Reader, John 1937-

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READER, John 1937-

PERSONAL: Born July 6, 1937, in London, England; son of Frederick and Blanche (Baker) Reader; married Jasmin Crawford, 1961 (divorced, 1971); married Brigitte Dabelow, 1973; children: (first marriage) Mark, Soran, Larissa; (second marriage) Alice.

ADDRESSES: Home and Office—10 Albany Terr., Richmond, Surrey TW10 6DN, England. Agent—P. Kavanagh, Peters, Fraser & Dunlop, Drury House, 34-43 Russell St., London WC2B 5HA, England. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER: Freelance photojournalist and author. Time Inc., photographer covering Africa south of the Sahara for Life and Time, 1969-73. University of London, London, England, honorary research fellow in anthropology.

MEMBER: Royal Anthropological Institute (fellow), Royal Geographical Society (fellow).

AWARDS, HONORS: Alan Paton Literary Award, 1998; Rockefeller Foundation fellowship at Bellagio Center, 1998.


(With Harvey Croze) Pyramids of Life: An Investigation of Nature's Fearful Symetry, Collins (London, England), 1977, published as Pyramids of Life: Illuminations of Nature's Fearful Symmetry, Lippincott (Philadelphia, PA), 1978, revised edition, Harvill (London, England), 2000.

Missing Links: The Hunt for Earliest Man, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1981, revised edition, Penguin (London, England), 1987.

Kilimanjaro, Universe (New York, NY), 1982.

The Rise of Life: The First 3.5 Billion Years, Knopf (New York, NY), 1986.

Man on Earth, University of Texas Press (Austin, TX), 1989.

Mount Kenya, Elm Tree Books (London, England), 1989.

Africa: A Biography of the Continent, Knopf (New York, NY), 1998.

Africa, photographs by Michael Lewis, National Geographic Society (Washington, DC), 2001.

Also contributor to periodicals, including Smithsonian.

WORK IN PROGRESS: The Phenomenon of Cities—Their Function and Ecology, for Heinemann (London, England).

SIDELIGHTS: John Reader began his career as a photographer with an interest in providing the text as well as the pictures. He lived in South Africa from 1955 to 1963 and, after a spell in Ireland and England, was based in Nairobi, Kenya, from 1969 to 1978. During that time he traveled widely throughout the region of Africa south of the Sahara on assignment for some of the world's leading illustrated magazines. More recently, he has been based in London, where he has made writing and providing photography for books his major occupation.

An interest in the natural sciences, especially ecology and anthropology, has been the motivation for much of Reader's magazine work and his books. According to Reader, Africa has proved to be a fruitful area in which to pursue such interests. Among his books, Africa features prominently in Pyramids of Life: Illuminations of Nature's Fearful Symmetry, Missing Links: The Hunt for Earliest Man, Kilimanjaro, Mount Kenya, and Africa: A Biography of the Continent.

Reader's first book, Pyramids of Life, was a collaboration with ethnologist Harvey Croze. For this volume, Croze provided the text to go with Reader's photography, but for subsequent efforts Reader has penned his own words to accompany his pictures. Pyramids of Life follows the food chain through three very different environments, demonstrating along the way just how the natural world works. The three environments form the three parts of the book—the Grasslands, the Lakes and Rivers, and the Forests of East Africa—within which Croze explores the various food chains that operate within the vast continent of Africa. The volume received positive reviews from critics. Aubrey Manning, in the Listener, commented that "Reader's photographs are complemented by Croze's text." He went on to explain: "Each spread takes a single theme: it may be an animal, a plant or a part of the habitat." Manning noted further that "the photographs are used skillfully to drive home a point, and they are of marvelous quality. The result," the reviewer concluded, "is a series of crisp pieces, full of fascinating information." Peter Whitehead, in a review for the Times Literary Supplement, praised Reader and Croze's decision to pay attention to wildlife other than mammals, citing their "grasp of ecological totality that comes out so well in the text and pictures." Reviewer Monroe Bush of American Forests lauded Pyramids of Life as well, judging Reader's photographs "incomparable" and declaring that he and Croze "form a brilliant team." The critic especially favored the volume's "powerful Epilogue" in which "the authors conclude with this warning: the loss from all earth's ecosystem is eventually to the sea … ; the rate of flushing enriches the sea bottom but impoverishes the land."

Another of Reader's widely reviewed efforts is Missing Links. With photographs and text, he covers the archaeology of mankind's ancestors, focusing particularly on the crucial developments that took place in Africa. The book also provides readers with accounts of the archaeological digs and discoveries themselves. Reviewing the book in the New York Times Book Review, John Pfeiffer wrote: "The book features some spectacular color photographs of artifacts, fossils and footprints more than 3.5 million years old." The fact that Missing Links was published almost simultaneously with another book on the subject, Origins by Richard Leakey and Roger Lewin, inevitably inspired some comparison. A reviewer for Choice felt that the volume does not compare well, but James Alfred Wight, reviewing Reader's book in the Atlantic, came down in favor of Missing Links, while a reviewer for Nature described the work as "a stimulating and original contribution to the science."

Reader draws upon his own experiences for two of his books, Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya. Kilimanjaro takes its title from the African continent's highest mountain and world's largest active volcano. In addition to providing readers with details of his own adventure scaling Kilimanjaro, Reader discusses the mountain's reputation during the history of Africa: its legendary status with both Africans and European explorers. Especially noteworthy are Reader's photographs of the ice formations near the top of Kilimanjaro and those of some of the plant life. Margaret Sharman, reviewing Kilimanjaro in Nature, reported that "how plants withstand temperature extremes and at the same time cope with intense ultraviolet radiation and the threat of being exhumed by solifluction [rapid soil creep in glacial areas] is explained in the last section of the book." She later summarized the work as "attractive and very readable." Los Angeles Times Book Review contributor Chris Wall labeled the photographs in Kilimanjaro "breathtaking" and also hailed as "fascinating" Reader's rendition of the "colorful history of the mountain." Robert E. Riecker, in Science Books and Films, concluded that "everything is agreeable about Reader's book" because it is "well written and well illustrated." Similarly, Reader's account of his adventures climbing Mount Kenya was pronounced "irresistible" in a New Scientist review.

Reader expands his attention to the entire process of the evolution of life on Earth for The Rise of Life: The First 3.5 Billion Years. As with Missing Links, he supplements his topic, this time with a discussion of the archaeological discoveries themselves. The Rise of Life drew a favorable response from critics; Clarence Petersen, in the Chicago Tribune, for instance, predicted that "anyone with … the slightest interest in evolution should be delighted to receive this book." Lorelei B. Neal, in the Voice of Youth Advocates, applauded The Rise of Life as "the most attractive, readable evolution book on our shelves." John D. McLeod pointed to "the lavish and breathtaking illustrations" as well as to "the excellent text" in his extremely positive evaluation of the volume in Science Books and Films.

Man on Earth addresses the adaptations which the various cultures of humankind have made to the locations where they live. Examples discussed include the Yapese people of the Pacific island of Yap, whose limited available space has led them to develop a culture of high birth control and high rates of homicide; also mentioned are the denizens of cities such as Cleveland, Ohio, as well as the lobster fishers who seek their harvest along the coasts of Maine. After what Washington Post Book World reviewer Edwards Park described as a picture of Cleveland as "an outer ring of yuppie mansions with swimming pools, a rubble-strewn downtown that reeks of drugs and desperation," Reader asserts that "time and again, the human capacity for ingenious adaptation has reached beyond prudence and civilization has foundered." Notwithstanding, Park assured his readers that the author "sees hopes" for humankind within the pages of Man on Earth. The critic went on to assess Reader's "handling of the differing pressures of life on his chosen exemplars" as "deft and entertaining."

Reader returned to Africa with Africa: A Biography of the Continent. A reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle called the book "breathtaking in its scope and detail." Robert B. Edgerton in the National Review gave an opinion of the breadth of Reader's achievement in the volume by postulating how an editor at a publishing house might have responded. "Consider your reaction," Edgerton posited, "if an author proposed to write—in a single popular book—a serious treatment of Africa's geology, its mineral wealth, the evolution of many of its life forms including the primates that were ancestral to man, the plant diversity of tropical rainforests," as well as "the fertility of Africa's soils, the evolution of mankind including such matters as bipedalism, thermo-regulation, and the origins of language, how climatic changes limited food supply, how elephants and farmers warred with each other, and how disease limited population." The reviewer assured that "this is but a partial list of topics," and that "Reader's treatment of this cornucopia of topics is anything but superficial." Stephen Howe in the New Statesman also praised Reader's effort in Africa, judging that "in large part he carries it off: the writing is lucid and vivid, the illustrations … striking." "Do not be daunted by the 800-plus pages," a reviewer in Economist advised audiences, for Reader "has packaged them—and more than 3,000 years of history—into neat, bite-sized, readable chapters with clear summaries so you can dip into specific subjects or read it through." The critic also noted that "the thematic matt black-and-white photographs at the beginning of each chapter are stunning and Mr. Reader's own." Among the wide coverage Africa received, Thomas Pakenham, in the New York Times, described the book as "aweinspiring," and a reviewer for Time called it "an absorbing safari into the soul of a continent."



Reader, John, Man on Earth, University of Texas Press (Austin, TX), 1989.


American Forests, May, 1979, Monroe Bush, review of Pyramids of Life: Illuminations of Nature's Fearful Symmetry, p. 64.

Antioch Review, winter, 1982, p. 113.

Atlantic, July, 1981, James Alfred Wright, review of Missing Links: The Hunt for Earliest Man, p. 90.

Booklist, September 15, 1977, p. 120; May 1, 1981,p. 1179; April 15, 1998, p. 1415; August, 2001, Gillian Engberg, review of Africa: A Biography of the Continent, p. 2082.

Book Report, March, 1987, p. 49.

British Book News, July, 1981, p. 417.

Chicago Tribune, December 14, 1986, Clarence Petersen, review of The Rise of Life: The First 3.5 Billion Years, p. 9.

Choice, October, 1981, review of Missing Links, pp. 278-279; January, 1989, p. 839.

Chronicle of Higher Education, May 26, 1981, p. 15.

Earth Science, fall, 1990, p. 34.

Economist, February 14, 1998, review of Africa, p. R7.

Geographical, July, 2003, Vicky Bamforth, review of Africa, p. 81.

Guardian Weekly, July 15, 1990, p. 26.

History Today, March, 1998, Richard Rathbone, review of Africa, pp. 53-54.

Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 1981, p. 557; June 1, 1981,p. 688; March 1, 1998, p. 323.

Kliatt, winter, 1987, p. 51; September, 1989, p. 46.

Library Journal, October 1, 1977, p. 2074; May 1, 1981, p. 973; February 1, 1983, p. 206; April 1, 1995, p. 130; November 1, 2001, p. 130.

Listener, October 20, 1977, Aubrey Manning, review of Pyramids of Life, pp. 518-519.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, January 16, 1983, Chris Wall, review of Kilimanjaro, p. 4.

National Review, June 22, 1998, Robert B. Edgerton, review of Africa, pp. 57-58.

Nature, June 18, 1981, review of Missing Links; December 9, 1982, Margaret Sharman, review of Kilimanjaro, p. 554; July 12, 1990, p. 117.

New Scientist, December 2, 1989, review of Mount Kenya, p. 69; August 25, 1990, p. 53.

New Statesman, February 13, 1998, Stephen Howe, review of Africa, pp. 47-48.

New York Review of Books, December 17, 1998, Kwame Anthony Appiah, review of Africa, p. 64.

New York Times, June 21, 1998, Thomas Pakenham, review of Africa. New York Times Book Review, August 30, 1981, John Pfeiffer, review of Missing Links, p. 12.

Observer (London, England), July 3, 1977, p. 24; April 26, 1981, p. 33.

Publishers Weekly, July 25, 1977, p. 57; April 10, 1981, p. 63; February 16, 1998, p. 192.

Reference & Research Book News, December, 1988,p. 8.

San Francisco Chronicle, June 28, 1998, review of Africa. School Library Journal, September, 1981, p. 148; January, 1999, Robert Burnham, review of Africa, p. 162.

Science Books and Films, May-June 1983, Robert E. Riecker, review of Kilimanjaro, p. 269; May-June, 1987, John D. McLeod, review of The Rise of Life, p. 305.

Scientific American, December, 1977, p. 34.

SciTech Book News, October, 1988, p. 2.

Spectator, February 21, 1998, Robert Oakeshott, review of Africa, p. 31.

Time (international edition), November 3, 1997, review of Africa. Times Educational Supplement, November 11, 1977,p. 23; October 9, 1981, p. 28; September 9, 1988,p. 31; September 14, 1990, p. R2.

Times Higher Educational Supplement, August 14, 1998, Nigel Barley, review of Africa, p. 19.

Times Literary Supplement, February 17, 1978, Peter Whitehead, review of Pyramids of Life, p. 195; February 23, 1990, p. 204.

Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), December 14, 1986,p. 9.

Voice of Youth Advocates, April, 1987, Lorelei B. Neal, review of The Rise of Life, pp. 46-47.

Washington Post Book World, February 5, 1989, p. 12; April 30, 1989, p. 11.