Saturday, April 7, 2012
1) Birkhead, Tim. Bird Sense: What It's Like to Be a Bird. 2012. Walker & Company. Hardbound: 265 pages. Price: $25.00 U.S.
SUMMARY: Most people would love to be able to fly like a bird, but few of us are aware of the other sensations that make being a bird a gloriously unique experience. What is going on inside the head of a nightingale as it sings, and how does its brain improvise? How do desert birds detect rain hundreds of kilometers away? How do birds navigate by using an innate magnetic compass?
Tracing the history of how our knowledge about birds has grown, particularly through advances in technology over the past fifty years, Bird Sense tells captivating stories about how birds interact with one another and their environment. More advanced testing methods have debunked previously held beliefs, such as female starlings selecting mates based on how symmetrical the male’s plumage markings are. (Whereas females can discern the difference between symmetrical and asymmetrical markings, they are not very good at detecting small differences among symmetrically marked males!)
Never before has there been a popular book about how intricately bird behavior is shaped by birds’ senses. A lifetime spent studying birds has provided Tim Birkhead with a wealth of fieldwork experiences, insights, and a unique understanding of birds, all firmly grounded in science. No one who reads Bird Sense can fail to be dazzled by it.
RECOMMENDATION: A note for North American readers: the author uses the British name for Uria aalge; Guillemot instead of Common Murre. This book is a readable introduction into how birds perceive the world around them.
2) Lewis, Daniel. The Feathery Tribe: Robert Ridgway and the Modern Study of Birds. 2012. Yale University Press. Hardbound: 346 pages. Price: $45.00.
SUMMARY: Amateurs and professionals studying birds at the end of the nineteenth century were a contentious, passionate group with goals that intersected, collided and occasionally merged in their writings and organizations. Driven by a desire to advance science, as well as by ego, pride, honor, insecurity, religion and other clashing sensibilities, they struggled to absorb the implications of evolution after Darwin. In the process, they dramatically reshaped the study of birds.
Daniel Lewis here explores the professionalization of ornithology through one of its key figures: Robert Ridgway, the Smithsonian Institution’s first curator of birds and one of North America’s most important natural scientists. Exploring a world in which the uses of language, classification and accountability between amateurs and professionals played essential roles, Lewis offers a vivid introduction to Ridgway and shows how his work fundamentally influenced the direction of American and international ornithology. He explores the inner workings of the Smithsonian and the role of collectors working in the field and reveals previously unknown details of the ornithological journal The Auk and the untold story of the color dictionaries for which Ridgway is known.
RECOMMENDATION: A detailed biography of one of the pioneers of American ornithology.
3) Moore, Jerry D.. The Prehistory of Home. 2012. University of California Press. Hardbound: 269 pages. Price: $29.95 U.S.
SUMMARY: Many animals build shelters, but only humans build homes. No other species creates such a variety of dwellings. Drawing examples from across the archaeological record and around the world, archaeologist Jerry D. Moore recounts the cultural development of the uniquely human imperative to maintain domestic dwellings. He shows how our houses allow us to physically adapt to the environment and conceptually order the cosmos, and explains how we fabricate dwellings and, in the process, construct our lives. The Prehistory of Home points out how houses function as symbols of equality or proclaim the social divides between people, and how they shield us not only from the elements, but increasingly from inchoate fear.
RECOMMENDATION: If you ever wondered about the origin and meaning of Home, here's the book for you!