Saturday, September 9, 2017
1) Troelstra, A.S.. Bibliography of Natural History Travel Narratives. 2016. KNNV Publishing. Hardbound: 481 pages. Price: $259.00 U.S.
PUBLISHER'S SUMMARY: A.S.Troelstra's fine bibliography is an outstanding and ground-breaking work. He has provided the academic world with a long-needed bibliographical record of human endeavour in the field of the natural sciences. The travel narratives listed here encompass all aspects of the natural world in every part of the globe, but are especially concerned with its fauna, flora and fossil remains. Such eyewitness accounts have always fascinated their readers, but they were never written solely for entertainment: fragmentary though they often are, these narratives of travel and exploration are of immense importance for our scientific understanding of life on earth, providing us with a window on an ever changing, and often vanishing, natural world. Without such records of the past we could not track, document or understand the significance of changes that are so important for the study of zoogeography. With this book Troelstra gives us a superb overview of natural history travel narratives. The well over four thousand detailed entries, ranging over four centuries and all major western European languages, are drawn from a wide range of sources and include both printed books and periodical contributions. While no subject bibliography by a single author can attain absolute completeness, Troelstra's work is comprehensive to a truly remarkable degree. The entries are arranged alphabetically by author and chronologically, by the year of first publication, under the author's name. A brief biography, with the scope and range of their work, is given for each author; every title is set in context, the contents - including illustrations - are described and all known editions and translations are cited. In addition, there is a geographical index that cross refers between authors and the regions visited, and a full list of the bibliographical and biographical sources used in compiling the bibliography.
RECOMMENDATION: For those with a serious interest in natural history travel literature.
Wednesday, September 6, 2017
1) Newton, Ian. Farming and Birds (Collins New Naturalist Library). 2017. William Collins. Paperback: 628 pages. Price: $31.88 U.S.
PUBLISHER'S SUMMARY: Given the underlying topography, the scenery over most of Britain has been created largely by human activities. Over the centuries, landscapes have been continually modified as human needs and desires have changed. Each major change in land use has brought changes to the native plants and animals, continually altering the distribution and abundance of species. This is apparent from the changes in vegetation and animal populations that were documented in historical times, but even more so in those that have occurred since the Second World War. More than seventy per cent of Britain's land surface is currently used for crop or livestock production, and in recent decades farming has experienced a major revolution. Not only has it become more thoroughly mechanised, it has also become heavily dependent on synthetic fertilisers and pesticides, and increasingly large-scale in its operation. These changes have brought crop yields and livestock production to levels previously considered unattainable. However, such high yields have been achieved only at huge financial and environmental costs. One of the most conspicuous, and best documented, consequences of modern agriculture has been a massive loss of wildlife, including birds. In this timely addition to the New Naturalist Library, Ian Newton discusses the changes that have occurred in British agriculture over the past seventy years, and the effects they have had on bird populations. He explains how different farming procedures have affected birds and other wildlife, and how an understanding of the processes involved could help in future conservation.
RECOMMENDATION: For those with an interest in British avian ecology and/or collect the New Naturalist series.
Saturday, September 2, 2017
1) Datlow, Ellen (editor). Black Feathers: Dark Avian Tales: An Anthology. 2017. Pegasus. Hardbound: 308 pages. Price: $25.95 U.S.
PUBLISHER'S SUMMARY: A dazzling anthology of avian-themed fiction guaranteed to frighten and delight, edited by one of the most acclaimed horror anthologists in the genre.
Birds are usually loved for their beauty and their song. They symbolize freedom, eternal life, the soul.
There’s definitely a dark side to the avian. Birds of prey sometimes kill other birds (the shrike), destroy other birds’ eggs (blue jays), and even have been known to kill small animals (the kea sometimes eats live lambs). And who isn’t disgusted by birds that eat the dead―vultures awaiting their next meal as the life blood flows from the dying. One of our greatest fears is of being eaten by vultures before we’re quite dead.
Is it any wonder that with so many interpretations of the avian, that the contributors herein are eager to be transformed or influenced by them? Included in Black Feathers are those obsessed by birds of one type or another. Do they want to become birds or just take on some of the “power” of birds? The presence or absence of birds portends the future. A grieving widow takes comfort in her majestic winged neighbors, who enable her to cope with a predatory relative. An isolated society of women relies on a bird to tell their fortunes. A silent young girl and her pet bird might be the only hope a detective has of tracking down a serial killer in a tourist town. A chatty parrot makes illegal deals with the dying. A troubled man lives in isolation with only one friend for company―a jackdaw.
In each of these fictions, you will encounter the dark resonance between the human and avian. You see in yourself the savagery of a predator, the shrewd stalking of a hunter, and you are lured by birds that speak human language, that make beautiful music, that cypher numbers, and seem to have a moral center. You wade into this feathered nightmare, and brave the horror of death, trading your safety and sanity for that which we all seek―the promise of flight.
RECOMMENDATION: For those that like their bird tales on the dark side!
Wednesday, August 30, 2017
1) Costa, James T.. Darwin's Backyard: How Small Experiments Led to a Big Theory. 2017. W. W. Norton. Hardbound: 441 pages. Price: $27.95 U.S.
PUBLISHER'S SUMMARY: Darwin’s Backyard goes beyond the portrait of Charles Darwin as a brilliant thinker to concentrate on him as a nimble experimenter delving into some of evolution’s great mysteries.
James T. Costa takes readers on a journey from Darwin’s childhood through his voyage on the HMS Beagle where his ideas on evolution began. We then follow Darwin to Down House, his bustling home of forty years, where he kept porcupine quills at his desk to dissect barnacles, maintained a flock of sixteen pigeon breeds in the dovecote, and cultivated climbing plants in the study, and to Bournemouth, where on one memorable family vacation he fed carnivorous plants in the soup dishes.
Using his garden and greenhouse, the surrounding meadows and woodlands, and even taking over the cellar, study, and hallways of his home-turned-field-station, Darwin tested ideas of his landmark theory of evolution with an astonishing array of hands-on experiments that could be done on the fly, without specialized equipment.
He engaged naturalists, friends, neighbors, family servants, and even his children, nieces, nephews, and cousins as assistants in these experiments, which involved everything from chasing bees and tempting fish to eat seeds to serenading earthworms. From the experiments’ results, he plumbed the laws of nature and evidence for the revolutionary arguments of On the Origin of Species and his other watershed works.
Beyond Darwin at work, we accompany him against the backdrop of his enduring marriage, chronic illness, grief at the loss of three children, and joy in scientific revelation. This unique glimpse of Darwin’s life introduces us to an enthusiastic correspondent, crowd-sourcer, family man, and, most of all, an incorrigible observer and experimenter.
Includes directions for eighteen hands-on experiments, for home, school, yard, or garden.
RECOMMENDATION: For those that want to learn more about Darwin the scientist.
Thursday, August 10, 2017
1) Webster, Michael S.(editor). The Extended Specimen: Emerging Frontiers in Collections-Based Ornithological Research. 2017. CRC Press. Hardbound: 240 pages. Price: $139.95 U.S.
PUBLISHER'S SUMMARY: The Extended Specimen highlights the research potential for ornithological specimens, and is meant to encourage ornithologists poised to initiate a renaissance in collections-based ornithological research. Contributors illustrate how collections and specimens are used in novel ways by adopting emerging new technologies and analytical techniques. Case studies use museum specimens and emerging and non-traditional types of specimens, which are developing new methods for making biological collections more accessible and "usable" for ornithological researchers. Thus, book documents the power of ornithological collections to address key research questions of global importance.
RECOMMENDATION: For those with a technical interest in ornithological specimens.
Tuesday, August 8, 2017
1) McKay, John J.. Discovering the Mammoth: A Tale of Giants, Unicorns, Ivory, and the Birth of a New Science. 2017. Pegasus Books. Hardbound: 241 pages. Price: $27.95 U.S.
PUBLISHER'S SUMMARY: The fascinating saga of solving the mystery of this ancient animal who once roamed the north country―and has captivated our collective imagination ever since.
Today, we know that a mammoth is an extinct type of elephant that was covered with long fur and lived in the north country during the ice ages. But how do you figure out what a mammoth is if you have no concept of extinction, ice ages, or fossils? Long after the last mammoth died and was no longer part of the human diet, it still played a role in human life. Cultures around the world interpreted the remains of mammoths through the lens of their own worldview and mythology.
When the ancient Greeks saw deposits of giant fossils, they knew they had discovered the battle fields where the gods had vanquished the Titans. When the Chinese discovered buried ivory, they knew they had found dragons’ teeth. But as the Age of Reason dawned, monsters and giants gave way to the scientific method. Yet the mystery of these mighty bones remained. How did Enlightenment thinkers overcome centuries of myth and misunderstanding to reconstruct an unknown animal?
The journey to unravel that puzzle begins in the 1690s with the arrival of new type of ivory on the European market bearing the exotic name "mammoth." It ends during the Napoleonic Wars with the first recovery of a frozen mammoth. The path to figuring out the mammoth was traveled by merchants, diplomats, missionaries, cranky doctors, collectors of natural wonders, Swedish POWs, Peter the Great, Ben Franklin, the inventor of hot chocolate, and even one pirate.
McKay brings together dozens of original documents and illustrations, some ignored for centuries, to show how this odd assortment of characters solved the mystery of the mammoth and, in doing so, created the science of paleontology. 8 pages of black-and-white illustrations.
RECOMMENDATION: For those with an interest in mammoths.
Saturday, August 5, 2017
1) Thibault, Jean-Claude and Alice Cibois. Birds of Eastern Polynesia: A Biogeographic Atlas. 2017. Lynx Edicions. Hardbound: 438 pages. Price: $37.50 U.S.
PUBLISHER'S SUMMARY: Birds of Eastern Polynesia is the first biogeographic atlas covering all of the birds of one of the largest areas of Oceania. The book treats all of the 241 species, including extinct birds, ever recorded on the Line Islands, the Cook, Austral, Society, Marquesas, Tuamotu and Gambier archipelagos, the Pitcairn Group, and the Eastern Is. Group. Their distribution over the 151 islands of the region is detailed in 142 maps. The species accounts include systematics, a detailed morphometric or genetic analysis when it is available, and data on distribution, population size and trends, habitat and breeding. All species recorded in Eastern Polynesia are illustrated in color, except those only known by bone records.
Birds of Eastern Polynesia represents an original and much needed ornithological synthesis of all the available literature on Eastern Polynesian birds, including many difficult-to find reports, as well as unpublished data gathered from local ornithologists and biologists. It also contains new data collected by the authors during numerous field trips in Eastern Polynesia and during visits to museum collections. This work presents a complete overview of this vast oceanic region for anyone with an interest in the biology, biogeography and conservation of the birds of the Pacific islands.
RECOMMENDATION: For those with a serious interest in the birds of the region.
RECOMMENDATION: For those with a serious interest in the birds of the region.