Category Archives: Science Books 2010

Rewilding the World by Caroline Fraser

Rewilding the World: Dispatches from the Conservation Revolution

by Caroline Fraser

Metropolitian Books, New York, 2009

Borrowed from the library.

Rewilding is large-scale conservation based around the idea of cores, corridors and carnivores.  This means restoring and protecting large areas of wilderness, like national or state parks,  providing connectivity between these areas through corridors or checkerboard grids and reintroducing and/or protecting top predators and keystone species.

Fraser’s book is an excellent introducing to this method of conservation biology.  Starting with a description  of the Yukon to Yellowstone initiative,  she traveled the world in search of  rewilding projects.

A wildlife crossing structure on the Trans-Canada Highway in Banff National Park, Canada. Wildlife-friendly overpasses and underpasses have helped restore connectivity in the landscape for wolves, bears, elk, and other species. Image from Wikipedia.

Some are working and some are not, ofter due to politics and too much burocracy.  These are all exciting projects but the one that most intrigues me is the European Green Belt which is being built along the former Iron Curtain.

European Green Belt. Photo by Klaus Leidorf.

Interestingly the projects that seem to be progressing and expanding are those that stretch across boundaries and borders.

Because this book  was due back at the library I had to rush through the last half of it.  I intend to search for a used copy to add to my personal library, reading about all the attempts to bring things back into balance definitely lifted my spirits.


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Filed under Animals, Earth, IYOBChallenge, Nature, Science Books 2010

Seven Tenths: The Sea and Its Tresholds by James Hamilton-Patterson

Seven Tenths: The Sea and Its Thresholds

by James Hamilton-Patterson

Europa Editions, New York,  2009

Borrowed from the library.

I first read James Hamilton-Patterson in Granta, one of my few literary indulgences.   It was years ago, an article about the sea and it stayed with me.  When I saw this book on the “New Book” shelf at the library I had to grab it.  Since reading it I have purchased my own copy.

First published in 1992, Seven Tenths is a survey of the ocean world written by someone who treasures it and who has spent years exploring its depths.   Beautifully written, it is a  mix of poetry and science, fact and myth, filled with superb imagery.

It was whale song which mariners heard filtering through their vessels’ resonant wooden hulls and which they took for Sirens’ voices, beckoning them to disaster..  To have lain in one’s bunk at night and heard on the other side of a few inches of oak and copper sheathing those directionless, distanceless cries must have been to feel the chill of utter melancholy and dissolution–also to have felt one’s nakedness.  This is the effect of listening to reef sounds at night, too.  It is more that just the nakedness of wearing next to nothing, and it is more than vulnerability.  It is the sensation of animal messages passing through one as if, being seven-tenths water, one’s body were transparent.  From page 138.

Broken into sections, it speaks of  measurement and control, mysterious islands, unknown boundaries and the deep.  Each section contains stories of our misconceptions about the oceans,  about our fears and our need to understand the unknowable.  It is filled with unusual facts and the interesting people who work on and under the sea.   Hamilton-Patterson writes with joyous excitement and great love.

That night I go to bed with my head full of marvels.  In the course of the evening I also learned that the sea levels at either end of the Panama Canal are different by nearly half a meter, and the same went for the sea on either side of the Florida Peninsula.  This was caused by such things as the heaping effect of the wind and the Coriolis force.  But I am most captivated by the idea of the earth’s crust vibrating at an ascertainable frequency since it could theoretically be possible to calculate the precise note.  True, it probably would not be a pure tone because there would be all sorts of harmonic interference from irregularities such as mountain ranges.  Yet, it ought to be possible to determine the fundamental note of the planet, the music of our spheroid.  From page 33.

I have never seen phosphorescence as bright as on that night.  Leaning over the edge of the bangka I could follow every move of the searchers below.  Only, the whirligigs of sparks, the flashings and showers of cold fire were at depths which could not be determined.  Just as the glints and refractions in the best opals can appear deeper than the thickness of the stone itself or else closer than its surface, so the divers movements excited discharges of light which were either a few feet away or in a universe beyond.  It was vertiginous to gaze down because the view was more what one normally expected to see overhead.  On nights as dark as that, it is always hard to define the horizon, to separate black sky from black sea.  From page 325.

All of these sections are bound together by the description of a swimmer lost at sea.  This description expresses the feelings of fear, loss, loneliness and wonder felt by a person floating in the middle of the ocean.

I found myself awestruck reading about our historic misunderstanding of the sea’s great depths, and our desire to make sense of it.  The very human need to mark and measure, to claim some mastery, and if we couldn’t master it to at least have some semblance of control.  I could go on quoting passages of fine text for pages and pages.

Hamilton-Patterson has written a meditation on the sea, and a warning to all those who seek economic and political gain from these waters.  There are descriptions of the mapping of Economic Enterprise Zones around islands and continents, the destruction of a small Indonesian island for the enjoyment of wealthy tourists and the rampant overfishing by factory trawlers.  This is a study of  human effects and, in this time of oil spills and acidification, I am glad that Europa has chosen to republish it.

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Filed under Earth, IYOBChallenge, Ocean, Review, Science, Science Books 2010

The Grail Bird By Tim Gallagher

The Grail Bird: Hot on the Trail of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker

By Tim Gallagher

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, 2005

Borrowed from the library.

It pains me to think about all of the animals that reach the point of extinction every year.  I am glad that humans have finally come to realize our hand in this destruction.

Tim Gallagher’s book covers much of the history of the search for a bird most believed died out in the 1940’s.  The Ivory-Billed Woodpecker (Campephilis principalis) lived in the forests of southeastern United States, an area that has been decimated by logging and agriculture since the civil war.  Its last known siting took place in 1944.

Then, in February 2004, a kayaker named Gene Spaulding spotted an unusual bird in a bayou in eastern Arkansas.  Word reached Gallagher, the editor of Cornell’s lab of Ornithology’s Living Bird Magazine, and he was off, traveling to the south, hooking up with his friend Bobby Harrison and beginning a search that continues to this day.

The Grail Bird is an interesting read, mostly about the connections and camaraderie between the searchers, the destruction of Ivory-Billed habitat and the struggle to set up and maintain the search teams.  There are some nice passages about observation, about having to sit still in a swamp.

An hour passed.  Then another hour.  And another.  And another.  And these were not quick hours.  It’s amazing how slowly time can pass when you’re deep in the swamp.  It’s a fluid kind of place;  all of your visual references are gone.  Most of the time you can’t even tell the position of the sun in the sky, so your sole clue to the passage of time is your watch.  The only way to cope is to give in to it.  From page 195.

The existence of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker has not been confirmed but there are people out there, in different places, sitting and watching.  There are audio recorders and cameras hanging in trees.  There is always hope.

For more information about the Grail Bird and a wonderful resource on birds from all over the world visit the Cornell lab of Ornithology.

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Filed under Animals, IYOBChallenge, Nature, New Authors 2010, Science Books 2010

Charles Darwin’s On The Origin of Species: A Graphic Adaptation

Charles Darwin’s On The Origin of Species: A Graphic Adaptation

by Michael Keller, Illustrated by Nicolle Rager Fuller

Rodale, New York, 2009

Borrowed from the library.

Published during the 150th anniversary year of the publication of On the Origin of Species, this book is a beautiful presentation of some of the strongest parts of Darwin’s argument for the evolution of species and his theory of natural selection. The beginning of the book gives some  historical and biographical information on Darwin’s background and his introduction to scientific observation. Text from Darwin’s work is woven through the stunning illustrations and Keller has made every effort to update Darwin’s ideas with our present understanding of how life evolves.

Fuller’s illustrations are beautiful and add to a basic understanding of a scientific theory that changed western science, culture and religious belief.  Having read parts of The Voyage of The Beagle and studied some of Origin in an evolutionary biology class,  I found this book a wonderful introduction to Darwin’s theory.

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Filed under Graphic Novel Challenge 2010, Graphic Novels, Science, Science Books 2010

Clan Apis by Jay Hosler, Ph. D.

Clan Apis by Jay Hosler, Ph.D.

Active Synapse, Columbus, 2000

Borrowed from the library.

I first learned about this wonderful graphic novel at DogEar Diary.  Thanks, Jeane!

Jay Hosler is a professor of biology who is also a comic book artist!  Clan Apis, drawn in black and white, tells the story of a young bee and her hive mates.  It is packed with lots of information about hive structure, bee life cycles, behavior and the honey bee’s place in the world.

We first meet Nyuki in her larval stage and follow her through her changes as she matures.  Her conversations with older bees explain  the division of labor in a hive, hive social structure, pollen collection and honey production.  Leaving the hive she has many adventures, all containing interest information about honey bee ecology.

Clan Apis is beautifully illustrated, full of humor and adventure, a perfect introduction to bee biology.  I easily see it drawing in a reluctant reader and, just maybe, helping to create a budding life scientist. I plan on adding a copy of it to our school library.  I also plan on reading  Hosler’s The Sandwalk Adventures.


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Filed under Animals, Graphic Novel Challenge 2010, Graphic Novels, Review, Science Books 2010

The Collectors of Lost Souls by Warwick Anderson

The Collectors of Lost Souls: Turning Kuru Scientists into Whitemen

By Warwick Anderson

John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 2008

Bought a used copy.

Those of you who have visited this blog in the past may know I have a love of anthropology and a love of science.  This intriguing book fills the bill on both counts.

It is the story of the Fore, a group of people who live in the isolated highlands of Papua New Guinea, and the mysterious disease that affected their villages. When white people first met the Fore in the 1930’s and 40’s,  they found them suffering from an illness that caused muscle weakness, tremors, lack of coordination and eventually death.  They also discovered that the Fore eat their dead as a sign of respect and that they believe in sorcery. It was mainly women and children who were ill and the Fore attributed this frightening, wasting sickness to very evil magic.  They call it Kuru.

Warwick Anderson, a medical doctor and science historian,  through years of research, travel and interviews with Fore people, medical researchers, anthropologists and others,  brings together all the different elements of the study of Kuru, that includes cultural anthropology, virology, epidemiology, colonial history and leads to the science of medical anthropology and to questions of medical ethics.  He follows the research of many anthropologists and epidemiologists and tells of their discovery  that, by eating their loved ones after death, the Fore where actually spreading the disease.  All this research, and the many scientists taking part in the study,  lead to the idea of a  “slow virus” and eventually to the discovery of Prions, the same biological cells that spread  “Mad Cow'” disease.

This book is also a record of the Fore, a previously isolated people, and how they made contact and adapted to the world by engaging with scientists, researchers and administrators.  How they struggled to make the meeting of the modern and the “primitive” something other than the usual colonial process.  How, once they realized that their blood and flesh was of value to modern science, they began to demand to be part of the undertaking.

We might also learn from the Fore how to understand the social dynamics of global science.  Kuru research occurred in the shadow of World War II and on the edges of the cold war.  It took place a scientific institutions flourished in advanced settler societies such as the United States and Australia, extending their reach into “primitive” colonies like Papua and New Guinea.  The traffic in specimens, equipment, reagents, and texts linked laboratories in large metropolitan centers with bush huts where autopsies were performed and tissues prepared.  Scientists came and went between these diverse sites, becoming cosmopolitan as they made their careers.  Parts of the Fore circulated, too, turned into globally available specimens.  Fore thus became medicalized even as they were first colonized.  They found themselves caught up at this striking conjunction, though never completely subsumed in it.  Rehearsed at a multitude of local sites, yet performed as though on a global stage, kuru research dramatized claims and contest over territory, bodies, and persons.  It shows us hoe science travels in the modern world and what it does when it arrives…

Anderson gives everyone, scientists, researchers and Fore alike, a say in the story.  He also exposes the moral and ethic dilemmas  involved with this type of medical research.  Who owns the findings?  The researchers, the biomedical companies or the people who donated their blood and bodies to the study of this disease?  It is a very important question as we delve deeper into the human body and its genetic makeup.

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Filed under Nonfiction, Science, Science Books 2010

Science Book Challenge 2010

Science Book Challenge 2010.

One of my favorite challenges is coming around again!  I read science and nature books and this is a great way to share books I enjoy with a wider community.  Here are some notes from the challenge web site.

The Science Book Challenge is easy as pi: read 3 science books during 2010, then tell us about the books you’ve read and help spread science literacy.

Reading about science–by which we mean to include engineering, mathematics, and technology, too–is fun and rewarding. We want to encourage people to read about science with the challenge, and also to help potential readers find books that they will enjoy and profit from reading. That’s why we publish our Book Notes, which are written largely by Science Book Challengers.

The challenge is easy! Read at least three nonfiction books in 2010 related to the theme “Nature & Science”. Your books should have something to do with science, scientists, how science operates, or the relationship of science with our culture. Your books might be popularizations of science, they might be histories, they might be biographies, they might be anthologies; they can be recent titles or older books. We take a very broad view of what makes for interesting and informative science reading, looking for perspectives on science as part of culture and history.

If you are even a tiny bit curious about this fun challenge please check it out here.

The amazing image in the challenge button is a photograph of heat- convection currents in air captured by Gavan Mitchell and Phil Taylor using the Schlieren technique, a method that reveals temperature and density differences in the air.


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Filed under Challenges2010, Science Books 2010