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review 2017-02-17 07:15
The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms
The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms - Amy Stewart

Yep.  Earthworms.  Unsung heroes.

 

Amy Stewart has become one of the few authors I'd wait in line for a signature for - have I mentioned that before?  She makes a great spokesperson for these unfairly maligned little earth movers.  In a chatty but informative style she covers the earthworms' role in history, agriculture, backyard gardening, forestry and even sewage treatment and soil reclamation.

 

Did you know that Australia has an earthworm that grows over 3 feet long, and when it moves around under the earth, farmers can hear a gurgling sound?  They're native to a farming area called Gippsland, here in Victoria, so of course I want to go and stand in the middle of a pasture like an idiot in hopes of hearing them gurgle along beneath me, while trying not to think of the movie Tremors.

 

There's no denying this is not a book for everyone.  But gardeners, environmentalists, and armchair scientists will all find something interesting and fascinating here.

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review 2017-02-13 09:13
A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie
A Is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie - Kathryn Harkup

This one is for all the Agatha Christie fans out there who also love science.

 

Harkup devotes a chapter to each of the 14 poisons Christie used to eliminate so many of her victims over the course of 56 years writing mysteries.  In each chapter she discusses the history of each poison's discovery, its use in real crimes throughout history, its antidotes (if any), how its tested for, and how Christie used each poison in her books (as well as how accurate her knowledge was - hint: very).

 

I found the writing compelling and incredibly interesting, but this is not a book for people bored by, or disinterested in, chemistry and anatomy.  Harkup knows her stuff both as a chemist and as a Christie fan.  She gets into the nitty gritty details about how each poison wreaks its havoc in the human body; this might cause some eyes to glaze over.  In almost every chapter, she manages to discuss Christie's books and plots without revealing the killer, and when she can't avoid it, she clearly warns the reader upfront that there are spoilers ahead, offering "go to page xx" to readers wanting to avoid knowing whodunnit.  Some might still find her discussions too revealing, so be warned; if you want to know as little as possible about the books, save this one for later.

 

At the end, she offers a fascinating appendix of every book and short story Christie wrote, with each US/UK title and a list of all the ways people die, a more esoteric appendix illustrating most of the chemical structures discussed in the text (the rest are on her website), a select bibliography and a comprehensive index.

 

I came away from this book having learned a lot, but possibly the two most important things:  strychnine is just about the last way I'd want to go, and that Christie would have been the last person I'd ever want to piss off.

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review 2017-02-09 09:29
Encyclopedia Prehistorica: Mega Beasts
Encyclopedia Prehistorica - Robert Sabuda,Matthew Reinhart

The last of my pop-up book splurge, Mega Beasts is almost every bit as good as the Dinosaurs edition created by the same pop up artist team.

 

The same incredible level of paper art, the same solid writing; my only complaint is sometimes the spectacular paper art actually blocks the text, making it difficult to read without some maneuvering.  Otherwise, an awesome example of its kind.

 

Once again, MT provided a hand (or two) for the picture taking portion of this review:

 

King Kong wasn't just a myth y'all!

 

It was depressing to learn just how many creatures lived for ages without natural predators... until man came along.

 

My personal favourite spread.  Of course.  :)

 

 

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review 2017-01-13 07:07
The Greatest Science Stories Never Told
The Greatest Science Stories Never Told: 100 tales of invention and discovery to astonish, bewilder, and stupefy - Rick Beyer

Eh, not really.  I'd heard of a few of these before, specifically the one about the creator of Wonder Woman and the lie detector.

 

That doesn't stop this from being a good read though.  With each story taking up no more than one 2-page spread (including photos and illustrations), this is science at its most accessible.  Most of the stories revolve around inventions and patents, which might make it more interesting to those who prefer the innovation side of science as opposed to the purely theoretical.

 

I found the whole thing interesting and I especially liked the vignettes included about the women who helped change the shape of things.  Most importantly, I think, is that the author didn't make a big deal about these women being women; they're there because they deserve to be, because they were amongst the smartest, cleverest, stubbornest or just best placed to have the best perspective.

 

Highly recommended for anyone interested even a little bit about science and technology.

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review 2017-01-10 09:58
What a Plant Knows
What A Plant Knows: a field guide to the senses - Daniel Chamovitz

If you're a gardener with a scientific bent, or a fan of science with a botanic bent, this is a great book.

 

Chamovitz breaks down the current science of botany and makes it interesting and comprehensible to the average armchair enthusiast by using our own senses as a basis for what a plant...knows.  Do plants 'see'?  Do plants 'feel'?  So plants have a sense of 'smell'?  The answers might surprise a few people.  The author is very clear that these comparisons are very loose and plants are not, of course, thinking or sentient.  But as a starting point for understanding how plants do thrive and survive, our senses make for an excellent starting point.

 

This is a fast read; I was able to complete it in one day, and there was nothing dense about the writing or the research.  Chamovitz provides suggestions for links in the footnotes, a very thorough Notes section and an excellent index.  There wasn't a wealth of practical knowledge (although I do now know how to force short-day plants to bloom at will), but all of it was interesting and I learned a lot.

 

Highly recommended for the greenies.  ;-)

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