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review SPOILER ALERT! 2020-05-25 08:01
The Equations of Life by Charles S. Cockell
The Equations of Life: How Physics Shapes Evolution - Charles S. Cockell

TITLE:  The Equations of Life: The Hidden Rules Shaping Evolution

 

AUTHOR:  Charles S. Cockell

 

PUBLICATION DATE:  2019

 

FORMAT:  Paperback

 

ISBN-13:   9781786493040

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DESCRIPTION:

"A groundbreaking new view on the theory of evolution, arguing that life develops in predictable ways.
We are all familiar with the popular idea of strange alien life wildly different from life on earth inhabiting other planets. Maybe it's made of silicon! Maybe it has wheels! Or maybe it doesn't. In The Equations of Life, biologist Charles S. Cockell makes the forceful argument that the laws of physics narrowly constrain how life can evolve, making evolution's outcomes predictable. If we were to find on a distant planet something very much like a lady bug eating something like an aphid, we shouldn't be surprised. The forms of life are guided by a limited set of rules, and as a result, there is a narrow set of solutions to the challenges of existence.
A remarkable scientific contribution breathing new life into Darwin's theory of evolution, The Equations of Life makes a radical argument about what life can--and can't--be.
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REVIEW:

 

In The Equations of Life, Cockell demonstrates that biology is dependent on, and thus constrained by, physics.  The book starts off examining the social life of ants, moves on to studying how all the basic anatomy units and habits of a ladybug are constructed in accordance with the laws of physics, to the movement of moles through soil, birds through the air,  and why animals don't have wheels or propellers.  Cockell also examines why life is cellular, the various properties of cells and their particular building blocks (lipid membranes, DNA/RNA, amino acids, respiration, enzymatic reactions, the molecules and also atoms of life), why water is the solvent for life rather than something else (benzene? ammonia?), and if life can be based on something other than carbon.  A few equations are thrown in to demonstrate a concept but there is nothing difficult to understand in this book.  A fascinating perspective on evolution and physics written in an engaging manner.

 

PS:  I love this cover.  All those delicious equations, molecular structures and mathematical formulae etc.

 

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review 2020-04-13 13:21
Epidemics and Society by Frank M. Snowden
Epidemics and Society: From the Black Death to the Present - Frank M. Snowden

TITLE:   Epidemics and Society: From the Black Death to the Present

 

AUTHOR:   Frank M. Snowden

 

DATE PUBLISHED:  2019

 

FORMAT:  Hardcover

 

ISBN-13:  9780300192216

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DESCRIPTION:

"A wide-ranging study that illuminates the connection between epidemic diseases and societal change, from the Black Death to Ebola

This sweeping exploration of the impact of epidemic diseases looks at how mass infectious outbreaks have shaped society, from the Black Death to today. In a clear and accessible style, Frank M. Snowden reveals the ways that diseases have not only influenced medical science and public health, but also transformed the arts, religion, intellectual history, and warfare.

A multidisciplinary and comparative investigation of the medical and social history of the major epidemics, this volume touches on themes such as the evolution of medical therapy, plague literature, poverty, the environment, and mass hysteria. In addition to providing historical perspective on diseases such as smallpox, cholera, and tuberculosis, Snowden examines the fallout from recent epidemics such as HIV/AIDS, SARS, and Ebola and the question of the world’s preparedness for the next generation of diseases.
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REVIEW:

 

Snowden provides an interesting overview of how societies (and their governments) at various times and places dealt with disease epidemics.  The epidemics discussed in this book include the 3 bubonic plague epidemics, smallpox, yellow fever, cholera, TB, malaria, polio, HIV/AIDS and emerging diseases such as ebola and SARS.  Also examined is the effect these epidemics had on historical incidences such as the outcomes of wars and changes in culture; for example the effects of yellow fever, dysentery and typhus on Napoleon's war efforts.  An interesting, informative, easy to digest, but not frivolous, look at how disease epidemics effect society.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2020-04-06 13:59
Making Eden by David Beerling
Making Eden: How Plants Transformed a Barren Planet - David Beerling

TITLE:  Making Eden: How Plants Transformed a Barren Planet

 

AUTHOR:  David Beerling

 

DATE PUBLISHED: 2019

 

FORMAT:  Hardcover

 

ISBN-13:  978019879830

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DESCRIPTION:

"Over 7 billion people depend on plants for healthy, productive, secure lives, but few of us stop to consider the origin of the plant kingdom that turned the world green and made our lives possible. And as the human population continues to escalate, our survival depends on how we treat the plant kingdom and the soils that sustain it. Understanding the evolutionary history of our land floras, the story of how plant life emerged from water and conquered the continents to dominate the planet, is fundamental to our own existence.

In Making Eden David Beerling reveals the hidden history of Earth's sun-shot greenery, and considers its future prospects as we farm the planet to feed the world. Describing the early plant pioneers and their close, symbiotic relationship with fungi, he examines the central role plants play in both ecosystems and the regulation of climate. As threats to plant biodiversity mount today, Beerling discusses the resultant implications for food security and climate change, and how these can be avoided. Drawing on the latest exciting scientific findings, including Beerling's own field work in the UK, North America, and New Zealand, and his experimental research programmes over the past decade, this is an exciting new take on how plants greened the continents.
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REVIEW:

 

This is a fairly comprehensive survey of what we know about plant evolution - when plants first started growing on land, when leaves, stomata, roots, seeds, and flowers first developed.  Beerling also shows that without plants, Earth would not be the Eden that it is today.  Interesting, but some may find the genomic aspects too technical.  This book is something of a prequel to Beerling's previous book:  The Emerald Planet: How Plants Changed Earth's History.

 

 

 

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2020-03-09 10:47
The Vital Question by Nick Lane
The Vital Question - Nick Lane

TITLE:  The Vital Question:  Why Is Life the Way It Is?

 

AUTHOR:  Nick Lane

 

DATE PUBLISHED:  2016

 

FORMAT:  Paperback

 

ISBN-13:  9781781250372

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BLURB:

“There’s a black hole at the heart of biology:  we do not know why life is the way it is.  Bacteria evolved into complex life just once in four billion years of life on earth, and all complex life shares many strange properties, from sex to ageing and death – but why?

 

In The Vital Question, award-winning author and biochemist Nick Lane radically reframes evolutionary history, putting forward a cogent solution to conundrums that have troubled scientists for decades.  The answer, he argues, lies in energy:  how all life on Earth lives off a voltage with the strength of a lightning bolt.  In unravelling these scientific enigmas and making sense of life’s quirks, Lane’s explanation provides a solution to life’s vital question:  why are we as we are, indeed, why are we here at all?”

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REVIEW:

 

This is a nicely written science book for intelligent people.  No interviews or fashion commentary.  Lane examines the fundamental requirement of life, namely energy.  The starts off with examining what life and living is and then takes a look at how (and where) the first cells possibly evolved.  Many hypotheses are examined, discarded or elaborated upon.  Lane also takes cell evolution further by examining the evolution of complex cells, why most eukaryotes have two different sexes, how cells die, what powers a cell, and a host of other interesting goodies.  There is a fair amount of physics, biochemistry and chemistry in this book, along with several illustrations and diagrams.  Lane tends to be a bit repetitive, but with a complex subject like this, it probably helps to recap previous points.  This is a fascinating book that makes a great addition to his previous book Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life.

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review 2020-02-19 06:40
Adapt by Amina Khan
Adapt: How Humans Are Tapping into Nature's Secrets to Design and Build a Better Future - Amina Khan

TITLE:  Adapt: How Humans Are Tapping into Nature's Secrets to Design and Build a Better Future

 

TITLE:  Amina Khan

 

FORMAT:  Hardcover

 

ISBN-13:  9781250060402

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DESCRIPTION:

"Amina Khan believes that nature does it best. In Adapt, she presents fascinating examples of how nature effortlessly solves the problems that humans attempt to solve with decades worth of the latest and greatest technologies, time, and money. Humans are animals too, and animals are incredibly good at doing more with less.

If a fly’s eye can see without hundreds of fancy lenses, and termite mounds can stay cool in the desert without air conditioning, it stands to reason that nature can teach us a thing or two about sustainable technology and innovation. In Khan’s accessible voice, these complex concepts are made simple. There is so much we humans can learn from nature’s billions of years of productive and efficient evolutionary experience. This field is growing rapidly and everyone from architects to biologists to nano-technicians to engineers are paying attention. Results from the simplest tasks, creating velcro to mimic the sticking power of a burr, to the more complex like maximizing wind power by arranging farms to imitate schools of fish can make a difference and inspire future technological breakthroughs.

Adapt shares the weird and wonderful ways that nature has been working smarter and not harder, and how we can too to make billion dollar cross-industrial advances in the very near future.
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REVIEW:

 

An interesting, but brief, popular overview of some new and/or improved technologies that resulted (or are in development) from studying nature (usually animals).  Topics include material science, mechanics of movement, architecture of systems, and sustainability.  Any scientific or engineering concepts that crop up are nicely and simply explained.  An easy and informative read, though I have come across some of the examples covered in other books.  Some diagrams/photographs/illustrations would really be useful in books like this.

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