New science books – Biology Special

We seem to have gone a bit biology mad this month! Still, you can never have too much of a good thing. Enjoy!

Syndetics book coverMicrocosmos : discovering the world through microscopic images from 20 X to over 20 million X magnification / Brandon Broll ; pictures supplied by the Science Photo Library
“Praise for the previous edition: “An amazing array of shapes and textures that would be the envy of Joan Miro.” — The Wall Street Journal “Hundreds of extremely magnified images such as botanicals, minerals and insects, transport the reader into another world. . . . Who knew morning glory could look so interesting!” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverDinosaurs : a field guide / Gregory S. Paul.
“This lavishly-illustrated volume is the first authoritative dinosaur book in the style of a field guide. It covers the true dinosaurs – the Tetrapoda – the great Mesozoic animals which gave rise to today’s living dinosaurs, the birds. Incorporating the new discoveries and research that are radically transforming what we know about dinosaurs, this book is distinguished both by its scientific accuracy and the quality and quantity of its illustrations.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverEvolution : a little history of a great idea / Gerard Cheshire.
“The smallest book on evolution asks big questions. Anticipating the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s “The Origin of Species” throughout 2009, “Evolution” explores the history of evolutionary theory from Lamarck to Darwin to today’s large questions about life in the universe. With sections on the causes of genetic variation and natural selection, the success in species of altruistic strategies, and why sharks are the same shape in different seas, and with a rich array of rarely published period illustrations and examples of the latest genetic research, this is a timely and thought-provoking book.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverEvolution in action : natural history through spectacular skeletons / text by Jean-Baptiste de Panafieu ; photographs by Patrick Gries ; [translated by Linda Asher].
“Spectacular, mysterious, elegant, or grotesque, the vertebrate skeletons of Earth’s fossil record carry within them the traces of several billion years of life. Evolution in Action, a resounding success on its initial publication in 2007, is a unique and beautiful attempt to provide a map of those billion years in time. Now updated and presented in a smaller format with seventeen new utterly distinctive photographs, this book steps beyond the debate and presents the undeniable truth of Darwin’s theory, showing through 200 photographs of skeletons both obscure and commonplace, but always intriguing, the process by which life has transformed itself, again and again.” – (adapted from summary)

Syndetics book coverThe humans who went extinct : why neanderthals died out and we survived / Clive Finlayson.
“On the front cover of this book is the reconstruction of a Neanderthal woman. Doesn’t she look human? Perhaps her strikingly human appearance comes as something of a shock. It erodes our assumptions of uniqueness. Yet we are descended from one of several populations of humans that were around some 50,000 years ago. And, argues Clive Finlayson, our survival and the demise of the Neanderthals was mainly down to luck.Set in a world of changing climates and landscapes, and shifting populations of different kinds of humans, this book presents a humbling account of our rise to world dominance.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverLife’s X factor : the missing link in materialism’s science of living things / Neil Broom.
“This richly-illustrated book asserts that biological materialism — the idea that the richness of the living world is fully explained by impersonal processes acting over vast periods of time — blinds us to the intensely mindful qualities of purpose and goal-centredness displayed by even the simplest living things.” – (adapted from Publisher’s description)

Syndetics book coverSurvival of the beautiful : art, science, and evolution / David Rothenberg.
“”The peacock’s tail,” said Charles Darwin, “makes me sick.” That’s because the theory of evolution as adaptation can’t explain why nature is so beautiful. It took the concept of sexual selection for Darwin to explain that, a process that has more to do with aesthetics than the practical. Survival of the Beautiful is a revolutionary new examination of the interplay of beauty, art, and culture in evolution. Taking inspiration from Darwin’s observation that animals have a natural aesthetic sense, philosopher and musician David Rothenberg probes why animals, humans included, have innate appreciation for beauty-and why nature is, indeed, beautiful. Sexual selection may explain why animals desire, but it says very little about what they desire. Why will a bowerbird literally murder another bird to decorate its bower with the victim’s blue feathers? Why do butterfly wings boast such brilliantly varied patterns? The beauty of nature is not arbitrary, even if random mutation has played a role in evolution. What can we learn from the amazing range of animal aesthetic behavior-about animals, and about ourselves? Readers who enjoyed the bestsellers The Art Instinct and The Mind’s Eye will find Survival of the Beautiful an equally stimulating and profound exploration of art, science, and the creative impulse.” – (adapted from summary)

The book of deadly animals / Gordon Grice.
“Even the most hardcore naturalist may rethink that camping trip or African safari after reading Grice’s rundown of dangerous animals from around the world. From humpback whales to bedbugs, Grice (The Red Hourglass) delights in describing the many ways animals of all sizes can kill us or make us sick. Drawing from antiquity (Herodotus’ 2,400-year-old account of self-sabotaging vipers), pop culture (the infamous mauling of Roy Horn of Sigfried and Roy by a beloved tiger), and first-hand experience (a sac spider imperiously poised atop the author’s own computer), the unsettling anecdotes are far-ranging. But Grice does more than simply catalog the many ways a lion, tiger, or bear can kill-he gives context to the horrors by describing the animal’s place in the food chain and its evolutionary adaptations. To be sure, there are terrifying accounts of sailors lost at sea being feasted upon sharks and gruesome details of black bear attacks (“The carcasses are peeled like bananas”), but Grice tempers his book with grim humor, a genuine enthusiasm for the subject, and fascinating trivia (Herman Melville’s Moby Dick was based on an actual whale named Mocha Dick that terrorized the South Pacific). A gifted writer, Grice’s relentlessly detailed descriptions of the effects of spider and snake bites, as well as the outcome of tangling with pencil catfish or alligators, may make this rough going for the easily squeamish, but those with a fascination for wildlife will find this an informative and dramatic study.” – (adapted from Publisher Weekly summary)