Saturday, August 30, 2014
1) Ackerman, Diane. The Human Age: The World Shaped By Us. 2014. W.W. Norton. Hardbound: 344 pages. Price: $27.95 U.S.
PUBLISHER'S SUMMARY: As Diane Ackerman writes in her brilliant new book, The Human Age, "our relationship with nature has changed…radically, irreversibly, but by no means all for the bad. Our new epoch is laced with invention. Our mistakes are legion, but our talent is immeasurable."
Ackerman is justly celebrated for her unique insight into the natural world and our place in it. In this landmark book, she confronts the unprecedented reality that one prodigiously intelligent and meddlesome creature, Homo sapiens, is now the dominant force shaping the future of planet Earth.
Humans have "subdued 75 percent of the land surface, concocted a wizardry of industrial and medical marvels, strung lights all across the darkness." We tinker with nature at every opportunity; we garden the planet with our preferred species of plants and animals, many of them invasive; and we have even altered the climate, threatening our own extinction. Yet we reckon with our own destructive capabilities in extraordinary acts of hope-filled creativity: we collect the DNA of vanishing species in a "frozen ark," equip orangutans with iPads, and create wearable technologies and synthetic species that might one day outsmart us. With her distinctive gift for making scientific discovery intelligible to the layperson, Ackerman takes us on an exhilarating journey through our new reality, introducing us to many of the people and ideas now creating—perhaps saving—our future and that of our fellow creatures.
A beguiling, optimistic engagement with the changes affecting every part of our lives, The Human Age is a wise and beautiful book that will astound, delight, and inform intelligent life for a long time to come.
RECOMMENDATION: Fans of Ackerman's other books should enjoy this one!
Thursday, August 28, 2014
1) Wilson-Rich, Noah. The Bee: A Natural History. 2014. Princeton University Press. Hardbound: 224 pages. Price: $27.95 U.S.
PUBLISHER'S SUMMARY: Bees pollinate more than 130 fruit, vegetable, and seed crops that we rely on to survive. Bees are crucial to the reproduction and diversity of flowering plants, and the economic contributions of these irreplaceable insects measure in the tens of billions of dollars each year. Yet bees are dying at an alarming rate, threatening food supplies and ecosystems around the world. In this richly illustrated natural history of the bee, Noah Wilson-Rich and his team of bee experts provide a window into the vitally important role that bees play in the life of our planet.
Earth is home to more than 20,000 bee species, from fluorescent-colored orchid bees and sweat bees to flower-nesting squash bees and leaf-cutter bees. This book takes an incomparable look at this astounding diversity, blending an engaging narrative with practical, hands-on discussions of such topics as beekeeping and bee health. It explores our relationship with the bee over evolutionary time, delving into how it came to be, where it stands today, and what the future holds for humanity and bees alike.
RECOMMENDATION: A well illustrated introduction to the biology of bees.
Monday, August 25, 2014
PUBLISHER'S SUMMARY: Conus is the largest genus of animals in the sea, occurring throughout the world’s tropical and subtropical oceans and contributing significantly to marine biodiversity. The shells of these marine mollusks are prized for their amazing variety and extraordinary beauty. The neurotoxic venoms they produce—injected by a hollow, harpoon-like tooth into prey animals that are then paralyzed and swallowed whole—have a range of pharmaceutical applications, from painkillers to antidepressants. This beautifully illustrated book identifies 53 valid species of the southeastern United States and the Caribbean, a region that supports a diverse but taxonomically challenging group of Conus. Introductory chapters cover the evolution and phylogeny of the genus, and notes on methodology are provided. Detailed species accounts describe key identification features, taxonomy, distribution, ecology, toxicology, life history, and evolutionary relationships. The book includes more than 2,100 photos of shells on 109 splendid color plates; more than 100 additional photos, many depicting live animals in color; and 35 color distribution maps.
RECOMMENDATION: A must have for those with a serious interest in these species.
Friday, August 22, 2014
1) Bradshaw, John. Cat Sense: How the New Feline Science Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet. 2014. Basic Books. Paperback: 307 pages. Price: $16.99 U.S.
PUBLISHER'S SUMMARY: In Cat Sense, renowned anthrozoologist John Bradshaw takes us further into the mind of the domestic cat than ever before, using cutting-edge scientific research to dispel the myths and explain the true nature of our feline friends. Tracing the cat's evolution from lone predator to domesticated companion, Bradshaw shows that although cats and humans have been living together for at least eight thousand years, cats remain independent, predatory, and wary of contact with their own kind, qualities that often clash with our modern lifestyles. Cats still have three out of four paws firmly planted in the wild, and within only a few generations can easily revert back to the independent way of life that was the exclusive preserve of their predecessors some 10,000 years ago. Cats are astonishingly flexible, and given the right environment they can adapt to a life of domesticity with their owners—but to continue do so, they will increasingly need our help. If we're to live in harmony with our cats, Bradshaw explains, we first need to understand their inherited quirks: understanding their body language, keeping their environments—however small—sufficiently interesting, and becoming more proactive in managing both their natural hunting instincts and their relationships with other cats.
A must-read for any cat lover, Cat Sense offers humane, penetrating insights about the domestic cat that challenge our most basic assumptions and promise to dramatically improve our pets' lives—and ours.
RECOMMENDATION: Cat lovers should enjoy this book.
Monday, August 18, 2014
PUBLISHER'S SUMMARY: Woodpeckers of the World is the first definitive guide to all 239 species of woodpecker [Actually there are two other modern woodpecker monographs: Short (1982) and Winkler et al. (1995).]. Beautiful color photographs of male, female and juvenile woodpeckers taken in their natural habitat reveal the birds' coloring, markings, and sexual dimorphism.
Detailed text looks at general woodpecker biology, followed by 239 detailed species accounts. Identification notes are followed by brief entries on food, voice, drumming, habitat, status, distribution, geographic variation and confusion species. Each entry features at least two, usually three, high-quality photographs showing an adult male, an adult female and a juvenile. In all, more than 700 carefully selected images highlight identification criteria. Each species entry also contains an accurate range map [although some of the range maps for North American species could use some work.].
Woodpeckers, an order that includes some of the oldest avian lineages, are one of the most popular families of birds, and they are certainly one of the more unusual. Their ability to excavate holes in wood is legendary. The family ranges from the tiny piculets of tropical forests to the mighty Imperial Woodpecker of Mexico, sadly now extinct. In between, there is a considerable variety of species inhabiting forests and woodlands on all continents except Australasia and Antarctica.
RECOMMENDATION: A must have for those with a serious interest in woodpeckers.
Monday, August 11, 2014
Saturday, August 9, 2014
1) Avery, Mark. A Message from Martha: The Extinction of the Passenger Pigeon and Its Relevance Today. 2014. Bloomsbury. Hardbound: 304 pages. Price: $22.00 U.S.
PUBLISHER'S SUMMARY: September 1st, 2014 marked the centenary of one of the best-documented extinctions in history – the demise of the Passenger Pigeon. From being the commonest bird on the planet 50 years earlier, the species became extinct on that fateful day, with the death in Cincinnati Zoo of Martha – the last of her kind.
This book tells the tale of the Passenger Pigeon, and of Martha, and of author Mark Avery's journey in search of them. It looks at how the species was a cornerstone of the now much-diminished ecology of the eastern United States, and how the species went from a population that numbered in the billions to nil in a terrifyingly brief period of time. It also explores the largely untold story of the ecological annihilation of this part of America in the latter half of the 19th century, a time that saw an unprecedented loss of natural beauty and richness as forests were felled and the prairies were ploughed, with wildlife slaughtered more or less indiscriminately.
Despite the underlying theme of loss, this book is more than another depressing tale of human greed and ecological stupidity. It contains an underlying message – that we need to re-forge our relationship with the natural world on which we depend, and plan a more sustainable future. Otherwise more species will go the way of the Passenger Pigeon. We should listen to the message from Martha.
RECOMMENDATION: On the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon from a British perspective.