Tag Archives: ScienceBooks

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.


Filed under Animals, Earth, IYOBChallenge, Nature, 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.


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.


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.


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.


Filed under Nonfiction, Science, Science Books 2010

In The Company of Whales by Alexander Morton

In The Company of Whales:

From the Diary of a Whale Watcher by Alexandra Morton

Orca Book Publishing, Vancouver, BC 1993

From my school library.

This is a wonderful science book for middle readers.  Alexandra Morton, a whale researcher from British Columbia explains how she became interested in studying Orcas (Killer Whales – Orcinus orca), how she tracked one captive whale’s family into the waters of Western Canada and what it is like studying these magnificent animals.

She includes notes from her observation diary, beautiful photos,  and many sidebars on Orca families, behavior and the environment they live in.  Her writing is very clear and direct and any student reading this book is going to learn something about what it takes to study these animals in their environment.

Spring –

June 18

0740 – Drop the hydrophone.  At first all I hear is the snapping of shrimp and the strange little chirps I hear only in the inlets.  My underwater microphone, called a hydrophone, allows me to hear beneath the surface.  Above the water all may be quiet, but underwater I can hear rock cod grunting, otters piping, many unidentified sounds like little chirps, and, of course, the calls of killer whales.  The whales can be very loud and heard ten miles away if there are not too many boat engines drowning them out.  Often the best way to find whales is by listening for them.  From page 19.

Alex Morton runs an organization called the Raincoast Research Society which can be found here.

Puget Sound Orcas


Filed under Animals, CanadianBookChallenge3, Review, Science, Young Adult

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.


Filed under Challenges2010, Science Books 2010

Cold by Bill Streever

Cold: Adventures in the World’s Frozen Places

by Bill Streever

Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2009

Borrowed from my local library.

Bill Steever, an Alaskan biologist, takes his readers through the cycle of  a year visiting different places affected by cold.  Not just the temperature, but the geology, the impact on human habitation and plant and animal adaptations. He includes the history of the science of cold, the search for absolute zero  and human exploration into regions were temperatures fall to 60 below.

This is the kind of natural history-science book I love, the kind I can open up at any page and find something really intriguing.  He includes writings by authors who have studied the cold, animals that live in cold habitats or lived through expeditions into frigid climates including Apsley Cherry-Garrard, John Muir, Farley Mowat, and Bernd Heinrich.

There are sections on the discovery of  the ice ages.

A year later, in 1837, Agassiz presided over a meeting of the Natural History Society of Switzerland.  In his introductory speech, when he was expected to talk about fossil fish, he sprang the idea of an ice age.  Although Charpentier knew that the alpine glaciers had once covered more of the Alps then they currently did, Agassiz went further.  He described a sheet of ice that went from the North Pole to the Mediterranean.  He knew that some would view this as hairbrained.  “I am afraid,” he said, “that this approach will not be accepted by a great number of our geologists, who have well established opinions on this subject, and the fate of this question will be that of all those who contradict traditional ideas.  From page 62.

There are many references to animal adaptation, evolution and migration.  Why do some animals thrive in the cold and others migrate?  And its not just animals, all life forms have found their place on this planet and as the climate changes all living things adapt or die.

There is more to be learned.  There are , for example, physiological adaptations.  Not unexpectedly, birds put on fat, but in some cases nonessential organs shrink.  Just before migration, the bartailed godwit becomes fifty-five percent fat, but its kidneys, liver and intestines shrink.  Then it flies nonstop at something like 45 miles per hour for days on end.  The speed and exact route of many birds are not known.  Migrating sea ducks tracked by radar in the Arctic fly at more than 50 miles per hour.  A dunlin– a long-beaked shorebird–was once clocked at 110 miles per hour, passing a small plane.  From page 88.

Ranges of species go where species work best, destined by the character of their enzymes, destined by how well their enzymes work at different temperatures.  But also: Who will graze on my leaves?  Who will eat me?  Whom will I eat?  Is there space for my nest?  Is the soil right for my burrows or my roots?  Who will drive me away?  Puffins became scarce around Great Britain after 190 not because of air temperature, but because the fish they ate followed a shift in water temperature.  The birds followed the fish.  When water temperature shifted again around 1950, the fish returned, and with them the puffins.  The lives within biomes are interwoven, and if one species can go no further because of the temperature, it may affect another species, and another, and another, until it appears as though there is some definite boundary and that everything responds in concert.  But zoom in on the map, look a little closer, and the boundaries blur. Brown bears live in tundra and taiga and temperate deciduous forest.  Caribou migrate across biome boundaries.  The red fox, the tiger, the wolf, the wolverine and the raven all cross biome boundaries as if they did not exist, as if they have never read an ecology textbook, or studied a biome map.  From page 99

Streever talks about climate change in a balanced way, describing planetary changes and changes exacerbated by human technologies.   He is enthralled by the cold, and saddened by the prospect of loosing areas of colder climates.  This well-written little book is full of interesting facts about humans and animals that live in cold places.  I plan on adding a copy to my shelf of natural history books.

Often whales and seals and otters are the hottest things around.  A Wendell seal, a thousand pound of fur and blubber and heart and lung and rete mirabile, might lie on the Antarctic ice, open the shunts that let warm blood flow through its blubber, and create above a cloud of steam.  After a time, bored or hungry or spooked by a nosy human, it might flop from the ice into the water.  It might leave behind the marine mammal equivalent of a snow angel, an outline of itself melted into the ice, a negative image of belly and fins and head in three dimensions.  The Wendell seal thumbs its nose at the cold, leaving in the ice an image that is often called a seal shadow.  From page 129.


Filed under Nonfiction, Science, Science Books 2009, World Citizen 2009

The Snow Geese by William Fiennes

0375507299.01._SY190_SCLZZZZZZZ_ The Snow Geese:  A Story of Home

by William Fiennes

Random House, New York, 2002

At the age of twenty-five  William Fiennes fell ill.  His parents welcomed him home to recuperate.  He hoped to be back at work in three weeks but it took much longer. In the hospital, out again, in again, always returning home, back to his childhood room.

As a change of scenery his mother suggested a stay at hotel on the Welsh border.  There, in the library, he found a copy of Paul Gallico’s “The Snow Goose”.  He remembered  hearing the story in school at age ten.  He remembered the classroom with high windows  and his teacher, Mr. Faulkner.

Fiennes’s father had always loved birds but William had never had the patience to learn about them.  When they came back from the hotel he couldn’t get “The Snow Goose” out of his head.  Gaining strength he grew restless.  After seeing a map of bird migration routes he decided to undertake a journey.   He would follow snow geese from their wintering ground in Texas to their breeding ground in the Canadian Arctic.

The day before I left for Texas, I took the train home from London.  In the afternoon, my father and I went for a walk.  A pink kite was snarled in the churchyard yew tree; there were clumps of moss like berets on the corners of the headstones.  We climbed a gate and strode out across Danvers Meadow, heading westward, leaning into the slope, last year,s sere beech leaves strewn through the grass.  My father was wearing tan corduroy trousers and an old battered green waxed jacket; in one pocket he kept a matching green waxed hat in case of rain.  We walked at a steady pace, talking about the journey ahead of me, the rhythm of the walk going on under the words like a tempo. Page 16

Thus begins a magical story of migration and homecoming.  The Snow Geese is a record of a very personal journey filled with precise observations of birds and of people.  Fiennes writes wonderfully about bird migration, behavior and physiology.

The swifts come back each year, in the last week of May.  These were common swifts, Apus apus, sooty black all over save for a pale chin, known variously as skeer devils, swing devils, jack squealers, screech martins, shriek owls, or screeks–names that alluded to the bird’s fiendish screaming fight and diabolic black appearance.  Swifts like to nest in the nooks in the stonework of high walls, under eaves, even among rafters, and show a high degree of philopatry (from the Greek words philein, “to love”, and patria, “homeland”), with generation after generation returning to favored nesting sites.  The advantage of this behavior are clear: if a bird is familiar with its environment, it is likely to be less susceptible to predators and more efficient at finding food.  Philopatry tends to develop in species that nest in stable, reliable sites such as cliffs or buildings, rather than in species that use unstable sites like river sandbars.  There’s  no point in returning to a place if you can’t rely upon its qualities.  Pages141/142

His descriptions of visits with people along the route are perfect snapshots of  North American culture as well as of human nature.  He does not hesitate to turn the spotlight on himself.

I lay awake, thinking of home.  Not just of the ironstone house–my mother’s evening viola scales coming up the stairs–but also of the London flat in which I had been living, the streets around it, the faces and voices of friends, the things we laughed about.  Such images had occupied my mind with increasing frequency ever since my stay in the white motel in Aberdeen.  In that room my curiosity, my appetite for the new seemed to tire or slacken, perhaps because I was lonely, or because I felt for the first time that my journey north with the snow geese was not quite the shout of freedom I had presupposed.  I was aware of another impulse that, if not the opposite of curiosity, was certainly resistant to the new or the strange and sympathetic to everything I could remember and understand.  This wasn’t the acute longing I remembered from the hospital, that desperate nostalgic desire to return to the circumstances  of childhood.  Lying awake on the train, what I felt was no more than a mild ache, bittersweet, an awareness of separation from the things I loved, an almost corporeal inclination towards familiar ground.  It was as if I existed between two poles, the known and the new, and found myself drawn alternately from one to the other. Page 176/177

The Snow Geese is a delightful book, lively and bright, filled with wonderful facts about birds.  I love Fiennes’s writing, it is clean, vivid and intensely detailed.  I can not wait to read his new book, The Music Room.

Other reviews:

dovegreyreader scribbles


At the age of twenty-five  William Fiennes fell ill.  His parents welcomed him home to recuperate.  He hoped to be back at work in three weeks but it took much longer. In the hospital, out again, in again, always returning home, back to his childhood room.

As a change of scenery his mother suggested a stay at hotel on the Welsh border.  There, in the library, he found a copy of Paul Gallico’s “The Snow Goose”.  He remembered  hearing the story in school at age ten.  He remembered the classroom with high windows  and his teacher, Mr. Faulkner.

Fiennes’s father had always loved birds but William had never had the patience to learn about them.  When they came back from the hotel he couldn’t get “The Snow Goose” out of his head.  Gaining strength he grew restless.  After seeing a map of bird migration routes he decided to undertake a journey.   He would follow snow geese from their wintering ground in Texas to their breeding ground in the Canadian Arctic.  The Snow Geese is a record of that journey.


Filed under Animals, Challenges, Memoir, Nature, Science, Science Books 2009

Remarkable Creatures: Epic Adventures In The Search For The Origin Of Species – Sean B. Carroll

Rem015101485X.01._SX140_SY225_SCLZZZZZZZ_Remarkable Creatures: Epic Adventures In The Search For Origins Of Species by Sean B. Carrroll

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston & New York, 2009

A 5 out of 5 ScienceBook 2009 rating.

A book to fill my head with thoughts of fieldwork!  Great stories from the history of geology, zoology, anthropology and genetics.

Carroll, a professor of molecular biology and genetics,  follows scientific explorers from naturalist Alexander Von Humbolt to geneticists Vincent Sarich and Allan Wilson as they pursue the geological history of earth and the evolution of life over time.  Covering the past 150 years he charts the development of, and changes in, the understanding of  human evolution.  Carroll is a wonderful writer and frames this book like a detective story, following the adventures of people who are familiar, like Charles Darwin, and those who are unfamiliar, like John Ostrom.

This is a wonderful book for those familiar with the sciences and those who just like a good adventure story.  My only problem with it is now I have a list of about a dozen books to add to my to-be-read pile!


Filed under Challenges, Nonfiction, Review, Science, Science Books 2009