This was an astonishing book. Amazing in how well written it was, how consistently sympathetic and funny, how packed with great information and storie...moreThis was an astonishing book. Amazing in how well written it was, how consistently sympathetic and funny, how packed with great information and stories, and how I've managed to go without reading it for 20+ years. (I'll give myself a few years' grace period on the grounds of my not having been able to read yet, but I would have enjoyed this book almost as much in grade school as I did today.)
Karen Pryor, now one of the leaders in the field of operant conditioning, got started in exotic animal training when she and her husband got the idea to start an oceanarium in Hawaii. They caught the dolphins (which she calls porpoises throughout the book) and she was drafted into training, on the strength of having a guide book of Skinnerian principles and having trained some dogs and a pony. What follows is her account of learning to train dolphins and whales. It's enthralling. She has a breezy writing tone that makes you want to run out for a dolphin trainer's whistle right away. She also has a refreshingly guilt- and angst-free approach to the dolphins themselves. Rather than weighing them down with all sorts of philosophical, ethical, and metaphorical baggage she treats them as animals: worthy of respect and dignity, and possessing of their own personalities and quirks, but free of the the navel-gazing that has become almost ubiquitous in animal narratives.
Her position on animal intelligence and language will be provocative to some, but keep in mind this book was published in the 70s. It'd be interesting to hear her thoughts today (now that some animal language has been proven to contain syntax.)
She has some fascinating ideas on the "domestication" of the dolphin, and its use in research and deep-sea exploration that I'm anxious to investigate further.
In the end, this book left me with an urge to get to the nearest dolphin show -- but to watch the trainers, not the dolphins.
I'd recommend this book to anyone -- it's full of enjoyable, humorous anecdotes and is darn fun to read. The cool science and amazing training just add to its achievements, earning it five stars from me.(less)
This was a wonderful, thought-provoking book. It explores the ethics and issues of ownership of archaeological and cultural artifacts, including bodie...moreThis was a wonderful, thought-provoking book. It explores the ethics and issues of ownership of archaeological and cultural artifacts, including bodies and religious talismans. However, Childs goes one step further and also explores the ethics of excavation; whether we should do it at all, how and why. He makes his stance very clear, but also explores other opinions, in the end concluding that there is no magic right answer.
He doesn't address an issue which intrigues me, which is whether historical human artifacts belong in art or history museums, but you can't have everything.
A deep book, a very interesting read, and one I'd highly recommend for anyone working in the fields of art, archaeology, or history. (less)
This was one of the most engaging, well-written, thought-provoking, and fascinating books I've read all year. Possibly ever. The main message could be...moreThis was one of the most engaging, well-written, thought-provoking, and fascinating books I've read all year. Possibly ever. The main message could be summed up as: "Pay attention! Be interested in details, and live in the world around you. Ask questions and explore."
Huler truly loves the English language, and it shows. It's not the abstract love of someone who majored in creative writing who delights in abstruse flourishes and complexity --its the solid, tactile love of a craftsman for a valuable, well-loved tool.
Here, Huler explores the Beaufort Wind Scale. Through this lens, he looks at the entire Age of Exploration, including some of the most well-known (and notorious) scientists, explorers, sailors, rulers, and natural philosophers. His active imagination and agile brain ask, and then answer, a myriad of unrelated questions along the way. This book is a delight to read, and should be mandatory reading for citizens of the Earth. I plan to re-read it many times. (less)
I love Douglas Adams's science fiction. Just look at my bookshelves. So it's as a firm fan that I say: Douglas Adams was wasted--wasted--on science fi...moreI love Douglas Adams's science fiction. Just look at my bookshelves. So it's as a firm fan that I say: Douglas Adams was wasted--wasted--on science fiction.
The man is obviously a science writer.
His science fiction was always good. Clearly. But none of it sings like Last Chance to See. This book is a passionate, loving, critical look at the human species and the influence we've had on our planet-mates. It chronicles the decline, and impending loss, of some wonderful, charismatic vertebrates. It takes us to task for the degradation of the planet, and makes us feel the tragic loss of our heritage, but it never depresses. It bounces up from the darkest moments with Adams's trademark dark humor. Of course, that humor has the effect of throwing all the rest into sharp relief, highlighting the tragedy and wounding your heart. That's what makes it such a powerful book, and one everyone should read.
The beauty is that it's also smooth and lucid enough that everyone can read it. He never preaches, and the book always keeps the tone of a story told around a campfire, among friends.
If this doesn't inspire anyone who reads it to care just a little bit more about the non-human, but still precious, species that inhabit Earth, then I will give up trying to save them tomorrow. But at the same time, Adams's courage, compassion, humility, and humor make a compelling case for humanity's continued existence as a species.(less)
But this time I am. You need to read this book. It is not an overstatement to say that everyone needs read this book. Read it now, so you can avoid all your friends nagging you to read it later, or, worse, having to admit that you haven't read it. Read it now because it's a vital look at one of the most important pieces of legislation in American history. Read it because it's chock full of numbers, statistics, and arguments that will come in handy at some point, if you're the type of person who finds yourself defending species conservation at cocktail parties or around campfires. And read it now because it is a stunningly well-written, captivatingly told, and stunningly researched book. Because it's darn fun to read.
Roman begins the book with a very lucid, simple, and well-told history of the Endangered Species Act. He talks about laws that were precursor to the act, and the conditions that led to it. He does this in a way that even people, like me, who don't think policy reading counts as leisure reading, can't wait to get home from work to read it. He does it simply, and only allows some purple prose to creep in at the edges. He is unabashedly patriotic, and darn proud of America's accomplishments in conservation. This is extremely refreshing in a conservation book, and a hint of the irrepressible optimism that would follow in the rest of the book.
Roman follows the Endangered Species Act as it has affected a group of celebrity species: spotted owls, red-cockaded woodpeckers, snail darters, frogs, whales, cranes, black-footed ferrets, wolves, cougars, polar bears, and bats. But he also takes a look at the less charismatic species, that sometimes have even more interesting stories: the bivalves, snails, rodents, amphibians, plant, bacteria, and fungal species that are also of critical importance to environments. He tells each species' story in a way that is unique, engaging, and feels like a woven tapestry of story; not like a laundry list of species. He writes with a deft delicacy that sketches, rather than hammers out, each subject. He acknowledges the pathos, but knows when a hint of humor is called for. Roman is a consummate storyteller. The story of each species is as gripping as the trashy thriller you buy at the airport terminal.
He explores the implications of species-specific conservation for biodiversity and the implications for human society of the losing biodiversity. He calculates ecosystem services conferred by health, biodiverse ecosystems including clean air, protected coastlines, fewer (and less virulent) new zoonotic diseases, improved mental and emotional health, and pest control, among many others. He presents the cost/benefit analysis of species preservation, comparing money made in the tourist, whale-watching, bird-watching, hunting, fishing, and hiking trades to money made from logging, fishing, and damming.
Roman is not a Pollyanna. He chronicles habitat loss, climate change, poaching, chytrid, pollution, and white-nose syndrome with clear eyes. He knows the risks, and he's clear about what's at stake: the whole planet and future of humanity. He also has some ideas on how to, literally, save the world, and (unlike some environmental authors I could name) lists them baldy, boldly, and clearly. The book is grim at points, but it leaves the reader with a sense of empowered hope, rather than embattled despair. Roman really believes we can save the world. I think, with this book, he's helping save it in a very real way. This is a book to keep you awake long into the night.
This book is so many things all in one compact, attractive bundle: planet-saving manual, elegy for dying species, battle cry for conservationists, public service announcement on the benefits of biodiversity, morality tale, and a promise of hope. This review makes it sound disjointed. It's not. It's brilliant. This is a book I've been waiting for, and I am so grateful to Roman for writing it. It's a rare pleasure to read a book for the first time and know you've just met one of your favorite books, one that will become an old friend. I can think of so many people I'd like to give this book to that I might as well go ahead and order a carton of copies. I can't think of higher praise than that.
A reference to this book made it into my wedding vows. I'm not really sure you can give a book a much higher compliment than that. And it wasn't even...moreA reference to this book made it into my wedding vows. I'm not really sure you can give a book a much higher compliment than that. And it wasn't even me who put it there! Let me explain.
In each chapter she profiles a different kind of bird with which humans have some sort of interesting story: chickens, pigeons, falcons, parrots, crows, and cassowaries, that sort of thing. Each chapter is fascinating, and each neatly slots into the story she's telling of humanity's relationship with birds.
But it was the chapter on hummingbirds--namely baby orphan hummingbirds--that swept me off my feet. Raising and rehabilitating orphaned hummingbirds is something I had never even thought about. Reading this exquisitely heartbreaking chapter, I commented to my then-fiance, "We're putting up the hummingbird feeder next summer." Further along: "And we're planting a hummingbird garden in the sideyard." And finally: "And I may be quitting my job to go raise baby hummingbirds." He gently reminded me that that's a decision we have to make as a team now. But then in our wedding vows, he promised to support me even if I quit my job to raise orphan hummingbirds.
This is that kind of book. I highly recommend it to everyone.(less)
This is the best book I've read all year. It is one of the best non-fiction books I've read ever, with compelling characters, a riveting storyline, an...moreThis is the best book I've read all year. It is one of the best non-fiction books I've read ever, with compelling characters, a riveting storyline, and absolutely enchanting science. It's obvious that Preston fell in love with the redwoods, and you will, too.
Key Quote: "I don't know how I would make it through college without D & D and tree climbing." (less)
Beauty and the Beast is my very favorite fairy tale. I will read adaptations of that story all...moreThis book is like Beauty and the Beast.
Let me explain.
Beauty and the Beast is my very favorite fairy tale. I will read adaptations of that story all day long, and well into the night. My favorite part of any version is when Beauty explores the castle. She's alone, and it's quiet, and she's wandering through room upon room of wonders and marvels. Beauty's sense of of awe, discovery, and curiosity perfectly mirrors Fortey's experience wandering through the hallways, storerooms, basements, and attic of London's Natural History Museum. It's as if Beauty gave up on that whole fall-in-love-and-find-a-prince scenario and took up curatorial and archival duties in the castle. It is wonderful.
Fortey spent years as a trilobite curator at the museum, so he is in prime position to recount the wonders housed there, the politics of the museum, and the changing trends of the establishment. He discusses how new technology, including genetic sequencing and tagging, have changed the way museum scientists do science. He talks about how changing funding structures pushed museums from being strictly research institutions to being centers of public learning. At times, he comes across as a bit of a curmudgeon, tut-tutting at those kids in the white coats with their gene sequencers, but in the end he recognizes their importance, though does stress the often-forgotten value in a specialist in one taxon or another. He does go on to explore the burgeoning role of the citizen scientist, but this is all information that will be familiar with anyone up on these branches of biology. He has some good things to say about the evolving roles of museum and science, but nothing earthshaking or very novel.
The wonderful value in this book, and what makes it such a treasure, are the treasures of the museum themselves. The twisting, hidden architecture of the museum, and the surprises it contains. These gems, set off by Fortey's engaging, amusing, and personable narration, make this an extremely pleasurable book.(less)
The BOOK JACKET becomes a POSTER. The title is great. And the book is just enormous fun. There's not a lot of news in here that will surprise a person...moreThe BOOK JACKET becomes a POSTER. The title is great. And the book is just enormous fun. There's not a lot of news in here that will surprise a person who has rabidly been keeping up with dinosaur news lately, but if you've momentarily allowed yourself to be distracted by something like your job, family, or keeping your life under control, this is a great update on everything you wouldn't want to miss.
Even if you are up to date on your dino facts, this is a delightful refresher, and it's nice to have all the news in one place with some fun backstory added in. Highly recommended, to the point that I can't understand why it's taken so long for such a book to come out.
This is the kind of book that your friends can't wait for you to finish, so that they can get some peace. Because you can't stop texting, emailing, ca...moreThis is the kind of book that your friends can't wait for you to finish, so that they can get some peace. Because you can't stop texting, emailing, calling, and interrupting conversations to share the newest, coolest thing this book told you. It is so cool that you physically cannot stop yourself sharing and trying to talk other people into reading it immediately.
It's that good.
It should be required reading for anyone interested in conservation science, especially anyone interested in conservation genetics.
It's a fascinating adventure story. There are mysteries bundled up in each chapter. The writing is witty and well-done. You're left with the feeling that you should maybe see if O'Brien is free to attend your next dinner party. Or camping expedition.
The science is just knock-your-socks off cool. I kept running across the names of people I knew or had heard of, and then I'd have to put down the book for another round of running around to tell everyone else in reach about it.
Sometimes a book slots itself right into your psyche as if you'd been saving a seat for it.
This book is that kind of book.
David Powell is the aquarist...moreSometimes a book slots itself right into your psyche as if you'd been saving a seat for it.
This book is that kind of book.
David Powell is the aquarist who started the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Of course, he did much more than that. He's a legend in the fields of diving, collecting, managing, and exhibiting fish and sea critters.
The book is delightfully written. You can easily imagine, on the strength of this book, inviting Powell to every dinner party you will ever throw. It's funny, smart, educational, and just fun to read. Plus, there is a whole section on the quirky intelligence and charm of mola molas.
I can't recommend this book highly enough. Possibly the best nonfiction book I've read in a year.(less)
Bill Bryson's books are always fun, informative, and easy to read. And for whatever reason it always takes me forever to get through them. I'm not sur...moreBill Bryson's books are always fun, informative, and easy to read. And for whatever reason it always takes me forever to get through them. I'm not sure why, but this is a very worthwhile and entertaining read on the origin and etymology of English, with Bryson's trademark witty narration and observations.(less)
The study was published in PLOS ONE, which means you can go read it, but I wanted to know the backstory.
Happily, the lead scientist anticipated this reaction and published a book. This book tells the story of the circumstances that lead to dogs being trained to sit in an MRI machine while awake. It's fascinating as a behind-the-scenes look at the way science proceeds, but it's also interesting because it tells the story that doesn't fit into the scientific paper: the triumph of training the dogs and the impetus behind the questions.
It's well-written, makes a quick read, and is an encouraging look into the future. I would highly recommend this to anyone interested in how dogs (or animals) think, or in how humans interact with animals.(less)
This was an entrancing story of exploration, desperation, dreams, and death in the Amazon rainforest. It tells the story of Percy Fawcett, one of the...moreThis was an entrancing story of exploration, desperation, dreams, and death in the Amazon rainforest. It tells the story of Percy Fawcett, one of the last great Victorian explorers (one of Conan Doyle's cohort) who set off into the Amazon searching for lost civilizations, and was lost. His disappearance spurred frenzies of rescue attempts and fired imaginations all over the globe.
It's no surprise that Grann, who writes for the New Yorker, does an excellent, journalistic job of telling the story. His prose is clear and vivid, perfectly readable. He draws the reader in, describing Fawcett's character and then, separately, his argument for the existence of large ancient cities in the Amazon where generations of scientists have claimed none could be. Only slowly does he let the reader see into Fawcett's writings and his last days, and how his quest for the lost civilization (symbolized by a city called Z) devolved into obsession and, most probably, madness. He does a stellar job presenting Fawcett as he was: an engima, and a sign of his changing times.
It's almost a pity this book was published when it was, just after Charles C. Mann published his groundbreaking book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. Grann's book would have had a lot more thunder in its talk of civilizations in the Amazon if Mann hadn't beaten him to the punch. However, Grann's book still has plenty of punch on it's own, and is still a gripping read. He also seems to have handled Mann's publication with good grace, referencing a couple of times with a minimum of bitterness.
This idea of ancient civilizations in the Amazon, gradually gaining support and evidence, fascinates me. I am intrigued by the idea that everything we thought we knew about the Americas may be wrong. I hope to read more about this field in the future.
I would recommend this book to anyone interested in history, exploration, the Victorian era, archaeology, and the changing landscape of ancient American archaeology. I would, however, add that it should definitely be read in conjunction with 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus.(less)
I honestly cannot think of anyone who wouldn't benefit from reading this book. Natterson-Horowitz is a doctor who was asked to do cardiovascular surge...moreI honestly cannot think of anyone who wouldn't benefit from reading this book. Natterson-Horowitz is a doctor who was asked to do cardiovascular surgery on a tamarin. While trying to "reassure" the monkey pre-surgery, she learned about the risks of a condition called capture myopathy found in animals. She's shocked to find this condition, well-studied among vets, bears a striking resemblance to an emerging heart condition in humans. This gets her thinking: What else do vets know all about that could help humans? The answer, it turns out, is quite a lot.
With the help of a science journalist, Natterson-Horowitz has created a compulsively readable, entertaining, and enlightening book about the intersection of human and non-human medicine. She has fascinating chapters on cardiology, cancer, sex, addiction, fear, obesity, mental illness, sexually transmitted diseases, and adolescence. She finds endless unexpected corollaries and begins to ask how studying these issues in animals could teach us more about humans. The results, as I mentioned, are riveting. The information she so smoothly conveys opens up all source of captivating ideas, questions, and avenues for investigation and collaboration.
The only (small) flaw with this book was her obsession with coming up with new terms. "Zoobiquity" for instance, which I'm not sure is really going to catch on) or a syndrome called F.R.A.D.E. which stands for "fear/restraint associated death events" and is more than a little forced. I don't know, perhaps all doctors do that. Regardless, it's a tiny flaw, and I suspect many of my friends and relatives will be receiving this book as a gift. (less)
I already said not everybody can be James Herriot. And that's still true. But this was the most pleasant veterinarian memoir I've read lately. Wells h...moreI already said not everybody can be James Herriot. And that's still true. But this was the most pleasant veterinarian memoir I've read lately. Wells has a warm, engaging tone and his stories spark with humor. It's still not quite Herriot--it lacks his depth--but it's a very enjoyable story nonetheless. Particularly for people who love the Rockies (where Wells practices). (less)
I started reading this book in the gift shop at the National Aquarium in Baltimore (where Reiss works with the dolphins) and was so enthralled that I...moreI started reading this book in the gift shop at the National Aquarium in Baltimore (where Reiss works with the dolphins) and was so enthralled that I requested it from the library as soon as I got home.
The book starts out with the story of Reiss and others helping rescue a humpback whale that had swum far too far up San Francisco's river system. It was a compelling story, but there was a characterization of a government employee that was so villainous he all but twirled his mustaches. I'm sure he was unhelpful and difficult, but I find it hard to believe he was as flatly evil as she presents him; he comes off like the bad guy in a Disney movie. This made me cautious about the rest of the book. I had higher hopes for this book than I did for Silent Thunder: In the Presence of Elephants.
However, for the most part those concerns were unfounded. Either that, or they were just completely outshone by the dolphin stories. After the first few chapters, Reiss steps to the background and lets the dolphins themselves shine through. The dolphin stories were dazzling. Reiss tells the story of the steps she took into exploring and quantifying dolphin cognition. Her papers, and the stories that make it into the newspaper, are engaging enough. But what was truly astonishing were the stories that didn't make it into the academic papers because they were anecdotal and singular. Those are very good reasons not to attempt to include them in public papers, but they're breathtaking and well worth reading. This is one of those books where you keep interrupting your friends to read them the amazing paragraph you just read.
The story of the science is almost as fascinating as the story of the dolphins themselves, as Reiss has fought for her studies to be recognized as the solid science they are, and not as wishful thinking. She gives a very clear-eyed look at why this is, and offers some insights into the origin of the problem (a lot of it she attributes to the more enthusiastic excesses of John C. Lilly) and how we must solve it.
I knew Reiss was involved in the National Aquarium and had worked with dolphins at the New York Aquarium. I did not realize she was a driving force between the documentary The Cove. Her efforts to stop the slaughter at Taiji are a heartrending peek into the world of international conservation efforts.
I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in animal cognition, or anyone who just loves cool animal stories. (And who doesn't?)(less)