Wednesday, March 25, 2015
Monday, March 23, 2015
1) Cramer, Deborah. The Narrow Edge: A Tiny Bird, an Ancient Crab, and an Epic Journey. 2015. Yale University Press. Hardbound: 293 pages. Price: $28.00 U.S.
PUBLISHER'S SUMMARY: Thousands of ravenous tiny shorebirds race along the water’s edge of Delaware Bay, feasting on pin-sized horseshoe-crab eggs. Fueled by millions of eggs, the migrating red knots fly on. When they arrive at last in their arctic breeding grounds, they will have completed a near-miraculous 9,000-mile journey that began in Tierra del Fuego.
Deborah Cramer followed these knots, whose numbers have declined by 75 percent, on their extraordinary odyssey from one end of the earth to the other—from an isolated beach at the tip of South America all the way to the icy tundra. In her firsthand account, she explores how diminishing a single stopover can compromise the birds' entire journey, and how the loss of horseshoe crabs—ancient animals that come ashore but once a year—threatens not only the survival of red knots but also human well-being: the unparalleled ability of horseshoe-crab blood to detect harmful bacteria in vaccines, medical devices, and intravenous drugs safeguards human health. Cramer offers unique insight into how, on an increasingly fragile and congested shore, the lives of red knots, horseshoe crabs, and humans are intertwined. She eloquently portrays the tenacity of small birds and the courage of many people who, bird by bird and beach by beach, keep red knots flying.
RECOMMENDATION: For anyone with an interest in Red Knots.
Friday, March 20, 2015
1) Hanson, Thor. The Triumph of Seeds: How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses, and Pips Conquered the Plant Kingdom and Shaped Human History. 2015. Basic Books. Hardbound: 277 pages. Price: $26.99 U.S.
PUBLISHER'S SUMMARY: We live in a world of seeds. From our morning toast to the cotton in our clothes, they are quite literally the stuff and staff of life, supporting diets, economies, and civilizations around the globe. Just as the search for nutmeg and the humble peppercorn drove the Age of Discovery, so did coffee beans help fuel the Enlightenment, and cottonseed help spark the Industrial Revolution. And from the Fall of Rome to the Arab Spring, the fate of nations continues to hinge on the seeds of a Middle Eastern grass known as wheat.
In nature and in culture, seeds are fundamental—objects of beauty, evolutionary wonder, and simple fascination. How many times has a child dropped the winged pip of a maple, marveling as it spirals its way down to the ground, or relished the way a gust of wind(or a stout breath) can send a dandelion's feathery flotilla skyward? Yet despite their importance, seeds are often seen as a commonplace, their extraordinary natural and human histories overlooked. Thanks to Thor Hanson and this stunning new book, they can be overlooked no more.
What makes The Triumph of Seeds remarkable is not just that it is informative, humane, hilarious, and even moving, just as what makes seeds remarkable is not simply their fundamental importance to life. In both cases, it is their sheer vitality and the delight that we can take in their existence—the opportunity to experience, as Hanson puts it, "the simple joy of seeing something beautiful, doing what it is meant to do." Spanning the globe from the Raccoon Shack—Hanson's backyard writing hideout-cum-laboratory—to the coffee shops of Seattle, from gardens and flower patches to the spice routes of Kerala, this is a book of knowledge, adventure, and wonder, spun by an award-winning writer with both the charm of a fireside story-teller and the hard-won expertise of a field biologist. A worthy heir to the grand tradition of Aldo Leopold and Bernd Heinrich, The Triumph of Seeds takes us on a fascinating scientific adventure through the wild and beautiful world of seeds. It is essential reading for anyone who loves to see a plant grow. RECOMMENDATION: For anyone with an interest in botany and Human history.
2) Paabo, Svante. Neanderthal Man: In Search of Lost Genomes. 2015. Basic Books. Paperback: 275 pages. Price: $16.99 U.S.
PUBLISHER'S SUMMARY: What can we learn from the genomes of our closest evolutionary relatives?
Neanderthal Man tells the story of geneticist Svante Pääbo's mission to answer this question, and recounts his ultimately successful efforts to genetically define what makes us different from our Neanderthal cousins. Beginning with the study of DNA in Egyptian mummies in the early 1980s and culminating in the sequencing of the Neanderthal genome in 2010, Neanderthal Man describes the events, intrigues, failures, and triumphs of these scientifically rich years through the lens of the pioneer and inventor of the field of ancient DNA.
We learn that Neanderthal genes offer a unique window into the lives of our hominin relatives and may hold the key to unlocking the mystery of why humans survived while Neanderthals went extinct. Drawing on genetic and fossil clues, Pääbo explores what is known about the origin of modern humans and their relationship to the Neanderthals and describes the fierce debate surrounding the nature of the two species' interactions. His findings have not only redrawn our family tree, but recast the fundamentals of human history—the biological beginnings of fully modern Homo sapiens, the direct ancestors of all people alive today.
A riveting story about a visionary researcher and the nature of scientific inquiry, Neanderthal Man offers rich insight into the fundamental question of who we are.
RECOMMENDATION: Now available in paperback.
Wednesday, March 18, 2015
1) Larson, Erik. Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania. 2015. Crown. Hardbound: 428 pages. Price: $28.00 U.S.
PUBLISHER'S SUMMARY: On May 1, 1915, with WWI entering its tenth month, a luxury ocean liner as richly appointed as an English country house sailed out of New York, bound for Liverpool, carrying a record number of children and infants. The passengers were surprisingly at ease, even though Germany had declared the seas around Britain to be a war zone. For months, German U-boats had brought terror to the North Atlantic. But the Lusitania was one of the era’s great transatlantic “Greyhounds”—the fastest liner then in service—and her captain, William Thomas Turner, placed tremendous faith in the gentlemanly strictures of warfare that for a century had kept civilian ships safe from attack.
Germany, however, was determined to change the rules of the game, and Walther Schwieger, the captain of Unterseeboot-20, was happy to oblige. Meanwhile, an ultra-secret British intelligence unit tracked Schwieger’s U-boat, but told no one. As U-20 and the Lusitania made their way toward Liverpool, an array of forces both grand and achingly small—hubris, a chance fog, a closely guarded secret, and more—all converged to produce one of the great disasters of history.
It is a story that many of us think we know but don’t, and Erik Larson tells it thrillingly, switching between hunter and hunted while painting a larger portrait of America at the height of the Progressive Era. Full of glamour and suspense, Dead Wake brings to life a cast of evocative characters, from famed Boston bookseller Charles Lauriat to pioneering female architect Theodate Pope to President Woodrow Wilson, a man lost to grief, dreading the widening war but also captivated by the prospect of new love.
Gripping and important, Dead Wake captures the sheer drama and emotional power of a disaster whose intimate details and true meaning have long been obscured by history.
RECOMMENDATION: For those with an interest in military or maritime history.
Tuesday, March 17, 2015
1) Harkey, Faith. Genuine Sweet. 2015. Clarion Books. Hardbound: 277 pages. Price: $16.99 U.S.
PUBLISHER'S SUMMARY: Twelve-year-old Genuine Sweet, of tiny Sass, Georgia, can grant any wish . . . except her own. It's a peculiar predicament, considering how much she could use a few wishes. New friends help Genuine give her family a boost--and then she takes her gift global! Life finally seems to be on the mend. But when she's faced with unexpected trouble that no amount of wishing can fix, Genuine must puzzle out the difference between wishing for a better life and building one.
Told in the engaging, irresistible voice of Genuine Sweet herself, Faith Harkey's debut novel spins a remarkable tale of a small-town girl with big-time magic and an even bigger heart.
RECOMMENDATION: For ages 9-12.
My WEEKLY Birdbooker Report can be found here: http://www.scilogs.com/maniraptora/birdbooker-report-364/
Thursday, March 12, 2015
1) Arlott, Norman. Collins Field Guide: Birds of India. 2015. William Collins. Hardbound: 400 pages. Price: £29.99 (about $ 44.63 U.S.).
PUBLISHER'S SUMMARY: Every species of bird you might encounter in Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Andaman Islands, the Nicobar Islands and the Maldives is featured, apart from non-established introductions. Beautiful artwork depicts their breeding plumage, and non-breeding plumage when it differs significantly.
The accompanying text concentrates on the specific characteristics and appearance of each species that allow identification in the field, including voice and distribution maps.
RECOMMENDATION: Probably best for novice/casual birders.