Tuesday, April 12, 2011

New and Recent Titles

1) Jones, Steve. The Darwin Archipelago: The Naturalist's Career Beyond Origin of Species. 2011. Yale University Press. Hardbound: 228 pages. Price: $27.50 U.S.

SUMMARY: Charles Darwin is of course best known for The Voyage of the Beagle and The Origin of Species. But he produced many other books over his long career, exploring specific aspects of the theory of evolution by natural selection in greater depth. The eminent evolutionary biologist Steve Jones uses these lesser-known works as springboards to examine how their essential ideas have generated whole fields of modern biology.
     Earthworms helped found modern soil science, Expression of the Emotions helped found comparative psychology, and Self-Fertilization and Forms of Flowers were important early works on the origin of sex. Through this delightful introduction to Darwin's oeuvre, one begins to see Darwin's role in biology as resembling Einstein's in physics: he didn't have one brilliant idea but many and in fact made some seminal contribution to practically every field of evolutionary study. Though these lesser-known works may seem disconnected, Jones points out that they all share a common theme: the power of small means over time to produce gigantic ends. Called a "world of wonders" by the Times of London, The Darwin Archipelago will expand any reader's view of Darwin's genius and will demonstrate how all of biology, like life itself, descends from a common ancestor.
RECOMMENDATION: For those that want to learn about Darwin's other published works.

2) Mayor, Adrienne. The First Fossil Hunters: Dinosaurs, Mammoths, and Myth in Greek and Roman Times. 2011. Princeton University press. Paperback: 361 pages. Price: $18.95 U.S.
SUMMARY: Griffins, Cyclopes, Monsters, and Giants--these fabulous creatures of classical mythology continue to live in the modern imagination through the vivid accounts that have come down to us from the ancient Greeks and Romans. But what if these beings were more than merely fictions? What if monstrous creatures once roamed the earth in the very places where their legends first arose? This is the arresting and original thesis that Adrienne Mayor explores in The First Fossil Hunters. Through careful research and meticulous documentation, she convincingly shows that many of the giants and monsters of myth did have a basis in fact--in the enormous bones of long-extinct species that were once abundant in the lands of the Greeks and Romans.
     As Mayor shows, the Greeks and Romans were well aware that a different breed of creatures once inhabited their lands. They frequently encountered the fossilized bones of these primeval beings, and they developed sophisticated concepts to explain the fossil evidence, concepts that were expressed in mythological stories. The legend of the gold-guarding griffin, for example, sprang from tales first told by Scythian gold-miners, who, passing through the Gobi Desert at the foot of the Altai Mountains, encountered the skeletons of Protoceratops and other dinosaurs that littered the ground.
     Like their modern counterparts, the ancient fossil hunters collected and measured impressive petrified remains and displayed them in temples and museums; they attempted to reconstruct the appearance of these prehistoric creatures and to explain their extinction. Long thought to be fantasy, the remarkably detailed and perceptive Greek and Roman accounts of giant bone finds were actually based on solid paleontological facts. By reading these neglected narratives for the first time in the light of modern scientific discoveries, Adrienne Mayor illuminates a lost world of ancient paleontology.
RECOMMENDATION: Now available in paperback with a new introduction by the author. If you enjoyed the author's other titles, you will enjoy this one! Also by the author:

3) Page, Lawrence M. and Brooks M. Burr. Peterson Field Guide to Freshwater Fishes of North America North of Mexico (second edition). 2011. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Paperback: 663 pages. Price: $21.00 U.S.
SUMMARY: There are nearly 1,000 species of freshwater fishes in North America alone, and identifying them can sometimes be a daunting task. In fact, in just the twenty years since publication of the first edition of the Peterson Field Guide to Freshwater Fishes, the number of species has risen by almost 150, including 19 marine invaders and 16 newly established nonnative species. This second edition incorporates all of these new species, plus all-new maps and a collection of new and revised plates. Some of the species can be told apart only by minute differences in coloration or shape, and these beautifully illustrated plates reveal exactly how to distinguish each species.
     The guide includes detailed maps and information showing where to locate each species of fish—whether that species can be found in miles-long stretches of river or small pools that cover only dozens of square feet. The ichthyologic world of the twenty-first century is not the same as it was in the twentieth, and this brand-new edition of the definitive field guide to freshwater fishes reflects these many changes.
 RECOMMENDATION: The number of plates have increased from 48 to 57. The range maps are now in color. If you own the first edition you will want the second edition.

4) Thompson, Bill III and Connie Toops. Hummingbirds and Butterflies: Backyard Bird Guides. 2011. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Paperback: 288 pages. Price: $14.95 U.S.
SUMMARY: Hummingbirds and butterflies are some of the most beautiful visitors to a backyard, but they can also be some of the most elusive. This second collaboration between the Peterson Field Guide series and Bird Watcher’s Digest includes tips on how to attract hummingbirds and butterflies to backyards—and how to identify them once they’ve arrived. Bill Thompson III and Connie Toops have decades of firsthand experience and have written the book in a fun, lighthearted style, providing both amateur and veteran nature watchers with need-to-know information, including where hummingbirds and butterflies live, what they eat, and the best garden plants to attract them. The species profiles of the 15 most common hummingbirds and 40 most common butterflies serve as a field guide, showing ranges, identifying marks, and preferred habitats. Full-color photographs and detailed drawings make attracting, identifying, and feeding these colorful creatures a snap.
RECOMMENDATION: A good general introduction on the subject.

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