Saturday, April 30, 2016
1) Stevens, Martin. Cheats and Deceits: How Animals and Plants Exploit and Mislead. 2016. Oxford University Press. Hardbound: 300 pages. Price: $34.95 U.S.
PUBLISHER'S SUMMARY: In nature, trickery and deception are widespread. Animals and plants mimic other objects or species in the environment for protection, trick other species into rearing their young, lure prey to their death, and deceive potential mates for reproduction. Cuckoos lay eggs carefully matched to their host's own clutch. Harmless butterflies mimic the wing patterning of a poisonous butterfly to avoid being eaten. The deep-sea angler fish hangs a glowing, fleshy lure in front of its mouth to draw the attention of potential prey, while some male fish alter their appearance to look like females in order to sneak past rivals in mating. Some orchids develop the smell of female insects in order to attract pollinators, while carnivorous plants lure insects to their death with colourful displays.
In Cheats and Deceits, Martin Stevens describes the remarkable range of such adaptations in nature, and considers how they have evolved and increasingly been perfected as part of an arms race between predator and prey or host and parasite. He explores both classic and recent research of naturalists and biologists, showing how scientists find ways of testing the impact of particular behaviors and colorings on the animals it is meant to fool. Drawing on a wide range of examples, Stevens considers what deception tells us about the process of evolution and adaptation.
RECOMMENDATION: A detailed treatment on the subjects.
Thursday, April 28, 2016
1) Logan, Peter B.. Audubon: America's Greatest Naturalist and His Voyage of Discovery to Labrador. 2016. Ashbryn Press. Hardbound: 840 pages. Price: $40.00 U.S.
PUBLISHER'S SUMMARY: The Birds of America. One man's dream to illustrate and publish a work depicting all the birds of North America. Midway through the nearly twelve-year project, the French-American painter and naturalist John James Audubon was beset by obstacles and began to doubt if he could complete it. This overlooked chapter in his life comes alive in this volume, as Audubon faces a difficult test while the fate of his Great Work hangs in the balance.
By the spring of 1833, after six years of serial publication, not even half of the four hundred promised prints had been issued to his subscribers. Audubon still needed to find and paint scores of additional species before he could lay aside his brush.
The uncharted shores of Labrador beckoned with rumors of rare birds, but an expedition to the north would be a severe trial. It was a desolate land, and its brief summer would afford him little time to accomplish his mission. At the age of forty-eight, he questioned how much longer he could maintain the punishing pace his project demanded. His wife, Lucy, feared for his health. Audubon was undaunted.
As he sailed from Eastport, Maine, in early June, developments abroad threatened to undo his work. Robert Havell Jr., the brilliant London engraver and printer who had brought Audubon s vision to life, was ready to quit. At the same time, the naturalist's harshest critic in England had just unleashed an attack on him in Britain s foremost natural-history journal. Half a world away, Audubon was unable to respond.
Through the lens of this heretofore unwritten tale, Audubon scholar Peter B. Logan offers a beautifully textured narrative for historians and Audubon lovers alike. Meticulously researched, using many previously unknown sources, this groundbreaking book portrays the panoramic sweep of Audubon s remarkable life, from his illegitimate birth through his aimless early years as a frontier storekeeper to his decision to launch a daring enterprise from which he would emerge as America s greatest naturalist. At the heart of this saga lies the Labrador expedition. With the reader alongside during the most critical point in his career, Audubon is revealed as his closest friends knew him dynamic, gregarious, and utterly indomitable, while simultaneously insecure, egotistical, and not beyond stretching the truth.
Addressing historical errors made by previous biographers and supplemented with numerous maps and illustrations, as well as an appendix of never-before-published documents, Audubon: America's Greatest Naturalist and His Voyage of Discovery to Labrador rewrites the unforgettable story of the iconic American Woodsman, whose passion and purpose produced an enduring monument to natural history that has never been equaled.
RECOMMENDATION: For those with an interest in Audubon's travels.
Tuesday, April 26, 2016
1) Barber, Lynn E.. Birds in Trouble. 2016. Texas A&M University Press. Flexibound: 200 pages. Price: $29.95 U.S.
PUBLISHER'S SUMMARY: As oil was washing up on the shores of Louisiana, covering shorebirds and their nests and eggs after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, Lynn Barber decided to write this book to heighten awareness, not only of the plight of bird species that are declining in numbers every year, but also of the ways in which the birds we see every day may also face the same fate.
First explaining the idea of birds “in trouble”—and what that means in terms of population, conservation status, and national and international designations—the book then turns to the habitats that are important to birds, how they are affected by changes in these habitats, and what ordinary people can do to help counter those negative effects. Barber then profiles forty-two species that are in trouble in the United States, discussing the likely reasons why and what, if anything, we can do to improve their situations. Illustrated throughout with the author’s signature bird art, the book closes with a reminder about what we can do to ensure that the birds we see every day in our yards, parks, and communities will remain with us.
RECOMMENDATION: For those with an interest in rare or endangered bird species.
Thursday, April 21, 2016
1) Carlsen, William. Jungle of Stone: The True Story of Two Men, Their Extraordinary Journey, and the Discovery of the Lost Civilization of the Maya. 2016. William Morrow. Hardbound: 544 pages. Price: $28.99 U.S.
PUBLISHER'S SUMMARY: In 1839, rumors of extraordinary yet baffling stone ruins buried within the unmapped jungles of Central America reached two of the world’s most intrepid travelers. Seized by the reports, American diplomat John Lloyd Stephens and British artist Frederick Catherwood—both already celebrated for their adventures in Egypt, the Holy Land, Greece, and Rome—sailed together out of New York Harbor on an expedition into the forbidding rainforests of present-day Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico. What they found would upend the West’s understanding of human history.
In the tradition of Lost City of Z and In the Kingdom of Ice, former San Francisco Chronicle journalist and Pulitzer Prize finalist William Carlsen reveals the remarkable story of the discovery of the ancient Maya. Enduring disease, war, and the torments of nature and terrain, Stephens and Catherwood meticulously uncovered and documented the remains of an astonishing civilization that had flourished in the Americas at the same time as classic Greece and Rome—and had been its rival in art, architecture, and power. Their masterful book about the experience, written by Stephens and illustrated by Catherwood, became a sensation, hailed by Edgar Allan Poe as “perhaps the most interesting book of travel ever published” and recognized today as the birth of American archaeology. Most important, Stephens and Catherwood were the first to grasp the significance of the Maya remains, understanding that their antiquity and sophistication overturned the West’s assumptions about the development of civilization.
By the time of the flowering of classical Greece (400 b.c.), the Maya were already constructing pyramids and temples around central plazas. Within a few hundred years the structures took on a monumental scale that required millions of man-hours of labor, and technical and organizational expertise. Over the next millennium, dozens of city-states evolved, each governed by powerful lords, some with populations larger than any city in Europe at the time, and connected by road-like causeways of crushed stone. The Maya developed a cohesive, unified cosmology, an array of common gods, a creation story, and a shared artistic and architectural vision. They created stucco and stone monuments and bas reliefs, sculpting figures and hieroglyphs with refined artistic skill. At their peak, an estimated ten million people occupied the Maya’s heartland on the Yucatan Peninsula, a region where only half a million now live. And yet by the time the Spanish reached the “New World,” the Maya had all but disappeared; they would remain a mystery for the next three hundred years.
Today, the tables are turned: the Maya are justly famous, if sometimes misunderstood, while Stephens and Catherwood have been nearly forgotten. Based on Carlsen’s rigorous research and his own 2,500-mile journey throughout the Yucatan and Central America, Jungle of Stone is equally a thrilling adventure narrative and a revelatory work of history that corrects our understanding of Stephens, Catherwood, and the Maya themselves.
RECOMMENDATION: If you enjoyed Lost City of Z, you should enjoy this book.
Tuesday, April 19, 2016
1) Trollinger, Susan L. and William Vance Trollinger, Jr.. Righting America at the Creation Museum. 2016. Johns Hopkins University Press. Hardbound: 327 pages. Price: $26.95 U.S.
PUBLISHER'S SUMMARY: On May 28, 2007, the Creation Museum opened in Petersburg, Kentucky. Aimed at scientifically demonstrating that the universe was created less than ten thousand years ago by a Judeo-Christian god, the museum is hugely popular, attracting millions of visitors over the past eight years. Surrounded by themed topiary gardens and a petting zoo with camel rides, the site conjures up images of a religious Disneyland. Inside, visitors are met by dinosaurs at every turn and by a replica of the Garden of Eden that features the Tree of Life, the serpent, and Adam and Eve.
In Righting America at the Creation Museum, Susan L. Trollinger and William Vance Trollinger, Jr., take readers on a fascinating tour of the museum. The Trollingers vividly describe and analyze its vast array of exhibits, placards, dioramas, and videos, from the Culture in Crisis Room, where videos depict sinful characters watching pornography or considering abortion, to the Natural Selection Room, where placards argue that natural selection doesn’t lead to evolution. The book also traces the rise of creationism and the history of fundamentalism in America.
This compelling book reveals that the Creation Museum is a remarkably complex phenomenon, at once a "natural history" museum at odds with contemporary science, an extended brief for the Bible as the literally true and errorless word of God, and a powerful and unflinching argument on behalf of the Christian right.
RECOMMENDATION: For those with an interest in the evolution vs. creationism debate.
Thursday, April 14, 2016
1) Phillipps, Quentin, and Karen Phillipps. Phillipps' Field Guide to the Mammals of Borneo and Their Ecology: Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei, and Kalimantan. 2016. John Beaufoy Publishing/ Princeton University Press. Paperback: 400 pages. Price: $35.00 U.S.
PUBLISHER'S SUMMARY: This is the most comprehensive, up-to-date, and easily accessible field guide to the mammals of Borneo—the ideal travel companion for anyone visiting this region of the world. Covering Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei, and Kalimantan, the book provides essential information on 277 species of land and marine mammals and features 141 breathtaking color plates. Detailed facing-page species accounts describe taxonomy, size, range, distribution, habits, and status. This unique at-a-glance guide also includes distribution maps, habitat plates, regional maps, fast-find graphic indexes, top mammal sites, and a complete overview of the vegetation, climate, and ecology of Borneo.
RECOMMENDATION: A MUST have for those with an interest in the mammals of the region.
2) Wijeyeratne, Gehan de Silva. A Naturalist's Guide to the Butterflies & Dragonflies of Sri Lanka. 2015. John Beaufoy Publishing. Paperback: 176 pages. Price: $17.95 U.S.
PUBLISHER'S SUMMARY: Increasingly the segmentation between birders, butterfly watchers, dragonfly watchers and photographers is reducing as interests overlap and there is a demand for books that cover the three popular groups of birds, butterflies and dragonflies. Having written and photographed the guide to the birds of Sri Lanka in the series, Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne has produced a single, compact and portable photographic guide to the butterflies and dragonflies of the country. The emphasis in the 280 species featured is on the commoner species, covering around 90 per cent of the species that a visitor is likely to see. It is also an excellent book for residents to learn about the commoner butterflies and dragonflies before progressing to more advanced technical books.
The guide is focused on field use to help beginners and experts identify species and provides information on their distribution and habitats. As identification of butterflies and dragonflies require a different approach, the two sections are done as two mini photographic field guides with common introductory sections to wildlife watching in Sri Lanka. The book includes information on the key wildlife sites, general introductions to the biology of dragonflies and butterflies, up-to-date checklists with local status and useful references for people who wish to progress further with their study of these charismatic and photogenic animals.
RECOMMENDATION: A well illustrated introduction to these insects of the region.
RECOMMENDATION: A well illustrated introduction to these insects of the region.
Wednesday, April 13, 2016
1) Powell, Robert, Roger Conant, and Joseph T. Collins. Peterson Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America, Fourth Edition. 2016. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Paperback: 494 pages. Price: $21.00 U.S.
PUBLISHER'S SUMMARY: A completely updated edition, including 122 newly recognized or recently established non-native species of reptiles and amphibians.
The new edition of this definitive guide reflects 25 years’ worth of changes in our knowledge of reptiles and amphibians. It includes descriptions of 122 newly recognized or recently established non-native species, updated maps, and new figures and photos. Color illustrations and drawings show key details for accurate identification. More than 100 color photographs and 322 color distribution maps accompany the species descriptions. Clear and concise species accounts provide key characteristics, similar species, habitats, and ranges, as well as subspecies, voice descriptions, and conservation status. This edition will be a crucial resource for professional and amateur herpetologists, naturalists, outdoor enthusiasts, and students.
RECOMMENDATION: A MUST have for those with an interest in the reptiles and amphibians of the region!