Jacob's Reviews > The Boilerplate Rhino: Nature in the Eye of the Beholder

The Boilerplate Rhino by David Quammen
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's review
Aug 01, 12

really liked it
bookshelves: science-and-nature, lives-and-letters, 2010-2011
Read from September 21 to 30, 2010

September 2010
No doubt you’ve often asked yourself, over the years, why it is that owls don’t have penises.
(From “Spatula Theory: The Continuation of Courtship by Other Means,” p. 83)
Actually, no. I always wondered about dinosaurs. Did they have penises? How big? How violent and raucous was dinosaur sex? Is that why Noah wouldn’t let them on the ark?

David Quammen doesn't answer that. He doesn't really know the mystery of the dickless owls, either. But sometimes the questions, and the thoughts they provoke, are more important than the answers anyway. This book, a collection of essays from "Natural Acts," an eclectic just-barely-nature-related monthly column Quammen wrote for Outside magazine from 1981 to 1996, asks some of the questions nobody else wants to ask about animals and nature, and occasionally answers them in strange and very roundabout ways. From rattlesnakes and those who love them (and those who hate them), to tropical diseases, to lizards and other non-gorilla-related biology research projects, empires built on nutmeg and destroyed by pigeon poop, gay (and interspecies) sex among octopuses (octopi?) and the media frenzy from the resulting videos, fossils, beetles, cats, why we eat chicken eggs but not chicken sperm, dark matter, homo sapiens and our habit of distancing ourselves from our ape cousins ("...a chimpanzee, confronting its own reflected image, is capable of self-recognition. But humans look in the mirror and see only God."), why we care more about dolphins than tuna, and plenty more.

This is nature in the eye of the beholder--the world as we see it, as we react to it, as we fear and imagine and interpret and change it, all wrapped up into twenty-five quirky bite-sized essays. As others have said, this collection is bit disjointed, but entertaining nonetheless.
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Quotes Jacob Liked

David Quammen
“Of course anyone who truly loves books buys more of them than he or she can hope to read in one fleeting lifetime. A good book, resting unopened in its slot on a shelf, full of majestic potentiality, is the most comforting sort of intellectual wallpaper.”
David Quammen, The Boilerplate Rhino: Nature in the Eye of the Beholder

Reading Progress

02/28 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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message 1: by Kristen (new)

Kristen anyone who tricks me into googling "owl penis" automatically gets a vote!

Jacob That wasn't a trick. I think you're just curious.

Any good results?

message 3: by Daniel (new)

Daniel Wow, that quote you called out nails my addiction to books right on the head.

Jacob What, the owl penis one?

message 5: by Daniel (new)

Daniel No, that quote just made me wonder if I should have been asking myself about owl penises all this time. I'm still not sure.

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