1) Choe, Jae. Secret Lives of Ants. 2012. Hardbound: 156 pages. Price: $34.95 U.S.
SUMMARY: In the great naturalist tradition of E. O. Wilson, Jae Choe takes readers into a miniature world dominated by six-legged organisms. This is the world of the ant, an insect that humans, as well as most other life forms, depend upon for their very survival.
Easily one of the most important animals on earth, ants seem to mirror the actions, emotions, and industries of the human population, often more effectively than humans do themselves. They developed ranching and farming long before humans, and their division of labor resembles the assembly lines of automobile factories and multinational enterprises. Self-sacrifice and a finely tuned chemical language are the foundations of their monarchical society, which is capable of waging large-scale warfare and taking slaves. Tales of their massacres and atrocities, as well as struggles for power, are all too reminiscent of our own.
The reality of ant society is more fascinating than even the most creative minds could imagine. Choe combines expert scientific knowledge with a real passion for these miniscule marvels. His vivid descriptions are paired with captivating illustrations and photographs to introduce readers to the economics, culture, and intrigue of the ant world. All of nature is revealed through the secret lives of the amazing ants. In the words of the author, "Once you get to know them, you'll love them."
RECOMMENDATION: A good general introduction to the biology of ants.
2) Pietsch, Theodore W.. Trees of Life: A Visual History of Evolution. 2012. Hardbound: 358 pages. Price: $69.95 U.S.
SUMMARY: For the past 450 years, tree-like branching diagrams have been created to show the complex and surprising interrelationships of organisms, both living and fossil, from viruses and bacteria to birds and mammals. This stunning book celebrates the manifest beauty, intrinsic interest, and human ingenuity of these exquisite trees of life.
Theodore W. Pietsch has chosen 230 trees of life—from among thousands of possible contenders—dating from the sixteenth century to the present day. His arrangement gives readers a visual sense of the historical development of these diagrams and shows how, in Darwin's words, "from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved."
Pietsch's brief, accessible prose accompanies the diverse trees to fully reveal the engrossing history of human theories of evolution. Over the centuries, trees of life appeared in a wide variety of forms; some were revered as iconic while others incited intense controversy. The earliest examples were meant to portray the imagined temporal order in which God created life on Earth. More recent scientific trees represent hypothetical histories of life.
Never before has the full spectrum of trees of life been brought together in a single volume. Pietsch has spent decades collecting and researching the origin and meaning of these evolutionary trees and presents a visually breathtaking and intellectually brilliant history of the form.
RECOMMENDATION: For those with an interest in the history of evolution.
3) Maines, Rachel P.. The Technology of Orgasm: "Hysteria," the Vibrator, and Women's Sexual Satisfaction. 1999 (2001). Paperback: 181 pages. Price: $22.95 U.S.
SUMMARY: From the time of Hippocrates until the 1920s, massaging female patients to orgasm was a staple of medical practice among Western physicians in the treatment of "hysteria," an ailment once considered both common and chronic in women. Doctors loathed this time-consuming procedure and for centuries relied on midwives. Later, they substituted the efficiency of mechanical devices, including the electric vibrator, invented in the 1880s. In The Technology of Orgasm, Rachel Maines offers readers a stimulating, surprising, and often humorous account of hysteria and its treatment throughout the ages, focusing on the development, use, and fall into disrepute of the vibrator as a legitimate medical device.
RECOMMENDATION: This isn't a "how to" manual but a serious look at the history of this useful device! Plus it's a perfect tie-in to the forthcoming movie "Hysteria":