In the vein of H Is for Hawk and the work of Rebecca Solnit and Elizabeth Kolbert—a masterful consideration of the profound, urgent necessity to bear witness to life and loss
Here is a wide-ranging adventure in becoming a citizen scientist by an award-winning writer and environmental thought leader. As Mary Ellen Hannibal wades into tide pools, follows hawks, and scours mountains to collect data on threatened species, she discovers the power of a heroic cast of volunteers—and the makings of what may be our last, best hope in slowing an unprecedented mass extinction.
Digging deeply, Hannibal traces today’s tech-enabled citizen science movement to its roots: the centuries-long tradition of amateur observation by writers and naturalists. Prompted by her novelist father’s sudden death, she also examines her own past—and discovers a family legacy of looking closely at the world. With unbending zeal for protecting the planet, she then turns her gaze to the wealth of species left to fight for.
Combining original reporting, meticulous research, and memoir in impassioned prose, Citizen Scientist is a literary event, a blueprint for action, and the story of how one woman rescued herself from an odyssey of loss—with a new kind of science.
★ A San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of 2016 A 2016 Nautilus Award Winner in Ecology & Environment“Inspired by the likes of marine biologist Ed Ricketts, [Mary Ellen Hannibal] records starfish die-offs, meets the geeks who track deforestation, and plans a web-based supercommunity of citizen scientists to counter what many are calling the sixth great extinction. A cogent call to action.”—Nature “Intelligent and impassioned, Citizen Scientist is essential reading for anyone interested in the natural world.”—San Francisco Chronicle “Author and avid citizen scientist Mary Ellen Hannibal traces an astonishing diversity of volunteer-enabled projects. . . . Citizen Scientist made me want to jump off the couch and download everything from the Spotter Pro app, intended to keep ships from colliding with whales, to Story Maps, which allows users to create and annotate interactive maps.”—Science “[A] celebration of non-experts’ contributions to science.”—Scientific American “Part personal adventure story and natural history, Hannibal proves herself to be an inspiring writer.”—Foreword “Hannibal has a conversational writing style that moves quickly from topic to topic, punctuated with humorous and thoughtful asides. . . . Although centered in California, the book has a global message: Humans have much in common with the species we’re trying to save.”—Science News “Readers of popular science, especially those with a literary bent, will enjoy this heartfelt argument for citizen science—that it might be our last, best hope for solving myriad environmental predicaments”—Library Journal “The idea that science is something for a caste of high priests to attend to is simply wrong: Science is all around us, and we each can revel in its pleasures and processes. This is a stirring, empowering narrative.”
—Bill McKibben, author of Eaarth
“Species are going extinct a thousand times faster than they should, our science tells us. But how do we know which, and where, any why, and, above all, what we can do about this crisis? No expensive technological machine counts biodiversity. Our knowledge comes globally, across decades, and from every land and sea, from the ‘citizen scientist.’ That’s you and me, our kids, grandkids, and friends armed with a notebook or perhaps a smartphone but with those priceless and essential attributes of passion and curiosity. This book tells their story brilliantly.”
—Stuart Pimm, Doris Duke Chair of Conservation Ecology, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University
“Deeply informed and highly readable, this is as much a soul-search as a book about science. Fortunately for us, Mary Ellen Hannibal locates some luminous souls who, by the light of their knowledge and determination, can lead us out of these dark times for life on Earth.”
—Carl Safina, author of Beyond Words; What Animals Think and Feel
“What an extraordinary book! Mary Ellen Hannibal weaves together natural history, cutting-edge technology, and her own adventures into a story that is certain to inspire.”
—Amy Stewart, author of The Drunken Botanist
“An informative, emotional, and fascinating account of a personal journey to ecological citizen science.”
—Muki Haklay, co-director of Extreme Citizen Science, University College London
“One of Hannibal’s themes in this ambitious new book is the ‘double narrative,’ or the contradiction between what we tell ourselves we are doing every day and what is really going on. She explains that empires have been built on a biotic cleansing of species, the loss of which now threatens the very foundation of our lives. Hannibal poses citizen science, or the contribution of amateurs to research, as a platform not only for change, but also as a new way of seeing without the old blinders. Invoking literary, historic, and scientific touchstones, and telling a personal story as well, she provides what citizen scientists John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts called the ‘toto picture.’ We can’t afford to see the Earth any other way.”
—Paul R. Ehrlich, Bing Professor of Population Studies and the president of the Center for Conservation Biology at Stanford University
Praise for The Spine of the Continent
“This is the biography of a big conservation idea—connected wild lands and nature-friendly landscapes the length of the Rockies – and of the scientific and conservation pioneers making it actually happen. Mary Ellen Hannibal gives us an engrossing and inspiring story. The Spine of the Continent comes to life through those who are making it happen. This is a page-turner of science, action, and hope.”
—Thomas E. Lovejoy, Biodiversity Chair, the Heinz Center for Science, Economics and the Environment
“A fine overview of wide-angle environmentalism. Hannibal explores the ambitious Spine of the Continent Initiative, a massive project to protect wildlife and land by connecting expanses of acreage across North America.—Kirkus Reviews
“The Spine of the Continent initiative may be the most daring and important conservation effort of our era, knitting the islands of natural beauty we've preserved (or ignored) during the last century into a connected, functioning ecosystem to sustain us all. Mary Ellen Hannibal delivers a compelling and personal narrative about science, nature, the extinction crisis -- and the men and women determined to restore America's most epic landscapes.”
—Edward Humes, author of Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash
“A thoroughly satisfying gem, readers will find themselves in the company of America’s best minds (Jared Diamond, Michael Soule) and heroes (Sherri Tippie), as Hannibal travels through landscapes chronicling the efforts underway to keep North America habitable for the plants and animals that first lived here and the people who now call it home. This is what scientific writing should be: fascinating and true.”—Publishers Weekly, Starred Review