Thursday, May 23, 2013
1) Montgomery, Sy. Snowball: The Dancing Cockatoo. 2013. Bauhan Publishing. Paperback: 64 pages. Price: $15.00 U.S.
SUMMARY: This is the true story of how an unwanted cockatoo achieved international fame as a YouTube sensation (more than 5 million hits!), television star, and scientific study subject, all by rocking out to the beat of his favorite tunes. Snowball tells the story with his own spirited psitticine spin. But everything he says is true, including how he inspired the World’s First Bird Dance-Off Contest, became the subject of a groundbreaking study about music and the brain, and has now gone into teaching children how to dance and doing charity work.
RECOMMENDATION: For ages: 8-13. Fans of Snowball should enjoy this book.
Wednesday, May 22, 2013
1) Burtt, Edward H., Jr. and William E. Davis, Jr.. Alexander Wilson: The Scot Who Founded American Ornithology. 2013. Belknap/Harvard. Hardbound: 444 pages. Price: $35.00 U.S.
SUMMARY: Audubon was not the father of American ornithology. That honorific belongs to Alexander Wilson, whose encyclopedic American Ornithology established a distinctive approach that emphasized the observation of live birds. In the first full-length study to reproduce all of Wilson’s unpublished drawings for the nine-volume Ornithology, Edward Burtt and William Davis illustrate Wilson’s pioneering and, today, underappreciated achievement as the first ornithologist to describe the birds of the North American wilderness.
Abandoning early ambitions to become a poet in the mold of his countryman Robert Burns, Wilson emigrated from Scotland to settle near Philadelphia, where the botanist William Bartram encouraged his proclivity for art and natural history. Wilson traveled 12,000 miles on foot, on horseback, in a rowboat, and by stage and ship, establishing a network of observers along the way. He wrote hundreds of accounts of indigenous birds, discovered many new species, and sketched the behavior and ecology of each species he encountered.
Drawing on their expertise in both science and art, Burtt and Davis show how Wilson defied eighteenth-century conventions of biological illustration by striving for realistic depiction of birds in their native habitats. He drew them in poses meant to facilitate identification, making his work the model for modern field guides and an inspiration for Audubon, Spencer Fullerton Baird, and other naturalists who followed. On the bicentennial of his death, this beautifully illustrated volume is a fitting tribute to Alexander Wilson and his unique contributions to ornithology, ecology, and the study of animal behavior.
RECOMMENDATION: A must have for those with an interest in American ornithological history.
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
1) Walter, Chip. Last Ape Standing: The Seven-Million-Year Story of How and Why We Survived. 2013. Walker Books. Hardbound: 220 pages. Price: $26.00 U.S./ £20.00.
SUMMARY: Over the past 180 years scientists have discovered evidence that at least twenty-seven species of humans evolved on planet Earth. What enabled us to survive when all the others were shown the evolutionary door?
Chip Walter tells the intriguing tale of how against all odds and despite nature’s capricious ways we stand here today, the planet’s most dominant species. Drawing on a wide variety of scientific disciplines, he reveals how a rare evolutionary phenomenon led to the uniquely long childhoods that make us so resourceful and emotionally complex. Walter explains how the evolution of our highly social nature has shaped our moral (and immoral) behavior. He also plumbs the roots of our creativity and investigates why we became self-aware in ways that no other animal is. Along the way, Last Ape Standing profiles the mysterious "others" who evolved with us—the Neanderthals of Europe, the "hobbits" of Indonesia, the Denisovans of Siberia, and the recently discovered Red Deer Cave people of China, who died off just as we stood on the brink of civilization eleven thousand years ago.
Last Ape Standing is evocative science writing at its best—a witty, engaging and accessible story that explores the evolutionary events that molded us into the remarkably unique creatures we are.
RECOMMENDATION: A readable introduction to paleoanthropology.
Monday, May 20, 2013
1) Doughton, Sandi. Full Rip 9.0: The Next Big Earthquake in the Pacific Northwest. 2013. Sasquatch Books. Hardbound: 256 pages. Price: $23.95 U.S.
SUMMARY: Scientists have identified Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver as the urban centers of what will be the biggest earthquake, also called a mega-quake, in the continental United States. A quake will happen--in fact it's actually overdue. The Cascadia subduction zone is 750 miles long, running along the Pacific coast from Northern California up to southern British Columbia. In this fascinating book, The Seattle Times science reporter Sandi Doughton introduces readers to the scientists who are dedicated to understanding the way the earth moves and describes what patterns can be identified and how prepared (or not) people are. With a 100% chance of a mega-quake hitting the Pacific Northwest, this fascinating book reports on the scientists who are trying to understand when, where, and just how big THE BIG ONE will be.
RECOMMENDATION: If you live in this region, you should read this book!
Sunday, May 19, 2013
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
SUMMARY: New species of animal and plant are being discovered all the time. When this happens, the new species has to be given a scientific, Latin name in addition to any common, vernacular name. In either case the species may be named after a person, often the discoverer but sometimes an individual they wished to honour or perhaps were staying with at the time the discovery was made. Species names related to a person are ‘eponyms’. Many scientific names are allusive, esoteric and even humorous, so an eponym dictionary is a valuable resource for anyone, amateur or professional, who wants to decipher the meaning and glimpse the history of a species name.
Sometimes a name refers not to a person but to a fictional character or mythological figure. The Forest Stubfoot Toad Atelopus farci is named after the FARC, a Colombian guerrilla army who found refuge in the toad’s habitat and thereby, it is claimed, protected it. Hoipollo's Bubble-nest Frog Pseudophilautus hoipolloi was named after the Greek for ‘the many’, but someone assumed the reference was to a Dr Hoipollo. Meanwhile, the man who has everything will never refuse an eponym: Sting's Treefrog Dendropsophus stingi is named after the rock musician, in honour of his ‘commitment and efforts to save the rainforest’.
Following the success of their Eponym Dictionary of Reptiles, the authors have joined forces to give amphibians a similar treatment. They have tracked down 1,609 honoured individuals and composed for each a brief, pithy biography. In some cases these are a reminder of the courage of scientists whose dedicated research in remote locations exposed them to disease and even violent death. The eponym ensures that their memory will survive, aided by reference works such as this highly readable dictionary. Altogether 2,668 amphibians are listed.
RECOMMENDATION: Herpetologists will find this book to be a useful reference.
2) Nedosekov, Boris. Birds of Uzbekistan: Photoalbum. 2012. Hertfordshire Press. Hardbound: 100 pages. Price: £25.00 (about $38.00 U.S.).
SUMMARY: This is a superb collection of full-colour photographs provided by the members of Uzbekistan Society for the Protection of Birds, with text in both English and in Russian.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and Uzbekistan’s declaration of independence in 1991, unlike in other Central Asian states there have been no such illustrated books published about the birds of this country’s rich and diverse wildlife.
There are more than 500 species of birds in Uzbekistan, with 32 included in the International Red Data Book. After independence, Uzbekistan began to attract the attention of foreign tourist companies, and particularly those specialising in ornithological tourism and birdwatching. Birds of Uzbekistan is therefore a much-needed and timely portrait of this element of the country’s remarkable wildlife.
RECOMMENDATION: Basically this book is a photographic introduction to the birds of the region, not a field guide.
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
SUMMARY: More than 10,000 years ago spectacularly large mammals roamed the pampas and jungles of South America. This book tells the story of these great beasts during and just after the Pleistocene, the geological epoch marked by the great ice ages. Megafauna describes the history and way of life of these animals, their comings and goings, and what befell them at the beginning of the modern era and the arrival of humans. It places these giants within the context of the other mammals then alive, describing their paleobiology—how they walked; how much they weighed; their diets, behavior, biomechanics; and the interactions among them and with their environment. It also tells the stories of the scientists who contributed to our discovery and knowledge of these transcendent creatures and the environment they inhabited. The episode known as the Great American Biotic Interchange, perhaps the most important of all natural history "experiments," is also an important theme of the book, tracing the biotic events of both North and South America that led to the fauna and the ecosystems discussed in this book.
RECOMMENDATION: For those with a technical interest in Pleistocene mammals.