Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

Birdbooker Report 121

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Books to the ceiling,
Books to the sky,
My pile of books is a mile high.
How I love them! How I need them!
I’ll have a long beard by the time I read them.

~ Arnold Lobel [1933-1987] author of many popular children’s books.

The Birdbooker Report is a special weekly report of a wide variety of science, nature and behavior books that currently are, or soon will be available for purchase. This report is written by one of my Seattle birding pals and book collector, Ian “Birdbooker” Paulsen, and is edited by me and published here for your information and enjoyment. Below the fold is this week’s issue of The Birdbooker Report which lists ecology, environment, natural history and bird books that are (or will soon be) available for purchase.


FEATURED TITLE:

  1. Wells, Spencer. Pandora’s Seed: The Unforeseen Cost of Civilization. 2010. Random House. Hardbound: 230 pages. Price: $26.00 U.S. [Amazon: $17.16].
    SUMMARY: Pandora’s Seed takes us on a powerful and provocative globe-trotting tour of human history, back to a seminal event roughly ten thousand years ago, when our species made a radical shift in its way of life: We became farmers rather than hunter-gatherers, setting in motion a momentous chain of events that could not have been foreseen at the time. Although this decision to control our own food supply is what propelled us into the modern world, Wells demonstrates — using the latest genetic and anthropological data — that such a dramatic shift in lifestyle had a downside that we’re only now beginning to recognize. Growing grain crops ultimately made humans more sedentary and unhealthy and made the planet more crowded. The expanding population and the need to apportion limited resources such as water created hierarchies and inequalities. The desire to control — and no longer cooperate with — nature altered the concept of religion, making deities fewer and more influential, foreshadowing today’s fanaticisms. The proximity of humans and animals bred diseases that metastasized over time. Freedom of movement and choice were replaced by a pressure to work that is the forebear of the anxiety and depression millions feel today. Wells offers a hopeful prescription for altering a life to which we were always ill suited, recommending that we change our priorities and self-destructive appetites before it’s too late. A riveting and accessible scientific detective story, Pandora’s Seed is an eye-opening book for anyone fascinated by the past and concerned about the future.
    RECOMMENDATION: For those interested in human deep history and our future.

New and Recent Titles:

  1. Harman, Oren. The Price of Altruism: George Price and the Search for the Origins of Kindness. 2010. W.W. Norton. Hardbound: 451 pages. Price: $27.95 U.S. [Amazon: $18.45].
    SUMMARY: The moving tale of one man’s quest to crack the mystery of altruism, an evolutionary enigma that has haunted scientists since Darwin. Survival of the fittest or survival of the nicest? Since the dawn of time man has contemplated the mystery of altruism, but it was Darwin who posed the question most starkly. From the selfless ant to the stinging bee to the man laying down his life for a stranger, evolution has yielded a goodness that in theory should never be. Set against the sweeping tale of 150 years of scientific attempts to explain kindness, The Price of Altruism tells for the first time the moving story of the eccentric American genius George Price (1922-1975), as he strives to answer evolution’s greatest riddle. An original and penetrating picture of twentieth century thought, it is also a deeply personal journey. From the heights of the Manhattan Project to the inspired equation that explains altruism to the depths of homelessness and despair, Price’s life embodies the paradoxes of Darwin’s enigma. His tragic suicide in a squatter’s flat, among the vagabonds to whom he gave all his possessions, provides the ultimate contemplation on the possibility of genuine benevolence.
    RECOMMENDATION: For those with an interest in human evolutionary biology.
  2. Bicudo, J. Eduardo P.W. et al. Ecological and Environmental Physiology of Birds. 2010. Oxford University Press. Paperback: 317 pages. Price: $65.00 U.S. [Amazon: $56.36].
    SUMMARY: This book focuses on our current understanding of the unique physiological characteristics of birds that are of particular interest to ornithologists, but also have a wider biological relevance. An introductory chapter covers the basic avian body plan and their still-enigmatic evolutionary history. The focus then shifts to a consideration of the essential components of that most fundamental of avian attributes: the ability to fly. The emphasis here is on feather evolution and development, flight energetics and aerodynamics, migration, and as a counterpoint, the curious secondary evolution of flightlessness that has occurred in several lineages. This sets the stage for subsequent chapters, which present specific physiological topics within a strongly ecological and environmental framework. These include gas exchange, thermal and osmotic balance, ‘classical’ life history parameters, feeding and digestive physiology, adaptations to challenging environments, and neural specializations. Throughout the book classical studies are integrated with the latest research findings. Numerous important and intriguing questions await further work, and the book concludes with a discussion of methods (emphasizing cutting-edge technology), approaches, and future research directions.
    RECOMMENDATION: For those with a technical interest in avian physiology.
  3. Epps, Susan Allene. Parrots of South Florida. 2007. Pineapple Press. Paperback: 93 pages. Price: $12.95 U.S. [Amazon: $11.01].
    SUMMARY: What is that noisy green bird? This full-color guide will help you identify it. Included are Amazons, conures, parakeets, macaws, and other parrots, some of which are rarely seen. You will find detailed information on each bird–its common name, its scientific name, and any other names it may be known by; its size; a description of its colors and markings; and where it can be found. Each bird is illustrated in a painting by renowned bird artist Karl Karalus. Also included is a section on parrots’ preferred foods. The index can be used as a checklist so you can keep track of which parrots you have seen.
    RECOMMENDATION: For beginning birders in Florida.
  4. Maehr, David S. and Herbert W. Kale II. Florida’s Birds: A Field Guide and Reference (second edition). 2005 (2009). Pineapple Press. Flexibinding: 359 pages. Price: $21.95 U.S. [Amazon: $14.93].
    SUMMARY: The Second Edition of Florida’s Birds by David S. Maehr and Herbert W. Kale II, illustrated by Karl Karalus, is a major event for Florida birders, new and old. Each section of the book is updated, and 30 new species are added. Also added are range maps for certain species and color-coded guides to months when the bird is present and/or breeding in Florida. Now with color throughout, each bird is illustrated three times: with the text about the bird, in the index listing, and on a plate with similar species for help in identification. Thus, Florida’s Birds is now an even better field guide. Unlike the other books available on the birds of Florida, Florida’s Birds is also a reference that goes beyond its usefulness in the field. Sections on bird study and bird feeding provide practical advice for enjoying Florida’s birds; and sections on bird habitats, threatened and endangered species, exotic species, and bird conservation will assist the reader in understanding the ecological and cultural landscapes that have created one of the world’s unique avifaunas.
    RECOMMENDATION: For beginning and intermediate birders.
  5. Thorbjarnarson, John and Xiaoming Wang. The Chinese Alligator: Ecology, Behavior, Conservation, and Culture. 2010. Johns Hopkins University Press. Hardbound: 265 pages. Price: $85.00 U.S. [Amazon: $76.33 ].
    SUMMARY: One of the world’s most respected experts on crocodilians, John Thorbjarnarson (1957-2010) was a senior conservation zoologist for the Wildlife Conservation Society during the writing and designing of this book. Dr. Thorbjarnarson was a tireless advocate for conservation, and it was during one of his many conservation–related trips in early 2010 that he contracted a fatal case of malaria. Though more than 10,000 Chinese alligators live in zoos and breeding facilities, just a few hundred still exist in the wild. Much of their natural habitat has been lost to human development, leaving wild Chinese alligators clinging to small areas where the Yangtze River meets the Pacific Ocean. Thorbjarnarson and Wang recount how and why the species declined to the point where it is perhaps the most threatened of all crocodilians, discuss ongoing conservation works, and project what the future is likely to bring for the Chinese alligator. Their scientific synthesis sits in stark contrast to the alligators’ unique relationship with Chinese culture, where folklore views it as a water deity related to dragons. Illustrated throughout and featuring the most up-to-date biological information available, this volume is a complete overview of the Chinese alligator, a conservation and cultural icon.
    RECOMMENDATION: For anyone with an interest in the crocodilids.
  6. Nothiger, Andreas. World History Chart. 2010. World History Online. Wall Chart and 46 page booklet. Price: $26.00 U.S. [US, Canada: $26.00, overseas $31.50 (includes airmail shipping)].
    SUMMARY: This entertaining chart is a most suitable gift for anybody interested in world events and a great opportunity to complement HyperHistory with the best-selling World History Chart. The Wall Chart is folded into the cover of a book with 48 pages of text, including biographical notes for 464 persons. Educational institutions are using the Chart & Book as required textbook reading and many famous people have been using the Chart enthusiastically for many years.The original Chart was created in 1989. It soon became a bestseller with over 38,000 copies being sold worldwide. Re-designed & updated a new edition has been published in 2010.
    RECOMMENDATION: A useful reference for teachers, students and the home.

You can read all the Birdbooker Reports in the archives on this site, and Ian now has his own website, The Birdbooker Report, where you can read his synopses about newly published science, nature and animal books. But Ian assures me that he still loves us here, so he’ll still share his weekly Birdbooker Reports with us!

Comments

  1. #1 Cristina
    June 6, 2010

    I love that poem you quote at the beginning… fits me like a glove!

    I was wondering if you’d be interesting in participating in an “Oceanic Blog-A-Thon” this Tuesday for World Oceans Day? A bit late I know but I’ve been swamped so didn’t announce it till Friday and then promptly left for a weekend with no internet!

    Info here:
    http://crazycrishereandthere.blogspot.com/2010/06/coming-soon-world-oceans-day-and.html

    cheers!

  2. #2 Pierce R. Butler
    June 7, 2010

    The World History Chart looks good, but pls note that it complements hyperhistory.com – hyperhistory.net is a fundie 6-day creationist project parasitizing the former site’s good name.

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