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review 2017-08-10 07:47
The Ends of the World by Peter Brannen
The Ends of the World: Volcanic Apocalypses, Lethal Oceans, and Our Quest to Understand Earth's Past Mass Extinctions - Peter Brannen

TITLE:  The Ends of the World: Supervolcanoes, Lethal Oceans, and the Search for Past Apocalypses

 

AUTHOR:  Peter Brannen

 

DATE PUBLISHED:  June 2017

 

FORMAT:  e-book

 

ISBN-13:  9780062364821

 

_________________________________________________

 

Peter Brannen explores the 5 great extinction events, and in the process offers the reader a glimpse of our future.  Everything from striking meteors, supervolcanoes, anoxic oceans, ice-ages, heat-waves, plate tectonics, supercontinents, too many trees, and the role of carbon dioxide are discussed.  This is ultimately a climate change book, with the author continually bashing the reader over the head with how destructive humans are.  The author manages to discuss the science aspects of the 5 great extinction events in a reasonably decent manner considering that this is a popular science book and doesn’t include many technical details.  However, the exaggerated “evil humans / climate change” diatribe inserted approximately every 4th paragraph is annoying and detracts from the extinction story of the earth.  He could have included those sections in a separate chapter or even at the end of each chapter if he felt that strongly about the matter.  In addition, when the author does include numbers, he often doesn’t tell us where he comes up with them and I find his maths a bit off.  The book includes photographs but it could have done with a geological timeline.  This isn’t a bad book; it is certainly interesting and reads like a mystery novel if you ignore the anthropogenic global warming hysterics.  I found this book to be an interesting and useful summary of the possible causes of the 5 great extinctions that this planet has experienced. 

 

NOTE:  The footnotes of the e-book don’t link up to the notes section. 

 

 

OTHER RECOMMENDED BOOKS:

 

  • -The Goldilocks Planet: The 4 Billion Year Story of Earth’s Climate by Jan Zalasiewicz and Mark Williams
  • -The Emerald Planet: How Plants Changed Earth’s History by David Beerling
  • -When Life nearly Died by Michael J Benton
  • -The Worst of Times by Paul B. Wignall
  • -Under a Green Sky by Peter D. Ward
  • -Oxygen: The Molecule that Made the World by Nick Lane
  • -Extinction by Douglas H. Erwin

 

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review 2017-07-31 09:29
The Amoeba in the Room by Nicholas P. Money
The Amoeba in the Room: Lives of the Microbes - Nicholas P. Money

TITLE:  The Amoeba in the Room - Lives of the Microbes

 

AUTHOR:  Nicholas P. Money

 

DATE PUBLISHED:  2014

 

FORMAT:  Hardback

 

ISBN-13:  978-0-19-966593-8

 

 

REVIEW:

 

The Amoeba in the Room is a lovely high-level overview and review of microbes (viruses, fungi, bacteria, archae, protists) and their importance in the biosphere. 

 

The author does include some scientific terminology, but nothing that is too complicated with a bit of grey-matter application.  Professor Money’s love of nature and microbes shines through in the text, with the addition of humorous and interesting ways of looking at the mundane.

 

“To approach a meaningful picture of marine biology, we need to put aside the things studied by zoologists.  A sushi bar to end all sushi bars will foster the necessary thought experiment.  Every morsel of marine muscle must be eaten in the last supper:  all the hagfish, lampreys, sharks, rays and bony fish are diced, rolled in sticky rice, wrapped in seaweed, kissed with soy sauce, and swallowed; the red meat from whales, dolphins, manatees, and walruses works well as sashimi and sea turtles make soup; all the oysters slip down with the assistance of cold white wine, all the squid are crunched calamaried; orange sea urchin gonads make a sloppy topping for sushi rolls and jellyfish can be fried.  Crabs ad lobsters are dispatched after boiling, along with the related sea spiders, barnacles, and fish lice.  This is a lot of food:  fish, great whales, and Antarctic krill alone weigh more than 1 000 million tons.  That leaves the sponges and comb jellies, penis worms and other worms, and exotics like mud dragons, but most the gustatory labor is over and the ocean is much clearer for it.  Now we can turn our full attention to the 90% of living things in the sea that cannot be seen without a microscope.”

 

 

The book is organized by environment, with chapters examining marine microbes, other water and soil microbes, airborne microbes, extreme-living microbes and those microbes that make the human body their home.  The author makes the case that the biological action of the earth is not in the visible fauna but in the microbes.  He also suggests that conservation should focus on habitats rather than a collection of animals.  Professor Money argues for nothing less than a revolution in our perception of the living world:  the animals and plants we see are just froth on a vast ocean of single-celled protists, bacteria, and viruses that constitute most of life on earth.

 

Professor Money’s book was an enjoyable and informative exploration of the astonishing extent of the microbial world and the vast swathes of biological diversity that are now becoming recognized using molecular methods.  

 

 

 

OTHER RECOMMENDED MICROBIAL BOOKS:

 

  • -March of the Microbes: Sighting the Unseen by John L. Ingraham, Roberto Kolter

 

  • -The Hidden Half of Nature: The Microbial Roots of Life and Health by David R. Montgomery, Anne Biklé

 

  • -I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life by Ed Yong

 

  • -Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life by Nick Lane

 

  • -Rabid: A Cultural History of the World's Most Diabolical Virus by Bill Wasik, Monica Murphy

 

  • -The Wild Life of Our Bodies: Predators, Parasites, and Partners That Shape Who We Are Today by Rob Dunn

 

  • -Superbug: The Fatal Menace of MRSA by Maryn McKenna

 

  • -The Social Amoebae: The Biology of Cellular Slime Molds by John Tyler Bonner

 

  • -Life's Engines: How Microbes made the Earth Habitable by Paul G. Falkowski

 

  • -Germs, Genes, & Civilization: How Epidemics Shaped Who We Are Today by David P. Clark

 

  • -Tales From The Underground: A Natural History Of Subterranean Life by David W. Wolfe

 

  • -Spillover: Emerging Diseases, Animal Hosts, and the Future of Human Health by David Quammen

 

  • -The Killers Within: The Deadly Rise Of Drug-Resistant Bacteria by Michael Shnayerson, Mark J. Plotkin

 

  • -The New Killer Diseases: How the Alarming Evolution of Germs Threatens Us All by Elinor Levy, Mark Fischetti

 

  • -An Unnatural History of Emerging Infections by Ron Barrett, George Armelagos
  • Bacteria: The Benign, the Bad, and the Beautiful by Trudy M. Wassenaar

 

  • -Virolution by Frank Ryan

 

  • -Parasite Rex by Carl Zimmer

 

  • -This Is Your Brain on Parasites: How Tiny Creatures Manipulate Our Behavior and Shape Society by Kathleen McAuliffe

 

 

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-07-29 15:20
The Worst of Times by Paul B. Wignall
The Worst of Times: How Life on Earth Survived Eighty Million Years of Extinctions - Paul B. Wignall

TITLE:  The Worst of Times:  How Life on Earth Survived Eighty Million Years of Extinctions

 

AUTHOR:  Paul B. Wignall

 

PUBLICATION DATE:  2017 (Second printing, first paperback printing)

 

FORMAT:  Paperback

 

ISBN-13:  978-0-691-17602-4

 

 

REVIEW:

 

260 million years ago, life on Earth suffered several waves of catastrophic extinctions, with the worst extinction wiping out over 90% of species on the planet.   In this book, Professor Wignall investigates the worst 80 million years in Earth’s history, a time marked by two mass extinctions (the end Permian and the Triassic) and four lesser crises; and sheds light on the fateful role the supercontinent of  Pangea  might have played in causing these global catastrophes.   These global catastrophes all have two factors in common:  (1) they occurred when the world’s continents were united into the single continent of Pangea; and (2) they coincided with gigantic volcanic eruptions.  The period covered in this book begins in the middle of the Permian Period, spans the entire Triassic, and finishes in the Early Jurassic. 

 

This book examines what happened during the Permo-Jurassic extinctions of Pangea, evaluate what may have caused these catastrophes (more specifically, to ask, how volcanism could have done it?), and finally to understand whether the resilience of the biosphere has changed in 260 million years or whether it has just become luckier thanks to continental separation i.e. are supercontinents bad for life.

 

Wignall examines each of the extinction events in chronological order, with numerous illustrations/diagrams as necessary to help clarify the text.  One complaint other reviewers have written about is the scientific jargon used in this book, but I have no idea how the author was supposed to make a strong argument for his hypothesis without the relevant terminology.  However, I did not consider the use of scientific terms to be excessive or complicated - the author does not go into excruciating chemical detail; he states what happens and why in understandable terms. 

 

This is primarily a book about a time when Earth was very different, a time of supercontinents, super-oceans, and super-eruptions, and above all, an age of mass extinctions.  I found the writing to be clear and logical and the book to be thoroughly enjoyable and informative.

 

 

 

 

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-07-17 11:52
THE INVENTION of NATURE BY ANDREA WULF
The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World - Andrea Wulf

TITLE:  The Invention of Nature:  Alexander von Humboldt's New World

 

AUTHOR:   Andrea Wulf

 

Publisher:  Knopf

 

Format:  e-book

 

ISBN-13:  978-0-385-35067-9

 

 

BOOK REVIEW

 

The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf is not  a complete or in-depth biography, but rather a journey to discover the forgotten life (and far reaching influence) of Alexander von Humboldt, the visionary Prussian naturalist and explorer whose ideas changed the way we perceive the natural world, and in the process created modern environmentalism. 

 

In this book, Wulf traces the threads that connect us to this extraordinary man, showing how Humboldt influenced many of the greatest artists, thinkers and scientists of his day.  However, today he is almost forgotten outside academia (due to politics and changing fashions), despite his ideas still shaping out thinking.  Ecologists, environmentalists and nature writers rely on Humboldt's vision, although most do so unknowingly.  It is the author's stated objective to "rediscover Humboldt, and to restore him to his rightful place in the pantheon of nature and science" and to "understand why we think as we do today about the natural world".    In my opinion, Andrea Wulf successfully shows the many fundamental ways in which Humboldt created our understanding of the natural world, and she champions a renewed interest in this vital and lost player in environmental history and science.

 

Alexander von Humboldt was one of the founders of modern biology and ecology, and had a direct effect on scientists and political leaders.  Wulf examines how Humboldt’s writings inspired other naturalists, politicians and poets such as Charles Darwin, Wordsworth, Simón Bolívar, Thomas Jefferson, Goethe, John Muir and Thoreau.  The author successfully integrates Humboldt's life and activities into the political and social scene so we can get a picture of how important Humboldt was, and still is.  Many people considered him the most famous scientist of his age.

 

Humboldt was a hands-on scientist.  His expeditions of discovery led him through Europe, Latin America and eventually Siberia.  He strongly desired to see the Himalaya, but the East India Company didn't want to co-operate for fear that he would write unflattering comments about their form of governance.

 

Humboldt also continued to assist young scientists, artists and explorers throughout his life, often helping them financially despite his own debt. 

 

Alexander von Humboldt led a colourful and adventurous life, but this book also shows us why Humboldt is so important:

- he is the founding father of environmentalists, ecologists and nature writers.

- he made science accessible and popular - everybody learned from him.

- he believed that education was the foundation of a free and happy society.

- his interdisciplinary approach to science and nature is more relevant than ever as scientists are trying to understand man's effect on the world.

- his beliefs in the free exchange of information, in uniting scientists and in fostering communication across disciplines, are the pillars of science today.

- his concept of nature as one of global patterns underpins our thinking today.

- his insights that social, economic and political issues are closely connected to environmental problems remain topical today.

- he wrote about the abolition of slavery and the disastrous consequences of reckless colonialism.

 - he believed that knowledge had to be shared, exchanged and made available to everbody.

- he invented isotherms (the lines of temperature and pressure on weather maps).

- he discovered the magnetic equator.

- he developed the idea of vegetation and climate zones.

- his quantitative work on  botanical geography laid the foundation for the field of biogeography.

-  he was one of the first people to propose that South America and Africa were once joined.

- he was the first person to describe the phenomenon and cause of human-induced climate change, based on observations made during his travels.

- he contributed to geology through his study of mountains and volcanoes.

- he was a significant contributor to cartography by creating maps of little-explored regions.

- his advocacy of long-term systematic geophysical measurement laid the foundation for modern geomagnetic and meteorological monitoring.

- he revolutionized the way we see the natural world.

- he developed the web of life (the concept of nature as a chain of causes and effects).

- he was the first scientist to talk about human-induced environmental degradation.

- he was the first to explain the fundamental functions of the forest for the ecosystem and climate:  the tree's ability to store water and to enrich the atmosphere with moisture, their protection of the soil, and their cooling effect.

- he warned that the agricultural techniques of his day could have devastating consequences.

- he discovered the idea of a keystone species (a species that is essential for an ecosystem to function) almost 200 years before the concept was named.

- he confirmed that the Casiquiare was a natural waterway between the Orinoco and the Rio Negro, which is a tributary of the Amazon, and made a detailed map.

- he considered the replacement of food crops with cash crops to be a recipe for dependency and injustice.  He felt that monoculture and cash crops did not create a happy society, and that subsistence farming, based on edible crops and variety, was a better alternative.

 

I found the chapters that describe Humboldt's expeditions to be fascinating - filled with hazards, wild animals, pests, injuries, epidemics, new discoveries and ideas.  The chapters that discuss his busy social and work life were also interesting.  However, I wish the author had spend more page space on his expeditions and discoveries, and less on the biographies of the people he influenced, especially the last few chapters which were somewhat long-winded.  What I found rather refreshing was the lack of author speculation and interjection of her own theories - the narrative sticks to what is known.  The author also manages to convey Humboldt's enthusiasm and energy so that the reader feels breathless just reading about all his activities.

 

This biographical search for the invention of nature and the man who "invented" it, provides a great deal of food for thought, woven around the life of a great (and overly energetic) scientist.  This was an enjoyable and informative reading experience.

 

 

 

NOTE:  This book includes three clear, easy to read maps that were particularly useful in following Humboldt's Journeys, and a large number of black and white, as well as colour illustrations were also included in the book.  In addition, the author included an extensive section of notes, sources and bibliography, an index and a note on Humboldt's publications.

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review 2017-07-06 09:06
25 Myths That Are Destroying the Environment by Daniel B. Botkin
25 Myths That Are Destroying the Environment: What Many Environmentalists Believe and Why They Are Wrong - Daniel B. Botkin,Alfred Runte

TITLE:   25 Myths That Are Destroying the Environment: What Many Environmentalists Believe and Why They Are Wrong

 

AUTHOR:  Daniel B. Botkin

 

DATE PUBLISHED:  2017

 

FORMAT:  Paperback

 

ISBN-13:  978-1-4422-4492-4

 

 

25 Myths That Are Destroying the Environment is a book about ecology, the environment, nature and misleading information (myths) about these topics that circulate in both ecological and political discussions.  These myths often drive policy and opinion, and thus funding.  What may seem to be an environmentally conscious action on the one hand may very well be bringing about the unnatural destruction of habitats and ecosystems.  Daniel B. Botkin takes a look at these myths and explains why they are incorrect or misleading.  


The author takes a look at what has gone wrong with the environmental sciences.  He states that "much valuable and helpful research has been and continues to be done in the environmental sciences, but citizens need to be able to distinguish the good (and important) from the bad".  Botkin shows that the myths are alive, active and dominant in determining laws, policies, and action, and that they still form the basis of many major research projects.

The author's stated goal is to share with the reader what be believes we need to do, how we should think about the environment with people in it, and how to avoid the many pitfalls that plague attempts to solve environmental problems.  I believe that the author has achieved most of his stated goals with this book.  The book certainly provides food for thought and all politicians, policy makers, students (i.e. future policy makers and environmentalists) and the general public should read it.

Each chapter is dedicated to one myth, with a section at the end of each chapter that summaries what difference it make if we believe that particular myth.  The introductory chapter discusses why people are so attached to these myths.  This interesting book is easy to read and has numerous coloured photographs or diagrams for each chapter.

 

 


"Nature isn't just something out there that you visit in a park or zoo; it is what we live within.  We are not separate from nature; we are within it, and would not survive if we weren't."
-Daniel B.Botkin  [25 Myths That Are Destroying the Environment, 2017, pg 4].

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