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review 2017-12-16 19:03
The Triumph of Seeds by Thor Hanson
The Triumph of Seeds: How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses, and Pips Conquered the Plant Kingdom and Shaped Human History - Thor Hanson

TITLE:  The Triumph of Seeds: How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses, & Pips Conquered the Plant Kingdom and Shaped Human History


AUTHOR:  Thor Hanson




FORMAT:  Paperback


ISBN-13:  978-0-465-09740-1




In this book, Thor Hanson explores "how grains, nuts, kernels, pulses, and pips conquered the plant kingdom and shaped human history".  Topics include the evolution and co-evolution of a variety of plant species seeds, how they function, seed banks, dispersal, spices, and historical tidbits (including assassinations, world empires and voyages of discovery). 


Seeds are a fascinating subject that the author covers in an informal but informative style without overwhelming the reader with science jargon, but also not wasting ink on irrelevant social observations.  The author's enthusiasm for seeds in contagious!  There are also numerous illustrations throughout the book. 


My only quibble is that I wish there was more of the book and more specific details, but that sort of thing would probably require an encyclopedia on the subject.









Food in History by Reay Tannahill


Napoleon's Buttons by Penny Le Conteur & Jay Burreson


The Untold History of the Potato by John Reader


Banana:  The Fate of the Fruit that Changed the World by Dan Koeppel


Papyrus by John Gaudet


An Edible History of Humanity by Tom Standage


Botany for Gardeners by Brian Capon (3rd edition)


The Emerald Planet:  How Plants Changed Earth's History by David Beerling


Feathers:  The Evolution of a Natural Miracle by Thor Hanson




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review 2017-11-18 17:35
Spineless by Juli Berwald
Spineless: The Science of Jellyfish and the Art of Growing a Backbone - Juli Berwald

TITLE:  Spineless:  The Science of Jellyfish and the Art of Growing a Backbone


AUTHOR:  Juli Berwald




FORMAT:  ebook


ISBN-13:  9780735211278




"Jellyfish are an enigma. They have no centralized brain, but they see and feel and react to their environment in complex ways. They look simple, yet their propulsion systems are so advanced that engineers are just learning how to mimic them. They produce some of the deadliest toxins on the planet and still remain undeniably alluring. Long ignored by science, they may be a key to ecosystem stability."


This book is more of the author's personal memoir than any type of science book about jellyfish.  Berwald's enthusiasm for jellyfish is obvious and the writing style flows nicely.  She includes some incredibly interesting information about the creatures, but there is simply too much personal "stuff" about her, her kids, her husband, her travel trips and the people she meets to wade through.  After a while the biographical pages became boring and wading through all the irrelevant "stuff" to get to the interesting jellyfish information became annoying.  The book is also disappointing in terms of illustrations, diagrams and/or photographs.


If you are looking for actual science about jellyfish, try the wikipedia entry.  If you like biography with some interesting jellyfish information, then you might like this book.





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review 2017-11-13 06:59
How to Build a Dinosaur by Jack Horner & James Gorman
How to Build a Dinosaur: The New Science of Reverse Evolution - Jack Horner,James Gorman

TITLE:  How to Build a Dinosaur:  Extinction Doesn't Have to Be Forever


AUTHOR:  Jack Horner & James Gorman




FORMAT:  ebook


ISBN-13:  978-1-101-02871-1




This is a horribly written book. There is a ridiculous amount of completely irrelevant filler, a few interesting dinosaur bits and pieces that have nothing to do with the book title (and presumably subject) and then a magazine article length section on "how to build a dinosaur" by fiddling with chicken genomes, along with how the general public is going to freak out about it. The author spends the entire first chapter babbling about a town in the middle of nowhere, how to get there, local gossip and a bit of local history i.e. irrelevant filler. Then there is a section on finding evidence of dinosaur blood cells and collagen, with some pointless pot-shots at creationists (they might be crazy but do you really have to include it in the book, especially since it doesn't accomplish anything?), and too much details about the scientists personal life. The sections dealing with the techniques used was interesting, but there was too little substance and far too much filler. The writing is also simplistic but overly verbose, and got boring after a while.


NOTE: The book was published in 2009, so some of the scientific data discussed may well be out of date by now, especially anything related to genetic alterations.





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review 2017-11-06 08:27
Squid Empire: The Rise and Fall of the Cephalopods - Danna Staaf

TITLE:  Squid Empire:  The Rise and Fall of the Cephalopods


AUTHOR:  Danna Staaf




FORMAT:  Hardcover


ISBN-13:  978-1-61168-923-5



Squid Empire: The Rise and Fall of the Cephalopods is a book that does exactly as "described on the tin". This is the fascinating tale of the evolutionary rise and fall (and possible rise again) of Cephalopods - everything from ammonites, nautiloids, squid, octopuses, cuttlefish and the other odd prehistoric creatures that get lumped in the "head-foot" category. 


The author takes an evolutionary approach starting off with the first Cephalopods in the Cambrian, and ties in several threads of anatomy, biology, ecology and other aspects of marine life. She covers such topics are the swimming revolution, the invention of jet propulsion, shell development and abandonment, their co-evolution with fish, development of ink, paleontology, intelligence, how they deal with extinction events, how they deal with the current anthropocentric age, the ecology of these "swimming protein bars", and why modern squid don't fossilize. 



Danna Staaf has a lovely, clear writing style that is fun, while at the same time maintaining the science of the topic. She also includes numerous helpful diagrams, illustrations and photographs.


This is a superbly written, entertaining and informative book about the evolution of certain mobile, tentacled, squishy creatures that live in the ocean.








Other books on Cephalopods include:


~Kraken: The Curious, Exciting, and Slightly Disturbing Science of Squid by Wendy Williams


~Octopus: The Ocean's Intelligent Invertebrate by Jennifer A. Mather, Roland C. Anderson, James B. Wood





"But without the shell they were vulnerable, so a new defensive tool arose: ink. Never seen in nautiloids or ammonoids, ink is often preserved in coleoid fossils, thanks to the stability of the pigment melanin. In some cases, the ink has been so well preserved that it could be reconstituted and used to illustrate the animal itself."


"However, unquestionably the cephalopod with the most frightening name is Vampyroteuthis infernalis, which means “vampire squid from hell.” he animal’s appearance is also quite spooky.  Its skin is a constant deep red —like many other deep-sea cephalopods, the vampire squid has mostly abandoned its color-changing abilities as useless in this dark environment.  Red is just as good as black if you want to hide in the deep sea, since red light is absorbed most readily by water and is virtually absent below a few meters. And then, vampire squid have blue eyes. You might think these “baby blues” would offset the hellish red, but consider this:  the eyes are completely blue —there’s a pupil, but you can’t see it.  Now add to this the fact that one of the animal’s habits is to turn itself partially inside out, wrapping its arms and the webbing between them around its body.  The underside of the arms bear rows of sharp-looking tendrils. [...] So: it’s a red squid with vacant blue eyes that encases itself in apparent spines.  We can have some sympathy for the scientists who named it."




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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-11-03 07:21
Bring Back the King by Helen Pilcher
Bring Back the King: The New Science of De-extinction - Helen Pilcher

TITLE:  Bring Back the King:  The New Science of De-Extinction


AUTHOR:  Helen Pilcher




FORMAT:  ebook


ISBN-13:   978-1-4729-1228-2





In this book, Helen Pilcher takes an introductory look at the science of de-extinction, covering such topics as the de-extinction of dinosaurs, neanderthals, mammoths, a variety of extinct birds, the thylacine, Elvis Presley, as well as some other random questions, ethics and concerns.


The book reads more like a collection of excessively padded magazine articles stuffed into one package. There is also an excessive amount of "cutsie" humour (also bad jokes) in this book which simply falls flat; as well as too many personal intrusions from the author. The discussions of the actual de-extinction science are uneven - some animals are lucky enough to get their situation and the science explained in a fair amount of detail, others will get an over-simplified explanation. The ethics, challenges and if the whole things is a good idea is glossed over in one chapter.


For example:
The majority of the chapter on Neanderthals involves too much author speculation and personal emotion in her speculative story of a neanderthal baby. The chapter on Elvis is just silly and self-indulgent. Pilcher could have found a better way to discuss general genetics and epigenetics, and she oversimplifies what she does write about the topic. The chapter about the white rhino gastric brooding frog are informative, and better written than the others.


This book is easy to read, funny (to other people) and would probably make a good introduction to the subject for people who aren't too particular about the amount of hard science in their popular science books. Teenagers might like it too.


Otherwise, there are a selection of other books on the same topic that are better written:


-Resurrection Science: Conservation, De-extinction and the Precarious Future of Wild Things by M.R. O'Connor [Deals more with the conservation angle]


-How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction by Beth Shapiro [Includes more physical science involved in de-extinction and all the ethics and possibilities]


-Rise of the Necrofauna: A Provocative Look at the Science, Ethics, and Risks of De-Extinction by Britt Wray [Focus on the ethics, risks and possibilities of de-extinction science]

- How to Build a Dinosaur: The New Science of Reverse Evolution by Jack Horner & James Gorman



For those interested in epigenetics:


-The Epigenetics Revolution by Nessa Carey


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