Barbara J. King

Barbara J. King is a contributor to the NPR blog 13.7: Cosmos & Culture. She is a Chancellor Professor of Anthropology at the College of William and Mary. With a long-standing research interest in primate behavior and human evolution, King has studied baboon foraging in Kenya and gorilla and bonobo communication at captive facilities in the United States.

Recently, she has taken up writing about animal emotion and cognition more broadly, including in bison, farm animals, elephants and domestic pets, as well as primates.

King's most recent book is How Animals Grieve (University of Chicago Press, 2013). Her article "When Animals Mourn" in the July 2013 Scientific American has been chosen for inclusion in the 2014 anthology The Best American Science and Nature Writing. King reviews non-fiction for the Times Literary Supplement (London) and is at work on a new book about the choices we make in eating other animals. She was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for her work in 2002.

Some 56 years after Jane Goodall began long-term research on wild chimpanzees at Gombe, Tanzania, primatologists are still uncovering fascinating new facts about these closest living relatives of ours.

What lurks beneath?

Beneath the water, we find luminescent vampire squid and weighty blue whales. We find super-heated hydrothermal chimneys, sonar-pinging submarines and scientists who roam the watery terrain in submersibles.

Beneath the ground, we find a realm of geysers, volcanoes and tectonic plates. Here also dwell giant earthworms, warthogs and deep roots of wild fig and camel thorn trees. In the subsurface world, humans mine and tunnel and excavate to unleash bones and fossils.

Are free-ranging cats pint-size murderers who need to be removed from the landscape because they critically decrease bird and small-mammal populations?

Or is the estimation of free-ranging cats' impact on birds exaggerated, so that we'd do better to rein in the anti-cat hype and to focus on our own actions toward wildlife?

Are these the only two possible positions? Or is this dichotomy itself a kind of hype?

Last week, The New York Times described "a new category of Digital Detox trips in which participants pledge, in writing, to swear off all digital devices including cellphones and cameras" for 8 to 10 days of travel.

If you sign up, you get a notebook to record memories. Travel leaders will even send email updates to your family, if you'd like.

Sounds virtuous, doesn't it? Shouldn't we all be disconnecting more, especially on vacation?

Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen's memoir set for release on Tuesday, is a virtuoso performance, the 508-page equivalent to one of Springsteen and the E Street Band's famous four-hour concerts: Nothing is left onstage, and diehard fans and first-timers alike depart for home sated and yet somehow already aching for more.

In England's Northumberland area, at the Alnwick Castle, you can tour a locked patch of ground where killers reside.

This is the section of Alnwick Gardens dedicated to poisonous or narcotic plants. Once you find a garden keeper to let you through the locked gates, plants — some so toxic they are caged — come into view. They range from strychnine to poppies and hallucinogenic mushrooms.

The Kingdom of Speech by Tom Wolfe is book situated at the intersection of inflammatory and ignorant.

Best known for his novels — perhaps especially for The Right Stuff and Bonfire of the Vanities, both made into major films — Wolfe offers his readers a non-fiction account of the evolution of speech in his latest book — or rather, its non-evolution, because Wolfe denies that speech has evolved.

Eight yellow garden spiders, also called writing spiders or Argiope aurantia, set up shop at various locations around the exterior of my house this summer.

A dog video popped up in my Facebook feed this week that I'd never before seen, though it was originally posted late last year. It's clearly a home video, not always perfectly in focus, but in just two minutes tells an intriguing story.

A young girl, engrossed in an art project, dips the family dog's tail into shallow little cups of paint, then brushstrokes across her paper with the tail tip.

Sure, it's a cute video.

People, I have noticed, get very excited about eating pigs and pig products. Bacon mania has been going for a while now, and the well-established cult of barbecue continues as strong as ever.