Tuesday, October 30, 2012
SUMMARY: In Spectrums, David Blatner blends narrative and illustration to illuminate the variety of spectrums that affect our lives every day: numbers, size, light, sound, heat, and time. There is actually very little in this universe that we can feel, touch, see, hear, or possibly even comprehend. It's not an easy task to stretch the mind to encompass both billions of years and billionths of seconds; the distance to Jupiter and the size of a proton; the tiny waves of visible light and gargantuan but invisible gamma rays; or the freezing point of Helium and the heat generated by the blast of an atom bomb.
Exploring these far-reaching spectrums gives us fascinating perspective on our small but not insignificant place in the universe. With easy-to-read, engaging, and insightful observations, illustrated by a wealth of photographs and diagrams, Blatner helps us "grok"-understand intuitively-six spectrums we encounter constantly, making our daily lives richer and more meaningful through greater appreciation of the bizarre and beautiful world in which we live.
RECOMMENDATION: An interesting introduction to the world of physics.
2) Kuhl, Gabriele et al.. Visions of a Vanished World: The Extraordinary Fossils of the Hunsruck Slate. 2012. Yale University Press. Hardbound: 128 pages. Price: $40.00 U.S.
SUMMARY: About four hundred million years ago earthquake activity and possibly major storms caused sudden movements of large quantities of muddy sediment along the seafloor. Animal communities in the path of these sediment-laden flows were instantly engulfed, the inhabitants "frozen" in the last moment of their lives. Amazingly, many of the creatures lost in this ancient catastrophe were almost perfectly preserved through the eons, fossilized in a thick series of muds now known as the Hunsrück Slate west of the Rhine Valley in western Germany. Excavations there have yielded the most diverse and surpassingly beautiful collection of marine fossils of the Devonian period ever discovered.
This book pays tribute to the exquisite fossils of the Hunsrück Slate. Large full-color photographic plates display fossil sponges, brachiopods, clams, starfish, sea lilies, trilobites, worms, sea spiders, sea stars, crustaceans, corals, and many other species. An accessible commentary recounts the discovery of the fossils and explains how the slate was formed, how the animals are preserved, the significance of the fossils, and the controversies that surround them. A special presentation in every way, this book makes an exceptional contribution to the fascinating history of life on Earth.
RECOMMENDATION: For those with an interest Devonian Period fossils.
SUMMARY: Stephen Jay Gould borrowed from Winston Churchill when he described the conodont animal as a “riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” This animal confounded science for more than a century. Some thought it a slug, others a fish, a worm, a plant, even a primitive ancestor of ourselves. The list of possibilities grew and yet an answer to the riddle never seemed any nearer. Would the animal that left behind these miniscule fossils known as conodonts ever be identified? Three times the animal was “found,” but each was quite a different animal. Were any of them really the one? Simon J. Knell takes the reader on a journey through 150 years of scientific thinking, imagining, and arguing. Slowly the animal begins to reveal traces of itself: its lifestyle, its remarkable evolution, its witnessing of great catastrophes, its movements over the surface of the planet, and finally its anatomy. Today the conodont animal remains perhaps the most disputed creature in the zoological world.
RECOMMENDATION: For those with an interest in conodont paleontology.
Sunday, October 28, 2012
Friday, October 26, 2012
SUMMARY: In 1880 a young medical student named Arthur Conan Doyle embarked upon the “first real outstanding adventure” of his life, taking a berth as ship’s surgeon on an Arctic whaler, the Hope. The voyage took him to unknown regions, showered him with dramatic and unexpected experiences, and plunged him into dangerous work on the ice floes of the Arctic seas. He tested himself, overcame the hardships, and, as he wrote later, “came of age at 80 degrees north latitude.”
Conan Doyle’s time in the Arctic provided powerful fuel for his growing ambitions as a writer. With a ghost story set in the Arctic wastes that he wrote shortly after his return, he established himself as a promising young writer. A subsequent magazine article laying out possible routes to the North Pole won him the respect of Arctic explorers. And he would call upon his shipboard experiences many times in the adventures of Sherlock Holmes, who was introduced in 1887’s A Study in Scarlet.
Out of sight for more than a century was a diary that Conan Doyle kept while aboard the whaler. Dangerous Work: Diary of an Arctic Adventure makes this account available for the first time in a beautiful facsimile edition that reproduces Conan Doyle’s notebook pages in his own elegant hand, accompanied by his copious illustrations. With humor and grace, Conan Doyle provides a vivid account of a long-vanished way of life at sea. His careful detailing of the experience of arctic whaling is equal parts fascinating and alarming, revealing the dark workings of the later days of the British whaling industry. In addition to the facsimile and annotated transcript of the diary, the volume contains photographs of the Hope, its captain, and a young Conan Doyle on deck with its officers; two nonfiction pieces by Doyle about his experiences; and two of his tales inspired by the journey.
To the end of his life, Conan Doyle would look back on this experience with awe: “You stand on the very brink of the unknown,” he declared, “and every duck that you shoot bears pebbles in its gizzard which come from a land which the maps know not. It was a strange and fascinating chapter of my life.” Only now can the legion of Conan Doyle fans read and enjoy that chapter. This book was edited by Jon Lellenberg and Daniel Stashower.
RECOMMENDATION: For fans of Arthur Conan Doyle and/or Arctic exploration.
Tuesday, October 23, 2012
SUMMARY: A readily comprehensible guide for biologists, field taxonomists and interested laymen to one of the oldest problems in biology: the species problem. Written by a geneticist with extensive experience in field taxonomy, this practical book provides the sound scientific background to the problems arising with classifying organisms according to species. It covers the main current theories of specification and gives a number of examples that cannot be explained by any single theory alone.
RECOMMENDATION: For those with a technical or semi-technical interest in systematics.
Monday, October 22, 2012
SUMMARY: Tim Flannery is one of the world’s most influential scientists, praised for making “anthropology, geology, biology, and physics not only readable, but also understandable and interesting” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch), and credited with discovering more species than Darwin. In Among the Islands, Flannery recounts a series of expeditions he made at the dawn of his career to the strange tropical islands of the South Pacific, a great arc stretching nearly four thousand miles, from the postcard perfection of Polynesia to some of the largest, highest, ancient, and most rugged places on earth.
Flannery was traveling in search of rare and undiscovered mammal species, but he found much more: wild, weird places where local taboos, foul weather, dense jungle, and sheer remoteness made for difficult and dramatic exploration. Among the Islands is informative—Flannery makes rare mammals fascinating—but like his classic Throwim Way Leg, it is as much about adventure and discovery as it is about the specimens. This is an ideal read for anyone who has ever imagined voyaging to the ends of the earth to uncover and study the rare and the wonderful.
RECOMMENDATION: If you enjoyed the author's Throwim Way Leg, you'll enjoy this book!
Sunday, October 21, 2012
Friday, October 19, 2012
SUMMARY: Widespread in North American forest regions including the Rocky Mountains, the Boreal Owl (Aegolius funereus) was once the most numerous predatory bird in Eurasian boreal forests. Synthesising the results of unique long-term studies of Boreal Owls (know as Tengmalm's Owl in Europe), this book explores hunting modes, habitats and foods, prey interactions, mating and parental care, reproduction, dispersal, survival and mortality, population regulation and conservation in boreal forests.
Providing a detailed introduction to the species, the authors study the complex interactions of Boreal Owls with their prey species. They examine the inter-sexual tug-of-war over parental care, and the behavioural and demographic adaptations to environmental conditions that predictably and markedly fluctuate both seasonally and multi-annually. They also question whether Boreal Owls are able to time their reproductive effort to maximise lifetime reproductive success. Discussing the effect of modern forestry practices on owl populations, the book also examines how Boreal Owls could be managed to sustain viable populations.
RECOMMENDATION: A must have for those with a technical interest in the species.
Thursday, October 18, 2012
SUMMARY: Whether you’re walking in the woods or along the beach, camping, hiking, canoeing, or just enjoying your own backyard, this book will help identify all your nature discoveries. With authoritative and broad coverage, using nontechnical and lively language and more than 2,000 color photographs, this guide is an essential reference for nature lovers living in or visiting New England.
RECOMMENDATION: Naturalists in the region will find this book very useful!
Tuesday, October 16, 2012
SUMMARY: Central Asia--a vast and remote area of steppe, semi-desert, and mountains separating Europe from eastern Asia--is home to a diversity of birds. Birds of Central Asia is the first-ever field guide to the avian population of this fascinating part of the world. From ground jays, larks, and raptors to warblers, nuthatches, and snowfinches, this comprehensive guide covers 618 species--including all residents, migrants, and vagrants--and 143 superb plates depict every species and many distinct plumages and races. This portable book contains important introductory sections on the land and its birds, and up-to-date color maps. The concise, authoritative text on facing pages highlights key identification features, such as status, voice, and habitat. Birds of Central Asia is indispensable for anyone interested in the birds of this remarkable and little-known region.
This book features:
*First-ever field guide to the birds of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Afghanistan
*Covers 618 species, including all residents, migrants, and vagrants
*143 superb plates depict every species and many distinct plumages and races
*Authoritative text on facing pages highlights key identification features, including status, voice, and habitat
*Up-to-date color maps for every species
*Important introductory sections introduce the land and its birds
RECOMMENDATION: A must have for those birding the region.
Monday, October 15, 2012
SUMMARY: This book is the first user-friendly regional guide devoted to ants—the “little things that run the world.” Lavishly illustrated with more than 500 line drawings, 300-plus photographs, and regional distribution maps as composite illustrations for every species, this guide will introduce amateur and professional naturalists and biologists, teachers and students, and environmental managers and pest-control professionals to more than 140 ant species found in the northeastern United States and eastern Canada.
The detailed drawings and species descriptions, together with the high-magnification photographs, will allow anyone to identify and learn about ants and their diversity, ecology, life histories, and beauty. In addition, the book includes sections on collecting ants, ant ecology and evolution, natural history, and patterns of geographic distribution and diversity to help readers gain a greater understanding and appreciation of ants.
RECOMMENDATION: A must have for those with an interest in the ants of the region!
Sunday, October 14, 2012
Thursday, October 11, 2012
SUMMARY: Could a porcupine make a good pet? Do they ever stick themselves or other porcupines with their quills? In this latest addition to the Animal Answer Guide series, we learn about these mysterious animals' "pincushion defense" along with the following facts:
• porcupines survive on a diet of leaves, bark, and fruit
• quills are actually modified hairs
• there are 26 species of porcupines (and counting)
• Old World and New World porcupines have a common ancestor but evolved independently
• New World males will gather to fight ferociously over a single female
Porcupines: The Animal Answer Guide presents solid, current science of porcupine biology. Uldis Roze compares porcupines in terms of body plan, behavior, ecology, reproduction, and evolutionary relationships. He examines the diversity of porcupines from around the world—from North and South America to Africa and Asia.
This guide explores the interactions between humans and porcupines, including hunting, use of quills by aboriginal societies, efforts to poison porcupines, and human and pet injuries (and deaths) caused by porcupines. Roze also highlights the conservation issues that surround some porcupine species, such as the thin-spine porcupine of Brazil, which is so rare that it was thought to be extinct until its rediscovery in the 1980s.
RECOMMENDATION: A good general introduction into the biology of porcupines.
Tuesday, October 9, 2012
1) Bynum, William. A Little History of Science. 2012. Yale University Press. Hardbound: 263 pages. Price: $25.00 U.S.
SUMMARY: Science is fantastic. It tells us about the infinite reaches of space, the tiniest living organism, the human body, the history of Earth. People have always been doing science because they have always wanted to make sense of the world and harness its power. From ancient Greek philosophers through Einstein and Watson and Crick to the computer-assisted scientists of today, men and women have wondered, examined, experimented, calculated, and sometimes made discoveries so earthshaking that people understood the world—or themselves—in an entirely new way.
This inviting book tells a great adventure story: the history of science. It takes readers to the stars through the telescope, as the sun replaces the earth at the center of our universe. It delves beneath the surface of the planet, charts the evolution of chemistry's periodic table, introduces the physics that explain electricity, gravity, and the structure of atoms. It recounts the scientific quest that revealed the DNA molecule and opened unimagined new vistas for exploration.
Emphasizing surprising and personal stories of scientists both famous and unsung, A Little History of Science traces the march of science through the centuries. The book opens a window on the exciting and unpredictable nature of scientific activity and describes the uproar that may ensue when scientific findings challenge established ideas. With delightful illustrations and a warm, accessible style, this is a volume for young and old to treasure together.
RECOMMENDATION: A good general introduction to science.
2) Orenstein, Ronald. Turtles, Tortoises and Terrapins: A Natural History. 2012. Firefly Books. Hardbound: 448 pages. Price: $59.95 U.S.
SUMMARY: The remarkable adaptations of turtles, tortoises and terrapins have helped them survive for over 200 million years. They are the most wide-ranging of reptiles, found in deserts, forests and the open ocean. But they are also among the world's most endangered animals. They face the multiple threats of habitat destruction, poaching, overhunting (for food and traditional medicines), deadly tangles with fishing lines and capture for the international pet trade. Around the world, turtle populations are under attack on land and sea. Many species are close to extinction and efforts are underway to save them. It is among the main goals of this book to foster awareness about these unique and threatened creatures.
In this new edition, zoologist Ronald Orenstein describes the astonishing ways that turtles cope with their environment. He updates readers on the latest discoveries and explores the debate on origins of the turtle. Every aspect of their evolution, life history and conservation status is presented in 250 photographs and lively text supplemented with numerous maps and a bibliography.
The battle to save turtles goes on. Turtles, Tortoises and Terrapins is fascinating, informative and essential for anyone interested in these amazing creatures and concerned about their precarious future.
RECOMMENDATION: A useful reference for turtle people!
3) Pyle, Robert Michael. The Tangled Bank: Writings from Orion. 2012. Oregon State University Press. Paperback: 198 pages. Price: $18.95 U.S. SUMMARY: Robert Michael Pyle’s “Tangled Bank” column appeared in 52 consecutive issues of Orion and Orion Afield magazines between 1997 and 2008. Each essay collected in The Tangled Bank explores Charles Darwin’s contention that the elements of such a bank, and by extension all the living world, are endlessly interesting and ever evolving.
Pyle’s thoughtful and concise narratives range in subject from hops and those who love them to independent bookstores to the monarchs of Mexico. In each piece, Pyle refutes “the idea that the world is a boring place,” sharing his meticulous observations of the endless and fascinating details of the living earth.
RECOMMENDATION: Fans of Pyle's other works should enjoy this book.
Monday, October 8, 2012
SUMMARY: The National Heritage List was created in January 2004 to recognise, celebrate and protect places of outstanding heritage value to the nation. National heritage encompasses those places that reveal the richness of Australia's extraordinarily diverse natural, historic and Indigenous heritage. One aspect of natural heritage that has been little explored is Australia’s wealth of exceptional fossil sites. While a small number of fossil sites have risen to public prominence, there are many lesser-known sites that have important heritage values.
The Australian Heritage Council engaged palaeontologists from state museums and the Northern Territory Museum and Art Gallery to compile lists of outstanding fossil sites and to document their characteristics and relative importance against a range of categories, with a view to further our understanding about Australia’s important fossil heritage. Sites that were listed for National or World Heritage values were not included in the places for consideration, with the focus being on lesser-known but still important sites. This book is an account of the palaeontologists’ findings. Some of the sites that were included in the initial lists have since been recognised through listing on the National Heritage List or the World Heritage List.
Australia’s Fossil Heritage provides a useful reference to the outstanding fossil sites it catalogues, and gives a clearer understanding of the heritage values of such sites. More generally, it contributes to a greater appreciation of Australia’s geological and fossil diversity and enables readers to learn more about Australia’s prehistory.
RECOMMENDATION: For those with a technical or semi-technical interest in Australian fossils.
SUMMARY: This book provides an authoritative source of information on kangaroos and their relatives. Topics include: species characteristics and biology, adaptations and function, and conservation. The book also discusses culling and the commercial kangaroo harvest, as well as national attitudes to kangaroos and their value for tourism.
There are 71 recognised species of kangaroo found in Australasia. Of these, 46 are endemic to Australia, 21 are endemic to the island of New Guinea, and four species are found in both regions. The various species have a number of common names, including bettong, kangaroo, pademelon, potoroo, quokka, rat kangaroo, rock wallaby, tree kangaroo, wallaby and wallaroo.
Illustrated in full colour, Australia’s Amazing Kangaroos will give readers insight into the world of this intriguing marsupial – an animal that has pride of place on the Australian Coat of Arms.
RECOMMENDATION: For those with an interest in Australian mammals.
Monday, October 1, 2012
SUMMARY: We all know about the birds and the bees, but what about the ancient placoderm fishes and the dinosaurs? The history of sex is as old as life itself—and as complicated and mysterious. And despite centuries of study there is always more to know. In 2008, paleontologist John A. Long and a team of researchers revealed their discovery of a placoderm fish fossil, known as “the mother fish,” which at 380 million years old revealed the oldest vertebrate embryo—the earliest known example of internal fertilization. As Long explains, this find led to the reexamination of countless fish fossils and the discovery of previously undetected embryos. As a result, placoderms are now considered to be the first species to have had intimate sexual reproduction or sex as we know it—sort of.
Inspired by this incredible find, Long began a quest to uncover the paleontological and evolutionary history of copulation and insemination. In The Dawn of the Deed, he takes readers on an entertaining and lively tour through the sex lives of ancient fish and exposes the unusual mating habits of arthropods, tortoises, and even a well-endowed (16.5 inches!) Argentine Duck. Long discusses these significant discoveries alongside what we know about reproductive biology and evolutionary theory, using the fossil record to provide a provocative account of prehistoric sex. The Dawn of the Deed also explores fascinating revelations about animal reproduction, from homosexual penguins to monogamous seahorses to the difficulties of dinosaur romance and how sexual organs in ancient shark-like fishes actually relate to our own sexual anatomy.
The Dawn of the Deed is Long’s own story of what it’s like to be a part of a discovery that rewrites evolutionary history as well as an absolutely rollicking guide to sex throughout the ages in the animal kingdom. It’s natural history with a naughty wink.
RECOMMENDATION: In case you ever wondered how sex evolved, you can now find out!