Thursday, January 21, 2016
1) Orians, Gordon H.. Snakes, Sunrises, and Shakespeare: How Evolution Shapes Our Loves and Fears. 2015. University of Chicago Press. Paperback: 221 pages. Price: $17.00 U.S.
PUBLISHER'S SUMMARY: Our breath catches and we jump in fear at the sight of a snake. We pause and marvel at the sublime beauty of a sunrise. These reactions are no accident; in fact, many of our human responses to nature are steeped in our deep evolutionary past—we fear snakes because of the danger of venom or constriction, and we welcome the assurances of the sunrise as the predatory dangers of the dark night disappear. Many of our aesthetic preferences—from the kinds of gardens we build to the foods we enjoy and the entertainment we seek—are the lingering result of natural selection.
In this ambitious and unusual work, evolutionary biologist Gordon H. Orians explores the role of evolution in human responses to the environment, beginning with why we have emotions and ending with evolutionary approaches to aesthetics. Orians reveals how our emotional lives today are shaped by decisions our ancestors made centuries ago on African savannas as they selected places to live, sought food and safety, and socialized in small hunter-gatherer groups. During this time our likes and dislikes became wired in our brains, as the appropriate responses to the environment meant the difference between survival or death. His rich analysis explains why we mimic the tropical savannas of our ancestors in our parks and gardens, why we are simultaneously attracted to danger and approach it cautiously, and how paying close attention to nature’s sounds has resulted in us being an unusually musical species. We also learn why we have developed discriminating palates for wine, and why we have strong reactions to some odors, and why we enjoy classifying almost everything.
By applying biological perspectives ranging from Darwin to current neuroscience to analyses of our aesthetic preferences for landscapes, sounds, smells, plants, and animals, Snakes, Sunrises, and Shakespeare transforms how we view our experience of the natural world and how we relate to each other.
RECOMMENDATION: For those with an interest in behavioral/evolutionary biology.
Tuesday, January 19, 2016
1) Laws, John Muir. The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling. 2016. Heyday. Paperback: 303 pages. Price: $35.00 U.S.
PUBLISHER'S SUMMARY: A potent combination of art, science, and boundless enthusiasm, the latest art instruction book from John Muir Laws (The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds) is a how-to guide for becoming a better artist and a more attentive naturalist. In straightforward text complemented by step-by-step illustrations, dozens of exercises lead the hand and mind through creating accurate reproductions of plants and animals as well as landscapes, skies, and more. Laws provides clear, practical advice for every step of the process for artists at every level, from the basics of choosing supplies to advanced techniques. While the book’s advice will improve the skills of already accomplished artists, the emphasis on seeing, learning, and feeling will make this book valuable—even revelatory—to anyone interested in the natural world, no matter how rudimentary their artistic abilities.
A sketchbook, constructed to withstand excursions in the field and containing several exercises from The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling, is also available.
RECOMMENDATION: If you liked Laws's The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds, you will like this book.
RECOMMENDATION: If you liked Laws's The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds, you will like this book.
Friday, January 15, 2016
1) Kemp, T. S.. The Origin of Higher Taxa: Palaeobiological, Developmental, and Ecological Perspectives. 2016. The University of Chicago Press. Paperback: 201 pages. Price: $49.00 U.S.
PUBLISHER'S SUMMARY: In the grand sweep of evolution, the origin of radically new kinds of organisms in the fossil record is the result of a relatively simple process: natural selection marching through the ages. Or is it? Does Darwinian evolution acting over a sufficiently long period of time really offer a complete explanation, or are unusual genetic events and particular environmental and ecological circumstances also involved? With The Origin of Higher Taxa, Tom Kemp sifts through the layers of paleobiological, genetic, and ecological evidence on a quest to answer this essential, game-changing question of biology.
Looking beyond the microevolutionary force of Darwinian natural selection, Kemp enters the realm of macroevolution, or evolution above the species level. From the origin of mammals to the radiation of flowering plants, these large-scale patterns—such as the rise of novel organismal design, adaptive radiations, and lineage extinctions—encompass the most significant trends and transformations in evolution. As macroevolution cannot be studied by direct observation and experiment, scientists have to rely on the outcome of evolution as evidence for the processes at work, in the form of patterns of species appearances and extinctions in a spotty fossil record, and through the nature of species extant today. Marshalling a wealth of new fossil and molecular evidence and increasingly sophisticated techniques for their study, Kemp here offers a timely and original reinterpretation of how higher taxa such as arthropods, mollusks, mammals, birds, and whales evolved—a bold new take on the history of life.
RECOMMENDATION: For those with a technical interest in evolution.
Thursday, January 14, 2016
1) Lack, David. The Life of the Robin. 1965 (2015). Pallas Athene. Paperback: 283 pages. Price: £9.99 (about $14.39 U.S.).
PUBLISHER'S SUMMARY: The Robin has now been voted Britain's favourite bird – a friendly presence in thousands of gardens, year round. Its life was hardly understood when David Lack – who has been called Britain's most influential ornithologist – started his scientific observations of robins while a schoolteacher at Dartington.
It was Lack who established that robins sing to defend their territory; that males will fight to the death but will also feed injured opponents; that couples will court and mate but then ignore each other; that most robins will die in any given year.
The Life of the Robin has become a landmark in natural history, not just for discoveries that changed ornithology, but because of the approachable style, sharpened with an acute wit. It reads as freshly, and as fascinatingly, today, as when it was written. No one who has ever enjoyed the company of a robin in their garden or on a walk will want to be without this book.
Unavailable for many years, this classic work includes postscripts by the doyen of robin studies today, David Harper and by the author's son, Peter Lack, who explains the genesis of The Life of the Robin, and its place in the hugely important lifetime's work carried out by his father.
RECOMMENDATION: A MUST have for anyone with an interest in the European Robin or the works of David Lack.
Thursday, January 7, 2016
1) Buskirk, Steven W.. Wild Mammals of Wyoming and Yellowstone National Park. 2016. University of California Press. Hardbound: 437 pages. Price: $85.00 U.S.
PUBLISHER'S SUMMARY: Wild Mammals of Wyoming and Yellowstone National Park provides the scholar, conservationist, and interested lay reader with information on the state's 117 wild mammalian species from grizzly bears to pygmy shrews. It describes the history of mammalogy in Wyoming, the zoogeography of Wyoming mammals, and the prehistoric mammals of Wyoming. It also characterizes the habitats of Wyoming mammals and addresses the conservation and management of mammals in the region.
Expanding beyond the traditional field guide, Steven W. Buskirk emphasizes taxonomic classification, geographic range, and conservation status for mammalian species. Introductory sections are provided for each order and family, and individual species accounts organize a wealth of data ranging from habitat associations to field measurements in an easy-to-use format. Featuring color species photos, continental and state-scale distribution maps, and a comprehensive bibliography with nearly 1,000 references, Wild Mammals of Wyoming and Yellowstone National Park is an indispensable resource for wildlife and conservation biologists and mammalogists working in this region.
RECOMMENDATION: A must have for anyone with an interest in the mammals of Wyoming.
2) Meldahl, Keith Heyer. Surf, Sand, and Stone: How Waves, Earthquakes, and Other Forces Shape the Southern California Coast. 2015. University of California Press. Hardbound: 222 pages. Price: $29.95 U.S.
PUBLISHER'S SUMMARY: Southern California is sandwiched between two tectonic plates with an ever-shifting boundary. Over the last several million years, movements of these plates have dramatically reshuffled the Earth’s crust to create rugged landscapes and seascapes riven with active faults. Movement along these faults triggers earthquakes and tsunamis, pushes up mountains, and lifts sections of coastline. Over geologic time, beaches come and go, coastal bluffs retreat, and the sea rises and falls. Nothing about Southern California’s coast is stable.
Surf, Sand, and Stone tells the scientific story of the Southern California coast: its mountains, islands, beaches, bluffs, surfing waves, earthquakes, and related phenomena. It takes readers from San Diego to Santa Barbara, revealing the evidence for how the coast's features came to be and how they are continually changing. With a compelling narrative and clear illustrations, Surf, Sand, and Stone outlines how the coast will be altered in the future and how we can best prepare for it.
RECOMMENDATION: For those with an interest in the geology of the region.