This was a fantastic, educational, funny, well-written book. Sapolsky is a neurolbiologist at Stanford who studies stress hormones and their effect on...moreThis was a fantastic, educational, funny, well-written book. Sapolsky is a neurolbiologist at Stanford who studies stress hormones and their effect on health. He does field work with baboons in east Africa.
In this collection of essays, originally written for magazines like Natural History, Discover, and Men's Health, he writes about our genes and how they interact with our environment. He explains things like why people who think nature always trumps nuture are wrong (or don't know how genes work), depression and PTSD how a susceptibility for that can be inherited (but not always developed), sexual attraction, dreams, cross-cultural religious patterns, Munchausen's by proxy, and more.
Since the essays were originally written for popular magazines, they are short and very readable. At the end of every essay, he's added a nice "further reading" section that tells you about the research about this issue, more technical works you may want to read, and more.
This is the kind of popular science we need to see a LOT more. It doesn't oversimplify the issues, but it doesn't bore the reader.
I could go on and gush about every single essay, but I'll stop here and just tell you to read the book if you're at all interested in your biology and your environment and health. Or recent scientific studies on any of these issues.(less)
I went back and forth over how many stars to give this (I really wanted to say 3.5) On the one hand, the writing is (excuse the pun) really pedestrian...moreI went back and forth over how many stars to give this (I really wanted to say 3.5) On the one hand, the writing is (excuse the pun) really pedestrian and sometimes downright boring. On the other hand, Vanderbilt explores the topic thoroughly, makes a lot of important points, and did some superb research. I learned a lot. I was alternately depressed and encouraged, and couldn't help using the information he presented to think about how I drive, accidents I've been in or witnessed, etc.
I ended up giving it a 4, but I wish it were a little more engaging.
Don't tailgate or talk on your cellphone while you drive, OK?(less)
I found this an absorbing examination of feminism's spiritual roots and its use of myth, and a very interesting discussion of the implications of beli...moreI found this an absorbing examination of feminism's spiritual roots and its use of myth, and a very interesting discussion of the implications of belief in this particular myth (or theory, if you prefer). As one of those "feminist archaeologists", I thought Eller handled the archaeological evidence (and the often abstruse archaeological literature) very well (see here for more on gender & archaeology. (less)
This is more than just an account of "The Body Farm" at Univ. of TN (where anthropologists watch how human bodies decompose), with several accounts of...moreThis is more than just an account of "The Body Farm" at Univ. of TN (where anthropologists watch how human bodies decompose), with several accounts of how murderers were caught using forensic evidence, it was also partially a biography of the sr. author.
William Bass is a fairly well know physical anthropologist who helped start the field of forensic anthropology. The jr. author is a journalist whom I would guess helped Bass write a bit better for the general public - and he did a great job, this book is very readable.
The stories include fascinating trivia on the Lindbergh kidnapping, a little bit of archaeology (crew members not allowed to have sex on army cot beds, because the cot joints kept breaking - ), and the author's personal accounts with death. And my favorite story, Bass's biggest screw-up - a Civil War grave opened by grave robbers.(less)
An amazing, funny (damn, you wouldn't think a book on depression could be funny, but it really is) book - and one that every OB or midwife or anyone d...moreAn amazing, funny (damn, you wouldn't think a book on depression could be funny, but it really is) book - and one that every OB or midwife or anyone dealing with postpartum women should read. Thompson talks about the genetics of major depression, the relationship to PPD, there's some really fascinating stuff about postpartum OCD, how depression affects your children, treatment (both therapy and medication) - it's just an excellent book. Short, well-written, informative.
I've had this book for over a year but didn't read it because I thought it was a "depressing topic". It's not - if anything, the book is really uplifting. And not in a cheesy self-help think happy way, but in a subtle, very honest, gritty way. (less)
An interesting mix of ecology, environmental history, weed science and botany, especially as applied to the author's house on a couple acres in NY. I...moreAn interesting mix of ecology, environmental history, weed science and botany, especially as applied to the author's house on a couple acres in NY. I only wish I had her place and the resources to play with my land like this!(less)
Very, very good, funny and well-written, but not for the squeamish. The separate chapters read like little essays, each on a different type of cadaver...moreVery, very good, funny and well-written, but not for the squeamish. The separate chapters read like little essays, each on a different type of cadaver use or study: heads for plastic surgeons practicing face lifts, anatomy labs for would-be drs., car crash tests, bullet & landmine tests....you get the idea.
My favorite part of this book may be the totally off topic but often hilarious and fascinating footnotes. (less)
A collection of long essays on domestication and more modern genetic tinkering on selected species: mainly corn, silkworms, cats, and apples.
Not as co...moreA collection of long essays on domestication and more modern genetic tinkering on selected species: mainly corn, silkworms, cats, and apples.
Not as compulsively readable as Hubbell's other collections of essays, but interesting and thought provoking. She covers some of the same material that Michael Pollan does, and just as well, with a 'further reading' section at the end and a good index.
Did you know that cats' brains have shrunk over 10% in the last 1000 years?
Hubbell says they're not necessarily dumber, though, they just don't need to be as attentive as wild hunters. Also, feral cats don't eat many rats - the rats are just too big these days (there's a lot of interest on the evolution of rats in this essay, too).(less)
A wonderful, moving, intelligent nonfiction book about nature, cities, modern life, and (almost incidentally) crows. I want to write a long blog essay...moreA wonderful, moving, intelligent nonfiction book about nature, cities, modern life, and (almost incidentally) crows. I want to write a long blog essay on this (and buy my own copy of it to keep and re-read), but life is getting in the way right now.
Some interesting trivia: there are more crows in the world than ever before (they are one of those species like coyotes that benefit from urban sprawl and more garbage). They are smart, social creatures who remember individuals and specific places very well. They are omnivorous and will kill and eat small animals, baby birds of other species, bugs, etc. in addition to scavenged food (more roadkill = good for crows).
The author lives in Seattle, so if you're on the NW Coast and at all interested in birds (and note that I'm not in either of these categories, and yet loved this book a huge amount) you might also like it on that account.
It also features a lot of interesting insights on walking, Thoreau, birdwatching and feeding, the relationship of science and scientists to amateurs and the public in general, natural history, death and its religious significance, and Louis Agassiz.(less)
Wow. There was a lot I didn't know about Galileo Galilei (including his last name, and the fact that he had three illegitimate children). This was qui...moreWow. There was a lot I didn't know about Galileo Galilei (including his last name, and the fact that he had three illegitimate children). This was quite the educational book, although if I hadn't had to read it for my book club, I may have gotten bogged down and stopped, largely because of all of the confusing Italian names (many de Medici's, popes, cardinals, and nobleman who either supported Galileo in his work or were jealous of his success). I'm also not really that interested in astronomy or physics.
Anyway - what was really cool: the letters from Galileo's oldest daughter, who lived in a nearby convent, and prayed for him, made him pastries, transcribed and copied his work, and was emotionally close to him. I also did not realize that Galileo thought of himself as a good Catholic - he was really a believer, and it was more politics (some very personal) and bureaucracy than anything else that got him in trouble with the Church.
The book was also fascinating in terms of learning about Italy in the early 1600's - especially when it comes to how the Church worked, life in a convent, dealing with bubonic plague, and the scientific discoveries that were happening then (and if you do happen to be interested at all in physics or astronomy, then this would really be great for you).(less)
This was a short but gripping book - meticulously researched - describing the life of the Hungarian doctor who discovered that doctors, students, and...moreThis was a short but gripping book - meticulously researched - describing the life of the Hungarian doctor who discovered that doctors, students, and midwives who washed their hands in a disinfectant wash had much, much lower rates of "childbed" or puerperial fever among their patients. (1 in 100 instead of 1 in 6!)
Nuland combines a strong understanding of the history of medicine and academia, how doctors interact professionally, and more than a bit of detective work. Several passages are horribly graphic, giving you just an inkling of what 19th c. hospitals were like and what puerperial fever did to a person.
Turns out many of the doctors and students sticking their hands into the vaginas of women in labor had just come from dissecting pus-ridden corpses. If that wasn't bad enough, unwashed sheets helped transfer infection.
Unfortunately, Semmelweis was such a difficult person and alienated so many people that he was unable to change routine practices in these hospitals. It wasn't until a couple of decades later that Pasteur & Lister showed the world germs in pus from corpses, and infection began to be understood.
Semmelweis suffered various professional and personal setbacks, and may have developed early-onset Alzheimer's. At any rate, he was admitted to a mental hospital in his early 50's, where he appears to have died as result of being beaten by the attendants.(less)
Wonderful collection of short essays on New Guinea tribal culture, Czech scientists, environmentalism, economic growth, linguistics, jungle, and malar...moreWonderful collection of short essays on New Guinea tribal culture, Czech scientists, environmentalism, economic growth, linguistics, jungle, and malaria. I think Novotny's voice is part of what makes this book so enjoyable (I don't know that I've ever read anything translated from Czech before, or if what his native language contributes to Novotny's style), but his thoughts on the very wide range of topics are also insightful and entertaining. Very dry sense of humor, this guy.
Apart from the text, I have to say that the illustrations are beautiful, and used to great effect in the book. It's not too often that I really notice book design - but this is such a well done little volume, I had to take note. And hurray for the index, which is often lacking in this kind of book.
I was trying to think of what other books or writers this book is comparable to, and I realized that it reminds me (favorably) of Stephen Jay Gould's old "Natural History" columns and some of his collected works.
This was fascinating non-fiction, but it was slow going in parts, because the author goes into such depth on some species and the mechanisms of their...moreThis was fascinating non-fiction, but it was slow going in parts, because the author goes into such depth on some species and the mechanisms of their ecological invasions. He also describes the methodological and philosophical debates current among ecologists.
This is good, because he's not over-simplifying things, but it let's face it: reading about plankton identification techniques, the ways to test the climbing abilities of brown tree snakes, and our inability to know the history of marine invertebrate ecology may not be everyone's cup of tea.
Burdick focuses on three main areas: Guam and the brown tree snake (originally from Australia); Hawaii and it's native birds & fruitflies and intoduced pigs, earthworms, wasps, and trees; and San Francisco Bay and the green crabs and hundreds of other marine plants & animals that are rrevocably changing our oceans and shores.
I learned a ton of mind boggling things - for example, the Hawaiian Islands are part of an ongoing geological process, and its birds (the ones not already extinct), different on each island, are descended from birds that were blown from islands that have already sunk back into the ocean.
There are more bizarre varieties of marine invertebrates that I could have imagined. Many are larval forms of jellyfish, sponges, and things not clearly plant or animal, visible only under a microscrope. Every shoreline and different part of the ocean has native species with its own interactions, but ballast water (thousands of gallons pumped in & out to balance ships) has transported hundreds of these species to entirely new places, with unknown consequences. That's probably how zebra mussels came to the Great Lakes.
There are nice biographical bits on several seminal ecologists (with a few good jokes concerning their larval states), the history of "alien" research, what these scientists actually spend their time doing, and their hopes for the future.
What this book doesn't do is try to cover all of the different kinds of invasive species that may be changing your local environs today - so don't expect an overview of kudzu, the emerald ash borer, the mosquito that carries the West Nile virus, or carp.(less)