This is an excellent book about the the sexual habits of life (not just humans, but all life), examined from an evolutionary perspective. The materialThis is an excellent book about the the sexual habits of life (not just humans, but all life), examined from an evolutionary perspective. The material is whimsically presented as a collection of sex advice columns from Dr. Tatiana: think Dr. Ruth giving advice to insects and fish, reptiles and mammals. An example of a “letter” from one of her readers, early in the book:
“Dear Dr. Tatiana, My boyfriend is the handsomest golden potto I ever saw. He's got beautiful golden fur on his back, creamy white fur on his belly, he smells delicious, and he has ever such dainty hands and feet. There's just one thing. Please Dr. Tatiana, why is his penis covered with enormous spines?”
Most of the book is focused on animal sexual behavior, but plants and even bacteria are both also touched on. In a remarkable way, the book deanthropomorphizes sex by first anthropomorphizing it, a tricky task to be sure. The writing is humorous, ribald, and highly intelligent. A wide range of topics and behaviors are covered, including such wide ranging mysteries as complex genitalia, promiscuity in both males and females, sperm competition, asexuality, cannibalism of mates, the strange and rare situation of monogamy, hermaphroditism, homosexuality, and incest. And while most of the book is focused on non-human sexual behavior, humans are not left out, with many of the chapters applying some of the factors to human sex and reproduction.
Having heard the author (Olivia Judson, a science writer/journalist with a PhD in evolutionary biology from Stanford) speak about the book a few months ago, I must admit that I also "read" the book in her British accent, something which may have added an extra touch of atmosphere. There is definitely a British sense of humor underlying much of the book.
Most field guides have a very similar design: they are essentially laundry lists of species (some comprehnsive, some focused on common species), withMost field guides have a very similar design: they are essentially laundry lists of species (some comprehnsive, some focused on common species), with photos/drawings, brief descriptions, and maps, usually with a short introductory section on general issues of the groups involved but not much more detail than that. The new Kaufman Field Guide to Advanced Birding is completely different. Almost a third of this ~450 page book is about learning the principles of understanding what you see (or hear) in the field. Rather than simply show you what the different species are, it teaches you how to identify the species. After the thorough and detailed "introduction" on generally how to identify birds, the rest of the book focuses on each of the major groups of birds, what the common problems are with that group, and what characters are most diagnostic. Detailed explanations are given on how to identify the more confusing species within each group. The language is clear and easy to read and the photographs are excellent and cover many more angles, ages, as variants than most. For some species they even include sonograms of the common calls, something I've never seen in another guide and which (with practice) can definitely serve as a much better indicator of call that textual descriptions.
Although it covers a reasonably large number of species, this book cannot substitue for your favorite "laundry list" field guide because it simply doesn't contain the full list/descriptions of all of the species in North America. However, not only will you want this guide as a supplement to the other guide (or perhaps, more accurately, the other guide is really the supplement to this one), unlike that guide, this is the book you will actually want to read from cover to cover, because doing so is a lesson in bird identification that standard field guides simply do not offer. This is a must read for anyone interested in birding and identifying species in the field. ...more
An updated edition of the classic guide to freshwater fishes, this book follows the basic Peterson style of combining all of the plates (with 1-2 sentAn updated edition of the classic guide to freshwater fishes, this book follows the basic Peterson style of combining all of the plates (with 1-2 sentence diagnostic descriptions) together, with the detailed text and range maps in a separate sections. Ther are advantages and disadvantages to this approach. Having all of the images clustered allows one to more easily visually compare similar species at a glance; however, I have found that I like quickly being able to assess a range map and broader description without having to page back and forth in the book. Beyond this single design decision (which is shared by all Peterson guides), this new book is an excellent guide to North American fresh water fish. The illustrations are without peer, highlighting diagnostic characters, allowing one to more easily ID an uknown species. The opening material is also excellent, including clear illustrations of anatomy and specific descriptions and instructions on how to measure and count specific markers (e.g., gill rakers or fin rays) which might be new to a novice naturalist....more
"The Timber Press Guide to Succulent Plants of the World: The Definitive Reference to More than 2000 Species" requires an extra subtitle or an asteris"The Timber Press Guide to Succulent Plants of the World: The Definitive Reference to More than 2000 Species" requires an extra subtitle or an asterisk which reads "Except Cactus". I was rather surprised in my initial browse the complete lack of any information about cacti, since these are by far the best known group of succulents, although eventually I discovered the explanation when I went back to the beginning and found, on page 15, the following statement:
Almost all the members of the cactus family (Cactaceae), for example, are succulents, and in popular terminology the term cactus can stand for any fleshy or spiny desert plant. This is hardly accurate, of course, and the horticultural adage that “all cacti are succulents but not all succulents are cacti,” bears repeating, despite a few exceptions. The variety and diversity of all the kinds of succulent plants make it impractical to cover them in any detail in a single volume, and so this book will restrict itself to the “other succulents,” those many thousands of species that are not members of the cactus family.
While I have no problem accepting this logic and decision, it did seem to me that this fact should have been made much clearer in the title of the book.
Moving beyond the decision to concentrate on everything but cactus, the guide seems to be quite solid. Plants are organized by taxonomic group, with descriptions and photos for many species. The photos are generally of high quality and successfully display major characteristics of different groups as well as highlighting the morphological variety of succulents. They also are weighted heavily toward photos of plants in the wild, rather the cultivars, which I think is a bonus....more
Dirr's Encyclopedia of Trees and Shrubs is an excellent resource...if you live in the right part of the country. I happen to live in the southwest andDirr's Encyclopedia of Trees and Shrubs is an excellent resource...if you live in the right part of the country. I happen to live in the southwest and was immediately disheartened when the first couple of trees I tried looking up in it were completely missing (e.g., mesquite and palo verde, both of which are quite common out here). I did find the third I tried, Desert Willow, so not all was lost.
Beyond the bias against southwestern trees, the book is excellent, with information on the growing habits of thousands of trees. It needs to be made clear that this book is aimed at gardening and landscaping. It is not a scientific text or a field guide. It is focused on the growth characteristics of trees you might wish to plant or cultivate.
I particularly like the special indices at the rear of the book which list plants by specific characteristics, such as flower color, fall color, time of flowering, fragrance, fruit, shade tolerance, salt tolerance, etc. ...more
The illustrations in this book are beautiful, but in looking through them and comparing them to personal photos I have taken, I find that they are genThe illustrations in this book are beautiful, but in looking through them and comparing them to personal photos I have taken, I find that they are generally not very useful for identification....more