Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law

by Mary Roach

Paperback, 2022




W. W. Norton & Company (2022), 336 pages


"Join "America's funniest science writer" (Peter Carlson, Washington Post) Mary Roach on an irresistible investigation into the unpredictable world where wildlife and humans meet. What's to be done about a jaywalking moose? A grizzly bear caught breaking and entering? A murderous tree? As New York Times best-selling author Mary Roach discovers, the answers are best found not in jurisprudence but in science: the curious science of human-wildlife conflict, a discipline at the crossroads of human behavior and wildlife biology. Roach tags along with animal attack forensics investigators, human-elephant conflict specialists, bear managers, and "danger tree" faller-blasters. She travels from leopard-terrorized hamlets in the Indian Himalaya to St. Peter's Square in the early hours before the Pope arrives for Easter Mass, when vandal gulls swoop in to destroy the elaborate floral display. Along the way, Roach reveals as much about humanity as about nature's lawbreakers. Combining little- known forensic science and conservation genetics with a motley cast of laser scarecrows, langur impersonators, and mugging macaques, Fuzz offers hope for compassionate coexistence in our ever-expanding human habitat"--… (more)


½ (227 ratings; 3.9)

User reviews

LibraryThing member bragan
The subtitle here is more gimmicky than accurate. Obviously it's not about nature "breaking the law," because that's an inherently ridiculous concept. What it is about is the ways in which humans and animals (or, sometimes, plants) come into conflict with each other, and the ways in which humans
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respond to those conflicts.

My initial impression of this one is that, while it was readable and interesting enough, certainly, it wasn't nearly as entertaining as many of Mary Roach's earlier books. After a while, I realized that at least part of the problem was that even someone who once made reading about corpses an oddly enjoyable experience, couldn't (and, let's face it, probably shouldn't) do the same for stories about people getting mauled by bears or children being killed by leopards. After the first few chapters, though, she turns to some slightly less somber topics -- monkeys stealing things, seagulls vandalizing the Pope's flowers, weird tactics for scaring birds -- and things get rather more fun, especially Roach's trademark weird, hilarious footnotes. Well, mostly it gets more fun, anyway. The chapter about research into humane forms of pest control, perhaps ironically, is quite distressing.

Rating: I wavered just a little on this, but even when she's writing about things that are genuinely disturbing (as opposed to just kind of gross), Mary Roach is always worth reading.
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LibraryThing member Tytania
The unifying theme is supposed to be "when nature breaks the law." This loose idea combines stories of investigating wild animal attacks, deterring birds from eating sunflower seed fields, controlling monkeys in India, controlling rodents in your own home, and myriad other digressions. Mary Roach
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is funny, so it's all good.

"I have read the 1978 paper by researchers... who tried to warn away white-tailed deer by erecting roadside plywood cutouts of deer rear ends with tails a-flagging. On some... an actual deer tail had been nailed in place. Sadly, because who wouldn't want to see our nation's highways lined with plywood deer asses with decomposing tails, none of it worked."

Then the story of "fecal bags" attached to goat butts (no, she's not always scatological, but, well, she often is)... a harness was designed with no fewer than 19 leather straps that allowed goats to rear up on their hind legs. "In a minor setback, several of the nonharnessed goats, being goats, ate the leather straps off their pals." I had to include that quote.

I'm pro-wildlife but I find a little tiresome heroic efforts to get vermin out of your home without actually harming any critters. I do not wish to inflict cruelty. When she says glue traps ought to be banned, because "a professional pest control person should be checking the traps daily and humanely killing any rodent that's been caught... what homeowner is going to tackle that?" We do, actually. We use glue traps because they work, and my husband, bless him, humanely dispatches anything we catch, always within half a day. She admits herself that snap traps very often fail to kill immediately and humanely, so what's the diff? But the complaints about have-a-heart style traps where you release the critters somewhere far away - well, then they don't know the territory and they get eaten. OK, as if in their own territory, they live to a ripe old age enjoying Lawrence Welk and complaining their children never call. It's a thing-kill-thing world out there, people!

I was pretty disgusted to hear how Big Sunflower kept trying to kill blackbirds that would feast in their sunflower fields. They said blackbirds were responsible for the loss of about 2% of their crop. 2%? You can't give 2% for wildlife? You have to kill and bomb and poison and kill myriad other inoffensive birds too in the process? 2% of your crop, for a healthy blackbird population and all the other little tweeters too. Cmon!

Back about getting pests out of your home. (It's a sore spot with me.) She had a rat in her walls. A rat! So instead of doing anything lethal, she so virtuously had the pest guy come over, figure out where he was getting in, and plug all the entrances with steel wool. Problem solved! Sure! Oh, it's so simple! Sure, just go around putting a little steel wool here and there. I wish it were that easy to keep things out.
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LibraryThing member Beamis12
Man vs. Nature. As we encroach further and further into territories once the feeding grounds of wild animals, clashes are inevitable, which is the focus of this book. Not just animals but threatening plants and invasive species are also discussed. Roach travels all over the world investigating the
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mitigation efforts that are being employed by various cultures in an attempt to protect people as well as animals.

My favorite parts were the bears in Colorado, though I admit I can find them fascinating because I don't live where I would run into any. They infiltrate houses, stealing food, they can open the refrigerator, take out a carton of eggs and remove the eggs one by one. Monkeys that hold cell phone hostages until they are given food by the tourists. Yellow eyed penguins, only found in New Zealand that are now in danger of extinction. Much information in this book, sometimes a little too much, but as always her research seems impeccable. Her trademark humor is inserted here and there but not as much as in some of her works.

ARC by Edelweiss.
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LibraryThing member JJbooklvr
I absolutely loved this! I learned a lot, laughed a lot, but was also horrified at the lengths humans will go to try and control nature. A lot to process here...
LibraryThing member MontzaleeW
Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law
by Mary Roach
I love Mary Roach's books! I always learn, laugh, get a little grossed out, and am surprised by her tenacity. In this book we find out how different animals and plants are a danger to us but we are the ones to blame. She doesn't say that but when you
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look at each situation and scenario, man has encroached on, pushed out, or starved out native animals. Encounters are inevitable. Other situations too cause interactions such as garbage.
I found the tree section a bit boring and a lot of other sections have been covered on nature shows but she goes beyond this. She goes to a class to figure out how to tell if a human, bear, or cougar killed a person based on the marks on the body! Like I said, tenacity!
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LibraryThing member reader1009
nonfiction - large pest control (mammals, not bugs) - history, ethics, interesting factoids

another diverting read from Mary Roach. The first chapter (when animals maul/maim) is fascinating but somewhat unpleasant; the rest of the book (dealing with lesser crimes and misdemeanors) is equally
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fascinating and more enjoyable.
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LibraryThing member cmc
_Fuzz_ is exactly what you'd expect from a Mary Roach book: interesting bits of information tangled up with silliness, and all wrapped around a core of serious exploration of various aspects of some set of related issues. In this case, she's exploring the conflict zone between animals, just trying
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to do their thing, and humans, annoyed by animals interfering with **their** things. And so we learn about deer, bears, elephants, mountain lions, leopards, monkeys, mice, rats, cats, stoats, birds, and the humans who are trying to mediate between the animals and the other humans.
I could write more about the specifics, but if you're interested in animals and humans (also animals, of course), you should just read her book. I learned a bunch of interesting trivia, had some of my assumptions and beliefs challenged, and added a few new things to be worried about.
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LibraryThing member ecataldi
I adore Mary Roach and her latest microhistory was no exception. I devoured this in one day. Each chapter deals with real life scenarios on human rules that animals break. It's equal parts hilarious and nauseating, but all around fascinating. Mary Roach is America's funniest science writer and her
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foray into the animal kingdom is amazing. There is a bit of gore or violence against animals in these pages (she pulls stories from all over the world), but the message is positive and empathetic. Rowdy, ridiculous and informative.
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LibraryThing member msf59
I had not read Mary Roach in a few years, so I was delighted that her new book dealt with nature colliding with humanity. A subject that fascinates and horrifies me. There is her usual humor here but she mostly takes an informative dive into many areas, where animals and even trees, cross deadly
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paths with people. She covers bears, mountain lions, deer, elephants, albatross, macaques and mice. She also offers some solutions, for a better co-existence with this wildlife. A good, solid read and Roach does a fine job narrating the audiobook.
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LibraryThing member hcnewton
This originally appeared at The Irresponsible Reader as a part of a Quick Takes Catch-up post, emphasizing pithiness, not thoroughness.
So this is about what happens when animals and humans have a hard time co-existing—which basically means when animals being animals inconvenience (or worse)
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humans. Was that hiker killed by an animal, or did they die of other causes and become food for an animal? What happens when we put a building where an animal expected to be able to be?

I don't think it was as amusing as Roach tried to make it. It was interesting, but it went on too long and therefore became less-interesting the longer it went on. I don't remember anything more specific than that—which says something about the book. It just didn't hold my attention for long.

This is my first Mary Roach book—and maybe would've been my last if I hadn't run into a couple of other bloggers who are Roach fans that were as tepid as I was about the book. Still, I'm going to get a bit more distance between this book and my next.
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LibraryThing member AliceaP
Mary Roach will forever be linked in my mind to my time as a Library Sciences student because I used her book Stiff to create my very first (and only) book trailer for an assignment. And that marked the beginning of my obsessive interest in death culture and funerary practices. So when I saw that
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she was coming out with a new nonfiction book focusing on animals who are up to no good you know I had to check that book out. Now that makes it sound like it's a book full of animal hijinks when in actuality this is more about the strained relationship between people and wild animals. She opens the book with a brief history of legal battles fought against wild animals (yes, this is real). A large chunk of the complaints come from farmers (this is true of the past as well) because wild animals like rats and birds are known to consume large quantities of crops. However, there are also those animals like bears and cougars that wander into populated areas looking for food (open garbage cans being like a buffet) and what started out as foraging quickly turns into defending of resources...and oftentimes the destruction of the wild animal. This is a fascinating and well-researched look into conservationism and the problems caused by human-wildlife conflict. It's a subtopic of conservationism that I hadn't really given much thought to but Roach certainly gives the reader plenty to ponder.
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LibraryThing member albertgoldfain
About as good a book possible on a topic that never really held my interest: the variety of confrontation points between humans and wildlife. The writing is journalistic, without positive or negative "spin" on either symbiotic adaptations or adversarial confrontations between us and the wild.
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Roach's humor shines through...there is gold in some of the footnotes...so do read those.
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LibraryThing member Gwendydd
As always, Mary Roach's writing is delightful, and she's willing to ask all of the questions that everyone else is too polite to ask.

The book veers from its original topic. Given the title, I was expecting the book to examine examples of legal cases where animals were accused of crimes, or where
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there was debate about whether animals were subject to human laws, such as the court case about whether a photo taken by a monkey can be copyrighted by the camera's owner. That's not what the book is about. The first few chapters are about how various law enforcement agencies deal with problems created by animals. For instance, some towns in Colorado have laws requiring business owners to keep their dumpsters locked so that bears don't get into them, but when multiple businesses have access to a dumpster, enforcing those laws is difficult. Roach explores a few similar situations where law enforcement agencies face challenges in getting humans to behave responsibly so that their actions don't attract or endanger animals.

But the bulk of the book is actually about pest control, and various approaches to keeping everything from bears to monkeys to mice away from humans and their food. Roach focuses on the search for humane methods to control animal populations, but there is also considerable discussion of what happens when humans try to kill large numbers of animals (it usually doesn't go as planned).

Roach ultimately argues that it's usually more successful to try to find ways of peacefully coexisting than to control or kill wild animals.
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LibraryThing member AAAO
The Muslim view was not included with other religions in this book:
Abu Huraira* reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “A man suffered from thirst while he was walking on a journey. When he found a well, he climbed down into it and drank from it. Then he came out
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and saw a dog lolling its tongue from thirst and licking the ground. The man said: This dog has suffered thirst just as I have suffered from it. He climbed down into the well, filled his shoe with water, and caught it in his mouth as he climbed up. Then he gave the dog a drink. Allah appreciated his deed, so He forgave him.” They said, “O Messenger of Allah, is there a reward in charity even towards the animals for us?” The Prophet said, “Yes, in every creature with a moist liver is a reward for charity.”
Source: Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 6009, Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 2244
* Abu Huraira was a reliable reporter from the companions of the prophet peace and blessings be upon him and them. Wikipedia says he was named Abu Huraira “in reference to his attachment to cats,” but the accurate story is that he raised a kitten by keeping it in his sleeve, and people started to call him thus. One of those things that has to happen to you before you understand….Abu Huraira was a source of broad Islamic science, but this would have been relevant given the book’s title. I have a sense that that kitten was the one who settled upon the reporter, not the other way around. In Islam buying and selling of pets is discouraged, putting a purely monetary value on Allah’s creation isn’t appropriate.

In Islam, if you can define “pests” as such you can exterminate them, albeit humanly and without using fire. Only Allah [The Most Glorified, the Most High] penalizes with fire. I know Muslims who will not use pest zappers because of this.

The book itself wanders at times. The ricin arguments weren’t applicable, for me, because the cases cited were of humans seeking a natural product, both separate and isolated from nature’s agency. It would have perhaps been more appropriate to say…. some plants that we as humans are often urged to eat may even contain cyanide (in the plant section), for example the seeds of some fruits. Or some other thing along the lines of the unexpected toxicity of some plants. There, it would have been nature exceeding the limits we would like it to stay within.

There is a liberal use of the theory of evolution. For one thing, the theory of evolution is just that, a theory. But more importantly, evolutionary ideas are operating on such a macro, massive level, that they are almost inhuman is span. We, human, live for a century or so on average, why should we be repeatedly cognizant and meditative of what we ultimately will not control? “Theories” that rely largely on “belief” are ineffective “science” at best.

And yet…And yet, I might have overlooked all that, and chosen this book as ‘one of the best’ this year but for the obscenity, which for me always weighs, in measures and magnitudes, unfavorably. I nearly never can exempt it, when reading is bad for you.
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LibraryThing member murderbydeath
This has not been a great week for me overall, and this arrived Tuesday afternoon (book lover's torture #12: when you hear the delivery man leave your new books at the doorstep and you can't get up to retrieve them), and by Wednesday I was in desperate need of a distraction. Mary Roach had me
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laughing out loud on page 1, and I can't tell you how much I needed those laughs.

In her introduction she states that she's starting with the felonious crimes first: those incidents, usually bear/cougar/mountain lion, where people are mortally wounded, and ends the book with the crimes more akin to nuisances; crop theft, stealing food, etc.

It probably says something about me that I found the first half much easier to read than the second half - or maybe not. The crimes may be 'lesser' but the punishments meted out by people most definitely are not. Humanity's ability to embrace wholesale slaughter is depressing.

The author manages to end the book on a hopeful note, and while the writing isn't always even (sometimes the humour is a tad over-done), I learned a lot and sometimes I was entertained (usually by the way the author can laugh at herself). Her writing isn't for everyone, but for those that enjoy bit of entertaining and informative science journalism, her books usually deliver.
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LibraryThing member eduscapes
New works of popular science nonfiction are examining fascinating scientific themes through entertaining stories. Educators will find these useful in identifying timely examples for their classrooms.

Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law
Mary Roach, Sep 2021, W.W. Norton & Company
Themes: science, social
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science, nature, biology, philosophy, wildlife

FUZZ explores the science of human-wildlife interaction and conflict. Combining the disciplines of human behavior and wildlife biology, Roach shares fascinating and often humorous examples of the challenges of human-nature coexistence.

Take-aways: Roach’s conversational style is always popular with young adults and educators alike. From connections with bears and elephants to monkeys and trees, each chapter shares a short, engaging narrative that helps readers understand the complex relationships between nature and humans.
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LibraryThing member cougargirl1967
Another informative and thought provoking book by the delightful Mary Roach. She is so thorough with her research and always having fun with her topics.
LibraryThing member wdwilson3
Mary Roach consistently produces entertaining fact-based books – books that your learn from and have a few chuckles in the process. Not many authors can do that. Only Bill Bryson comes to mind, actually. In this instance, she investigates the confrontation between mankind and the natural world.
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More specifically, the way humans deal with the often troublesome, pesky relations with animals and birds. Loosely linked reports of mankind's issues with bears, gulls, rodents, leopards, elephants, and many others, pose the practical and ethical problems that scientists face in understanding how to cope with the interface. I learned things and I had a good time.
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LibraryThing member jillrhudy
Thanks to W. W. Norton and Edelweiss for the advanced readers copy in exchange for an honest review. Where wildlife and human life intersect, there is bound to be conflict. Animals can be naughty by trespassing, by stealing, by eating other animals that we are trying to keep from going extinct, and
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by injuring or eating us.

Animals have no way to pay fines or make restitution and we have more than enough of them imprisoned already. Our alternatives are to kill them, trap and move them, and subject them to birth control or sterilization. Roach describes each of these methods and outcomes in detail in her trademark playful and inquisitive writing style. What they all have in common is that they are expensive government endeavors that don't work and often even backfire.

Is there a way to coexist?

Mary Roach investigates in various countries to find lawbreaking animals and meet the people who are trying to deal with them, and the people who are adding to the issues and in some cases, actually exacerbating them. The animals are not encroachers so much as encroachees; worldwide, we are more and more moving into and destroying their habitat after all. Are there any viable solutions that respect the other inhabitants of the planet?

Fuzz is fascinating, quirky, and far too short. I loved the leopards, elephants, and bears (oh my) but couldn't Roach have included a chapter on snakes in swimming pools? Deadly insects in patio umbrellas? Alligators in the middle of golf courses? Will there be a sequel?
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LibraryThing member jennybeast
I really enjoy Mary Roach's work -- not so much because of her humor, although there were definitely some funny moments in this book, but because of her ability to explain big scientific problems and current work in a way that I find easy to understand.

This is kind of a tough book, in the sense
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that it is about the deaths of animals, often on a horrifically large scale, which I find distressing. What I appreciated about it is that it is equally a book about trying to find alternatives to the deaths of animals, and particularly a book that illustrates the utter futility of trying to exterminate "pests", as it has been proven ineffective over and over again. I love the way Roach brings history into the narrative, and the way she links it to current science and concerns. I was really excited about the portion of the book on New Zealand, as I have often wondered if there was a better solution to the mass poisoning of forests that they practice in order to try and preserve their native species.


Advanced Readers's Copy provided by Edelweiss.
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LibraryThing member ladycato
It's been awhile since I read one of Mary Roach's books, and reading Fuzz reminds me that I should do so more often. Her curious, wry tone makes all subjects approachable. This book, addressing everything from animal attacks carnivorous and mischievous to toxic plants to beans bloating up where
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they ought not was a fun, breezy read. This is a book I'll keep on my shelf for future research needs.
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LibraryThing member jnmegan
Mary Roach returns once again, bringing her sense of irony to a potentially dry subject in Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law. Inspired by humorous anecdotes and old legal records, the author uncovered many stories of animals being ridiculously anthropomorphized worldwide. Roach is well known for her
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series of catchy single-word titles (Stiff, Gulp and Bonk), that expose our misconceptions and human hubris. This time, she wanders the globe to explore consequences that occur when humans and animals collide. Fuzz is a report of her discovery of many unfortunate remnants of some outdated procedures and ill-conceived attitudes. Roach has a clear message here: Practice tolerance and accommodation, rather than defaulting to attempts at elimination and extinction for our non-human counterparts on Earth. She goes on to describe the many mishaps and failures of “pest” control that have been tried, with both comic and tragic results. Roach seeks to remind us that we humans are mere tenants of this planet along with our coinhabitors, with no greater claim to territory or possession than any other creature. A warning must be given to those who avoid reading about animal cruelty or abuse. The book sometimes gets mired in the nitty-gritty of chemicals and methodology, and too descriptive of the gory details. Despite some uneven parts, Fuzz tackles a controversial topic in a light-hearted but insightful way. Mary Roach shadows those tasked with managing the animal encounters and presents them with candor and respect. With her gentle humor she can expose our own folly in pursuing a pointless quest for dominance that is unachievable and undeserved.

Thanks to the author, WW Norton, and Edelweiss for an ARC in exchange for an unbiased review.
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LibraryThing member norabelle414
Mary Roach investigates human-animal interactions of all kinds, from bears breaking into houses in Aspen, Colorado to Macaques stealing food in Delhi to gulls destroying the Pope’s flowers to the attempted eradication of invasive species in New Zealand.

It’s been awhile since I’ve read a Mary
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Roach book. Her writing is just as funny as ever, and her footnotes just as long. I love the way she leaves no question unanswered, even if it’s completely irrelevant to what she was just investigating. She’s a much more human-focused writer than many authors who write about animals, so she brought a bit of a new perspective, but also might leave a little to be desired for readers who are really into animals. I enjoyed how she pushes back against the usual western ideas that we should control all of nature (for example, many people believe that farmers should keep birds away from their plants because the birds will eat all of the crops, but investigations have shown that birds eat so many insects and rodents that they actually save more crops than they eat). I would say it’s a quick enjoyable read (boy does she know how to lead from one chapter to another) but not groundbreaking.
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LibraryThing member troymcc
I've read a lot of books about science for the layman and this book is marketed as one, but it's really not. It's more like the diary of an annoying writer who tags along with people who do unusual things. Sometimes I laughed but sometimes I cringed.
LibraryThing member hardlyhardy
Remove the dust jacket from Mary Roach's newest book and look at the spine. You'll see that it reads "ROACH FUZZ," which, accident or not, suggests the sense of humor that has made her books bestsellers.

In “Fuzz” (2021) Roach turns her attention to the eternal struggle of humans versus animals,
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or as her subtitle puts it, "When Nature Breaks the Law." Some animals kill and even eat people. Rats and other pests eat crops. Birds get in the way of planes and rockets. She doesn't tackle mosquito bites or the fly in your soup, but she travels the world to explore more significant points of conflict.

In their quest for easy food, bears wander into homes and supermarkets, and this problem sends her to the Canadian Rockies. Elephants kill a lot more people than bears or lions do, so Roach goes to India to see attempts at a solution. At the Vatican she explores what's being done, in a very Christian way, to battle bothersome gulls and rats.

Animal behavior interests Roach, but she is even more interested in how scientists and others are trying to solve these problems without going to the extreme of killing troublesome animals. Scientists, for example, are looking for a way to get mice to produce only male babies. And what might the unintended consequences be if these experiments prove successful? She asks about that, too.

Scarecrows don't really work, or at least not for long. Smart birds soon realize that a scarecrow means food, so it actually attracts them. What will scare them away? Noise? Motion? Dead birds? Scientists are looking into all these things.

Roach is as much a humorist as she is a science writer, and her books never fail to be as fun as they are informative. Readers, in fact, may be more likely to take away odd bits of amusing trivia from “Fuzz” than anything else. (Much of this is to found in footnotes, so don't ignore them.) For example:

There is such a thing as a chicken gun, but it's not for shooting chickens. Rather it's for shooting supermarket chickens at plane engines to test the effects of bird strikes.

As dangerous as elephants can be when they're sober, they are even more dangerous when drunk. And they like to get drunk.

The Vatican is the only nation in the world where no one has ever been born.

When you were a kid you probably came across books with titles like “Science Can Be Fun.” Mary Roach proves again and again that that is true.
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Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

336 p.; 8.3 inches


1324036125 / 9781324036128
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