Wednesday, December 28, 2011
1) Wheelwright, Jeff. The Wandering Gene and the Indian Princess: Race, Religion, and DNA. 2012. W.W. Norton. Hardbound: 260 pages. Price: $26.95 U.S.
SUMMARY: A brilliant and emotionally resonant exploration of science and family history.
A vibrant young Hispano woman, Shonnie Medina, inherits a breast-cancer mutation known as BRCA1.185delAG. It is a genetic variant characteristic of Jews. The Medinas knew they were descended from Native Americans and Spanish Catholics, but they did not know that they had Jewish ancestry as well. The mutation most likely sprang from Sephardic Jews hounded by the Spanish Inquisition. The discovery of the gene leads to a fascinating investigation of cultural history and modern genetics by Dr. Harry Ostrer and other experts on the DNA of Jewish populations.
Set in the isolated San Luis Valley of Colorado, this beautiful and harrowing book tells of the Medina family's five-hundred-year passage from medieval Spain to the American Southwest and of their surprising conversion from Catholicism to the Jehovah's Witnesses in the 1980s. Rejecting conventional therapies in her struggle against cancer, Shonnie Medina died in 1999. Her life embodies a story that could change the way we think about race and faith.
RECOMMENDATION: Fans of Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, should enjoy this book.
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
1) Peters, Andrew. Ravenwood. 2011. Chicken House/Scholastic. Hardbound: 354 pages. Price: $16.99 U.S.
SUMMARY: Who holds the seeds to save a sky-high world?
Arborium is at risk, the sharpened blades of rival Maw poised to saw off its bark and branches. What can a poor plumber's apprentice armed with little more than a monkey wrench do to stop the chopping?
Carved into a massive, mile-high canopy, the forest kingdom of Arborium stands upon the tallest of trees. Within them, 14-year-old Ark holds the lowest of jobs: unclogging toilets. He's already up to his elbows in gunk when he REALLY steps in it. He overhears a plot echoing through the pipes: Maw, a ruthless glass-and-steel superpower, is scheming to wield its axes of evil to strip Arborium of its wood - a natural resource now more precious than gold.
The fate of a kingdom in the filthy hands of a plumber boy?
Plunged into danger, Ark must make the treacherous climb down to the darkest roots of RAVENWOOD if there's any hope of rescuing his threatened tree home!
RECOMMENDATION: An entertaining tale in the "eco-punk" genre. Although the listed ages are 9-14, the battle scene at the end of the book may scare younger kids.
Sunday, December 25, 2011
Friday, December 23, 2011
1) Peat, Neville. Seabird Genius: The Story of L.E. Richdale, the Royal Albatross, and the Yellow-eyed Penguin. 2011. Otago University Press. Paperback: 288 pages. Price: $45.00 U.S.
SUMMARY: The first biography of Lance Richdale (1900-1983), who achieved international fame as the father of Otago's albatross colony from 1936 and for his research on the behaviour of the Yellow-eyed Penguin – Time magazine dubbed him 'The Dr Kinsey of the penguin world' – and the sooty shearwater, or muttonbird. Richdale grew up in Wanganui, took a tertiary course in agriculture in New South Wales, and returned to New Zealand to teach mainly in rural schools in the North Island for several years, eventually taking up a position with the Otago Education Board in 1928 as an inspiring itinerant agricultural instructor and nature study teacher.
Richdale never gave up his day job and incredibly in the weekends, holidays and evenings undertook major, meticulous and time-consuming research on penguins, albatrosses and several petrel species. His study of the muttonbird was achieved during prolonged solo camps on tiny Whero Island in stormy Foveaux Strait, where the wind blew straight from Antarctica.
Neville Peat's biography searches the traces left by this shy and obsessed man for some answers to two questions: why? and what drove him? Richdale's legacy is a nature tourism industry in Dunedin worth $100 million a year, and the longest-running seabird population study in the world.
RECOMMENDATION: For anyone with an interest in seabirds and/or New Zealand birds.
Buteo Books Link
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
1) Chinsamy-Turan, Anusuya (editor). Forerunners of Mammals: Radiation, Histology, Biology. 2011. Indiana University Press. Hardbound: 330 pages. Price: $60.00 U.S.
SUMMARY: About 320 million years ago a group of reptiles known as the synapsids emerged and forever changed Earth’s ecological landscapes. This book discusses the origin and radiation of the synapsids from their sail-backed pelycosaur ancestor to their diverse descendants, the therapsids or mammal-like reptiles, that eventually gave rise to mammals. It further showcases the remarkable evolutionary history of the synapsids in the Karoo Basin of South Africa and the environments that existed at the time. By highlighting studies of synapsid bone microstructure, it offers a unique perspective of how such studies are utilized to reconstruct various aspects of biology, such as growth dynamics, biomechanical function, and the attainment of sexual and skeletal maturity.
A series of chapters outline the radiation and phylogenetic relationships of major synapsid lineages and provide direct insight into how bone histological analyses have led to an appreciation of these enigmatic animals as once-living creatures. The penultimate chapter examines the early radiation of mammals from their nonmammalian cynodont ancestors, and the book concludes by engaging the intriguing question of when and where endothermy evolved among the therapsids.
RECOMMENDATION: For those with a technical interest in vertebrate paleontology, especially histology.
2) Feduccia, Alan. Riddle of the Feathered Dragons: Hidden Birds of China. 2011. Yale University Press. Hardbound: 358 pages. Price: $55.00 U.S.
SUMMARY: Examining and interpreting recent spectacular fossil discoveries in China, paleontologists have arrived at a prevailing view: there is now incontrovertible evidence that birds represent the last living dinosaur. But is this conclusion beyond dispute? In this book, evolutionary biologist Alan Feduccia provides the most comprehensive discussion yet of the avian and associated evidence found in China, then exposes the massive, unfounded speculation that has accompanied these discoveries and been published in the pages of prestigious scientific journals.
Advocates of the current orthodoxy on bird origins have ignored contrary data, misinterpreted fossils, and used faulty reasoning, the author argues. He considers why and how the debate has become so polemical and makes a plea to refocus the discussion by “breaking away from methodological straitjackets and viewing the world of origins anew.” Drawing on a lifetime of study, he offers his own current understanding of the origin of birds and avian flight.
RECOMMENDATION: There are two schools of thought on the origin of birds. Birds Are Dinosaurs (BAD) and Birds Are Not Dinosaurs (BAND). Feduccia is in the BAND school, which has lost favor among most paleontologists. If you're interested in the BAND arguments, I suggest you read this book.
SUMMARY: This superb book, with its unique focus on the entire marine coastal environment, is the most comprehensive and up-to-date field guide available on the southeastern Atlantic Coast and the Gulf Coast. Not just for beachgoers, the book is essential for birders, whale watchers, fishers, boaters, scuba divers and snorkelers, and shoreline visitors.
Features of the guide:
*Entries on 619 coastal and ocean species
*More than 1,100 color illustrations
*450 up-to-date range maps
*Overviews of key ecological communities, including mangroves, salt marshes, beaches, sand dunes, and coral reefs
*Special attention to threatened and endangered species
*Discussions of environmental issues, including such catastrophic events as Hurricane Katrina and the *Deepwater Horizon blowout
*Excellent organizational aids for locating information quickly
RECOMMENDATION: A good introduction to the natural history of the region.
Buteo Books Link
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
1) James, David G. and David Nunnallee. Life Histories of Cascadia Butterflies. 2011. Oregon State University Press. Paperback: 447 pages. Price: $35.00 U.S.
SUMMARY: David G. James and David Nunnallee present the life histories of the entire butterfly fauna of a North American geographic region in exceptional and riveting detail for the first time in Life Histories of Cascadia Butterflies.
Virtually all of the 158 butterfly species occurring in southern British Columbia, Washington, northern Idaho, and northern Oregon are included in the book. Color photographs of each stage of life—egg, every larval instar, pupa, adult—accompany information on the biology, ecology, and rearing of each species.
Life Histories of Cascadia Butterflies will appeal to naturalists, hikers, amateur entomologists, butterfly gardeners, conservationists, students, and general readers of natural history. For scientists and dedicated lepidopterists, the book provides an unparalleled resource on the natural history of immature stages of butterflies in the Pacific Northwest—and beyond, as many of Cascadia’s butterflies occur in other parts of North America as well as Europe and Asia.
RECOMMENDATION: A MUST have for those with an interest in Pacific Northwest Butterflies!
Monday, December 19, 2011
1) Thomas, Peggy. For the Birds: The Life of Roger Tory Peterson. 2011. Calkins Creek. Hardbound: 40 pages. Price: $16.95 U.S.
SUMMARY: Roger Tory Peterson revolutionized the way we look at and appreciate birds, animals, and plants. Some kids called him “Professor Nuts Peterson” because of his dedication to his craft; yet he went on to create the immensely popular Peterson Guides, which have sold more than seven million copies, and which birders everywhere appreciate for their simple text and exquisite illustrations. Working closely with the Roger Tory Peterson Institute in Jamestown, New York, author Peggy Thomas and artist Laura Jacques have created a fascinating portrait of a global environmentalist with this very first children’s biography of Peterson.
RECOMMENDATION: For ages 8 and up. Adults interested in the life of Roger Tory Peterson will enjoy this book too!
Buteo Books Link
Sunday, December 18, 2011
Saturday, December 17, 2011
1) Salomon, David. Penguin-Pedia: Photographs and Facts from One Man's Search for the Penguins of the World. 2011. Brown Books Publishing. Hardbound: 303 pages. Price: $29.95 U.S.
SUMMARY: An exhaustive resource for penguin-o-philes, amateur and academic alike, Penguin-Pedia unites careful analysis of the behavior, habitat, reproduction, feeding habits, and population levels of all seventeen penguin species with the author s personal observations and reflections. Each chapter draws on a wealth of scientific data and reports, as well as providing detailed measurements and weights of penguins from various colonies and nests. An extensive bibliography will direct students of the penguin to scholarly books and journals, while dozens of full-color photographs of penguins in their natural habitat and personal accounts provide entertainment for the layman. A full directory of penguin exhibiting zoos from around the world completes this source of all things penguin.
Penguins have become a standard fixture in both zoos and imaginations for centuries. But beyond the classic tuxedo markings of the Emperor penguin and what we see in childrens cartoons, how much do we really know about these fascinating creatures? How aware are we of the perpetual danger in which these animals find themselves after so many years of environmental abuse on the part of humans? David Salomon has traveled the world photographing and studying the various species and subspecies of penguin. From the sleek Galapagos penguin to the bushy-eyebrowed Rockhopper penguin, Salomon combines personal accounts of his trips to remote penguin habitats at the far edges of the world with a comprehensive survey of all available scientific data for the various penguin species.
Penguin-Pedia is a wealth of information on penguin behavior, habits, population, and endangerment. Full of David's own up-close photography, Penguin-Pedia will bring you into the fascinating world of the penguin.
RECOMMENDATION: The author's photography highlights this book! This title is a must have for penguin fans!
Thursday, December 15, 2011
1) Borrow, Nik and Ron Demey. Birds of Senegal and The Gambia. 2011. Helm Field Guides. Paperback: 352 pages. Price: GBP 29.99 (about $46.58 U.S.).
SUMMARY: This new field guide covers The Gambia, a country which is very popular with a large number of birders and tourists, and the whole of neighbouring Senegal. This fascinating region shelters many Western Palearctic migrants from September to April, as well as a significant list of resident West African birds.
The stunning colour plates depict more than 680 species, covering almost every distinct plumage and race. The authoritative text highlights the key features needed to identify each species in the field, and accurate up-to-date maps are provided for every species. This comprehensive guide is an essential companion for anyone visiting The Gambia and Senegal.
RECOMMENDATION: The artwork is mostly from the author's Birds of Western Africa. This book is a must have for those birding these countries!
Buteo Books Link
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Monday, December 12, 2011
1) Cooper, Murray. Birds in Colombia. 2011. Villegas Editores. Hardbound with slipcase: 552 pages. Price: $70.95 U.S.
SUMMARY: Exploring a wealth of incredible winged fauna, this fascinating compendium travels to the tropical setting of Colombia, where many different climates blend to encourage the development of habitats. The country's diverse landscapes are explored along with the rare beauty of its singular birds, showcasing their distinct plumage, colors, various sizes, songs, beaks, and wings. Illustrating how these creatures are currently threatened, this study also highlights the inadequate colonization and urbanization, deforestation, and many other factors that could potentially destroy the habitats of many species, increasing their rates of extinction. Suggestions for defensive and protective actions are included.
RECOMMENDATION: The photography highlights this coffee-table book! A must have for those with an interest in the birds of Neotropics!
Buteo Books Link
Sunday, December 11, 2011
Saturday, December 10, 2011
1) Wieland, Monika. A Guide to Birds of San Juan Island. 2011. Orca Watcher. Paperback: 215 pages. Price: $19.95 U.S.
SUMMARY: San Juan Island is a diverse place made up of a wide variety of habitats: shorelines, farmlands, forests, and prairies. As a result, over 300 bird species have been documented here. Whether a budding nature enthusiast, an advanced birder, or somewhere in between, A Guide to Birds of San Juan Island will give you details about all of the birds that can be seen here and where to find them. Part species guide and part site guide, Monika Wieland's book will help residents and visitors alike discover more about the bird life of San Juan Island.
RECOMMENDATION: A must have for those birding San Juan Island, Washington State, U.S.A.!
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Butler, Georgia Anne. Of the Wing: A Trilogy (Book 1: The Legend Awakes; Book 2: The Ivory-billed Obsession). 2010 and 2011. Pinchey House. Paperback: 208 and 241 pages. Price: $7.99 U.S.
SUMMARY: Of the Wing is a trilogy that follows Claire and her friend Victor through birding adventures in the woodlands of Pennsylvania (book 1) to the bayous of Arkansas (book 2) and finally to the hills and lakes of Ireland (book 3).
Description of Book 1:
Claire Belle hears like an owl, sees like a hawk, and draws birds to her in some inexplicable way. Is it magic? Or some special power? Claire keeps her ability secret, afraid that sharing it will somehow break the spell. But can that spell be broken violently? A ruthless man seeks to kill a local, legendary Red-tailed Hawk—a raptor to which Claire is devoted and bound, and who holds the answers to her questions.
Description of Book 2:
Birds repeatedly call an urgent message to twelve-year-old Claire Belle: Hurry! But she isn’t listening. The avid birder is preoccupied with a famous ornithologist, back from another failed effort to find the fabled Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Claire meets Robert Crawley at his Pennsylvania retreat, revealing to him her mysterious appeal to birds. Promising to attract the Ivory-bill, she earns a canoe expedition for herself and friends to the muddy bayous of Arkansas. But the bottomland forest conceals something more than the reclusive woodpecker, something dangerous. And though Claire leaves Pennsylvania, the message of the birds follows her.
RECOMMENDATION: For ages 9 and up. You can order the books from this website:
Sunday, December 4, 2011
My WEEKLY Birdbooker Report can be found here:
Friday, December 2, 2011
1) Doughty, Robin W. and Virginia Carmichael. The Albatross and the Fish: Linked Lives in the Open Seas. 2011. University of Texas Press. Hardbound: 302 pages. Price: $29.95 U.S.
SUMMARY: Breeding on remote ocean islands and spending much of its life foraging for food across vast stretches of seemingly empty seas, the albatross remains a legend for most people. And yet, humans are threatening the albatross family to such an extent that it is currently the most threatened bird group in the world. In this extensively researched, highly readable book, Robin W. Doughty and Virginia Carmichael tell the story of a potentially catastrophic extinction that has been interrupted by an unlikely alliance of governments, conservation groups, and fishermen.
Doughty and Carmichael authoritatively establish that the albatross's fate is linked to the fate of two of the highest-value table fish, Bluefin Tuna and Patagonian Toothfish, which are threatened by unregulated commercial harvesting. The authors tell us that commercial fishing techniques are annually killing tens of thousands of albatrosses. And the authors explain how the breeding biology of albatrosses makes them unable to replenish their numbers at the rate they are being depleted. Doughty and Carmichael set the albatross's fate in the larger context of threats facing the ocean commons, ranging from industrial overfishing to our habit of dumping chemicals, solid waste, and plastic trash into the open seas. They also highlight the efforts of dedicated individuals, environmental groups, fishery management bodies, and governments who are working for seabird and fish conservation and demonstrate that these efforts can lead to sustainable solutions for the iconic seabirds and the entire ocean ecosystem.
RECOMMENDATION: If you're interested in these birds, or ocean life in general, you'll want to read this book!