompanied by short stories, anecdotes, and scientific findings. The first section is filled with familiar stories of dogs, cats, and rabbits saving their owners from fires, robbers, and diabetic seizures. These stories are not particularly surprising, yet the author manages to weave the tales with deft and quick storytelling.

Campbell puts his time as a guidebook writer for the Lonely Planet series to good use by keeping a fast pace while covering salient parts of the story. The following three sections deal with animals trained to heal, wild animals, and folklore. While the overall structure is clear and organized, it might have made more sense to put the section on legendary tales first, to set up Campbell’s theory that animals have always had compassionate instincts, and that these stories have been documented since at least the seventh century BC.

Some of the more inspiring tales are found in the middle sections, where we meet heroic dogs of 9/11 who lead their owners out of the collapsing towers, and a German shepherd who found the last survivor at Ground Zero. Campbell also describes the first time captive dolphins were used to soothe people with debilitating ailments like congenital heart failure and cerebral palsy. The author might have provided a more complete story if he had included evidence supporting the efficacy of dolphin-assisted therapy, especially since so many of the other stories in the book are supplemented with scientific facts explaining why animals behave the way they do.

Wild animal rescues are the most astonishing stories. Campbell describes wild dolphins saving ocean swimmers from a shark attack, elephants warning of an impending tsunami, and a lion rescuing a child from kidnappers. This is the strongest section in defense of animal compassion existing naturally, because these examples demonstrate wild animals saving humans when there is no tangible benefit to the animal for doing so.

The endnotes are impressive; each story includes at least four citations, and though many are from secondary sources, they are from reputable journals and newspapers. A thorough bibliography offers further inquiry into this fascinating and still-evolving world of animal intelligence and compassion. Campbell’s compelling examples and engaging storytelling style make strong cases for animal altruism, and they encourage further examination of everyday human-animal encounters.  —Barbara Nickles

Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 2014: 

With an eye toward documenting remarkable animal/human interactions, Campbell has assembled a large collection of fascinating anecdotes. Following a somewhat scholarly foreword by animal researcher Marc Bekoff and a long introduction, the tales are divided into four sections: “Domestic Companions,” mostly chronicling lifesaving actions by pets; “Trained to Serve, Inspired to Heal,” about search dogs and various other kinds of animals trained to perform particular functions; “Wild Saviors,” profiling unusual interactions between wild animals and humans; and “Legends and Folktales,” some describing the traditional folk basis for animal stories as well as others that “mix real life with exaggeration.” Each story is a page or two long, accompanied by an attractive black-and-white illustration by Beyer. Each animal is introduced with a text box that provides brief information about the nature of the event, including—an odd and silly touch—a “Fame Meter” that rates the animal from “Local Hero” (like Dory, a rabbit that saved its owner from a diabetic coma) up to “International Celebrity” (like Mkombozi, a dog that rescued a baby abandoned near Nairobi). One of the book’s strengths is the way events are evaluated in comparison to typical behavior or within the context of the emerging field of the study of animal minds. Overflowing with information, fascinating tales and thought-provoking information; give it to animal-loving middle graders on up. (sources, further reading, index) (Nonfiction. 11 & up)

School Library Journal, August 2014:

Well-documented cases of animals rescuing men, women, and children are recounted with precision, organized into four divisions: domestic, trained, wild, and legendary animals. Campbell draws on opinions from professionals and anecdotal evidence, gleaned from ancient to modern times, to understand animal motivations. In an introduction, Campbell discusses whether we can ever know an animal’s motivation and how to verify the accuracy of these accounts. The author’s voice is strongly felt throughout, tinged with sarcasm, pathos, and a touch of belief mixed with skepticism as to the existence of moral courage in these animals. Simple black-and-white illustrations serve as story markers. The text flows well, and the compact content is intense. Tender souls will weep over the family dog who was fatally injured saving his owner from a cougar, leaving his skull cracked and his body macerated. When the jaws of the cougar were prised from the head of the brave dog, he arose for the last time to make sure his beloved boy was safe. Similarly, Campbell describes a guide dog who led his master out of the Twin Towers, through the soot and cinders, later dying due to respiratory injuries, and a pride of lions that rescued a kidnapped 12-year-old Ethiopian girl from rape and abuse. The graphic nature of some of these stories make them more suitable for older readers, who may more easily process the plethora of serious issues. The documentation shines in this presentation. —Nancy Call, Santa Cruz Public Libraries, Aptos, CA

Booklist, October 1, 2014:

Whether they are domestic companions, trained to serve, inspired to heal, or are found in the wild, animals have the ability to enhance our lives and even save us, and this compendium pays homage. Daisy, the title dog, detected breast cancer in her human companion. Molly, the pony with a prosthetic leg, inspired hope in the disabled. A gray seal kept a woman from drowning in the freezing North Sea. Indeed, pigs, rabbits, horses, parrots, monkeys, dolphins, and more are just some of the more than 50 creatures lauded via stories and related facts regarding what each did to achieve hero status. Inherent animal abilities are discussed alongside the stories, as are animal traits and scientific theories in layman’s terms. Individual stories of animal derring-do, illustrated with pencil portraits, make for quick, compelling reads that prompt the reader to wonder what really goes on in an animal’s head and heart. Give this to anyone from middle school to adult who shares that curiosity. — Jeanne Fredriksen

Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA), September 2014: 

This book does not have a focus audience. It starts with a four-page foreword and a thirteen-page introduction, all interesting, but few teens readers will fight through those pages to get to the really good stuff: fifty stories of amazing rescues by animals from around the world. Dogs, cats, horses, dolphins, gorillas, lions, a vervet monkey, a kangaroo, a lion, a parrot, an elephant, a rabbit, and a Beluga whale all intervene at great risk to themselves to save humans. Within each chapter, besides the story, there are related articles, other similar rescues, and factual information from experts, together providing a more total reading experience than expected from the cover.

All the stories are wonderful, but one touching story provides an example of what these stories offer. “Betsy the Quarter Horse Bows to a Child” discusses Rowan Isaacson, a three-and-a-half-year-old autistic child with many dysfunctions who bonds with the neighbor’s horse, Betsy—the bully of all the other horses in that pasture. Though his parents are incredibly supportive and involved, it is Betsy that Rowan first chooses to speak to and admits to loving. A sidebar quotes Dr. Temple Grandin, author of Animals in Translation, professor at Colorado State University, and one of the world’s most famous autists. When starting these fifty tender stories, prepare to get teary eyed. Anyone who has ever bonded with an animal will love this book. —CJ Bott (five stars), September 21, 2014: 

“Daisy to the Rescue: True Stories of Daring Dogs, Paramedic Parrots, and Other Animal Heroes” by Jeff Campbell is a wonderful compilation of stories ranging from those which are fairly well known to surprising little-known stories about animals who have rescued humans.

Many have heard about Roselle, the seeing-eye dog who led her human out of the World Trade Center after the 9/11 bombing. And many Americans grieved with Sergeant Young when Target, the stray Afghanistan dog who saved him and his fellow soldiers from a Taliban suicide bomber, was mistakenly euthanized in an Arizona animal shelter. After Target and another dog saved the group of soldiers, they raised money to bring both dogs back to the states where it was hoped they would live the rest of their lives in safety—as a much-deserved reward for saving so many lives. When Target escaped from Young’s yard and was taken to a shelter, Young contacted the shelter and told them Target was his dog. But before he could get there to pick her up, tragically, they killed her.

Not so well-known is the story of Dory the rabbit who saved the life of her human when he went into a diabetic coma. Or the dogs who helped humans by performing an animal version of the Heimlich maneuver. And Campbell shares the story about the dog who detected cancer and saved the life of his human.

Animal lovers and anyone with a pet of his/her own will love reading these stories and the possible scientific explanations of how and why these animals saved the humans they did. From kangaroo to lion, from dolphin to dog, and from horse to hamster (there really isn’t a hamster, but there is a rabbit), the stories will touch readers’ hearts and stir their imagination.

Many of the dogs and cats mentioned in the stories were rescues or stray animals. It could be hoped that by reading this book, many will be inspired to go to a local shelter and rescue their own dog or cat. One never knows when that adopted animal will save the life of the human it loves!

This book would also be a great choice for nonfiction reading in the school setting. — Pamela Kramer