Tuesday, November 18, 2014
1) Eldredge, Niles and Sidney Horenstein. Concrete Jungle: New York City and Our Last Best Hope for a Sustainable Future. 2014. University of California Press. Hardbound: 276 pages. Price: $34.95 U.S.
PUBLISHER'S SUMMARY: If they are to survive, cities need healthy chunks of the world’s ecosystems to persist; yet cities, like parasites, grow and prosper by local destruction of these very ecosystems. In this absorbing and wide-ranging book, Eldredge and Horenstein use New York City as a microcosm to explore both the positive and the negative sides of the relationship between cities, the environment, and the future of global biodiversity. They illuminate the mass of contradictions that cities present in embodying the best and the worst of human existence. The authors demonstrate that, though cities have voracious appetites for resources such as food and water, they also represent the last hope for conserving healthy remnants of the world’s ecosystems and species. With their concentration of human beings, cities bring together centers of learning, research, government, finance, and media—institutions that increasingly play active roles in solving environmental problems.
RECOMMENDATION: For those with an interest in urban ecology.
2) Thewissen, J.G.M. "Hans". The Walking Whales: From Land to Water in Eight Million Years. 2014. University of California Press. Hardbound: 245 pages. Price: $34.95 U.S.
PUBLISHER'S SUMMARY: Hans Thewissen, a leading researcher in the field of whale paleontology and anatomy, gives a sweeping first-person account of the discoveries that brought to light the early fossil record of whales. As evidenced in the record, whales evolved from herbivorous forest-dwelling ancestors that resembled tiny deer to carnivorous monsters stalking lakes and rivers and to serpentlike denizens of the coast.
Thewissen reports on his discoveries in the wilds of India and Pakistan, weaving a narrative that reveals the day-to-day adventures of fossil collection, enriching it with local flavors from South Asian culture and society. The reader senses the excitement of the digs as well as the rigors faced by scientific researchers, for whom each new insight gives rise to even more questions, and for whom at times the logistics of just staying alive may trump all science.
In his search for an understanding of how modern whales live their lives, Thewissen also journeys to Japan and Alaska to study whales and wild dolphins. He finds answers to his questions about fossils by studying the anatomy of otters and porpoises and examining whale embryos under the microscope. In the book's final chapter, Thewissen argues for approaching whale evolution with the most powerful tools we have and for combining all the fields of science in pursuit of knowledge.
RECOMMENDATION: For those with a technical or semi-technical interest in whale evolution.