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review 2018-06-12 11:12
The Ape That Understood the Universe by Steve Stewart-Williams
The Ape That Understood the Universe: How the Mind and Culture Evolve - Steve Stewart-Williams

TITLE: The Ape That Understood the Universe: How the Mind and Culture Evolve


AUTHOR:  Steve Stewart-Williams




FORMAT:  ARC ebook


ISBN-13:  9781108425049



NOTE:  I received a copy of this book from NetGalley.  This review is my honest opinion of the book.



In this book, Steve Stewart-Williams gives us a story of the human animal by taking a look at the human species from a new perspective: through the eyes of a hypothetical, hyperintelligent alien.
  " If an alien did drop in on us, how would it view our species?"  

This is a fun way of discussing human behaviour and culture, without devolving into baby talk.

The author draws ideas from evolutionary theory to shed light on the human mind and behaviour (i.e. evolutionary psychology); and evolutionary principles to shed light on human culture (i.e. cultural evolutionary theory).  Stewart-Williams discusses a variety of multidimensional aspects to provide a deeper understanding of the evolutionary and cultural (memes!) foundation for human behaviour.  

The guiding assumption is that: 

"humans are animals, and like all animals, we evolved to pass on our genes.  At some point, however, we also evolved the capactiy for culture - and from that moment, culture began evolving in its own right.  This transformed us from mere ape into an ape capable of reshaping the planet, traveling to other worlds, and understanding the vast universe of which we are but a tiny, fleeting fragment."

This book is well written and the author makes his arguments in a lucid manner without fluffy, irrelevant, biographical side trips.  A worthy successor to Desmond Morris' "The Naked Ape" and "The Human Zoo", as well as Richard Dawkins' "The Selfish Gene".

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-05-30 09:28
The Evolution Underground by Anthony J. Martin
The Evolution Underground: Burrows, Bunkers, and the Marvelous Subterranean World Beneath our Feet - Anthony J. Martin

TITLE:  The Evolution Underground:  Burrows, Bunkers, and the Marvelous Subterranean World Beneath our Feet.


AUTHOR:  Anthony J. Martin




FORMAT:  Paperback


ISBN-13:  978-1-68177-312-4



In this book, ichnologist Anthony J. Martin takes a look at how burrowing animals have evolved and influenced the ecology of this planet.  Martin starts off with alligators and gopher tortoises, ancient subterranean human settlements in Turkey and more modern underground Cold War bunkers, then travels through time to see what trace evidence and fossils prehistoric animals have left for burrowing behaviour - everything from the first worms, the first vertebrates and invertebrates, insects, dinosaurs, birds, penguins, giant ground sloths, crabs, shrimp, moles, gophers, earthworms and more.  

Martin shows  that burrowing animals are ecosystem engineers that alter their habitats through burrowing action.    He provides a fascinating eye-opening account of earth altering underground activities that effect the flora and fauna that exist on the surface of the planet.  

Martin also theorises that burrowing strategies of prehistoric and contemporary animals help in their survival during catastrophes and the survival of their species, and thus their evolutionary development, after the catastrophes.  Afterall, burrows provide shelter and protection, a reduction in extreme temperature fluctuations, minimized dessication during droughts, safe places to procreate and raise young, and on occassion food storage facilities.  Martin compares the survivors of major prehistoric catastrophes with the survivors of minor modern catastrophes, using examples like the pocket gophers that were hibernating during the eruption of Mt St. Helens.  The sleeping pocket gophers awoke to found an ash and lava covered landscape with minimal food, but due to a shortage in predators and a full storage larder, the gophers survived, prospered and also helped with seed dispersal and soil movement.

Martin is clearly passionate and knowledgeable about his subject.  This book adds a new perspective to evolution, extinction and ecosystem engineering.  There are 85 pages of note references, a whole wad of colour photographs/ illustrations, and a list of genera and species mentioned in the book.  The writing style manages to lively, fun, on the odd occasion amusing,  and informative at the same time.


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review 2018-04-24 14:46
The Truth About Animals by Lucy Cooke
The Truth About Animals: Stoned Sloths, Lovelorn Hippos, and Other Tales from the Wild Side of Wildlife - Lucy Cooke

TITLE:  The Truth About Animals: Stoned Sloths, Lovelorn Hippos, and Other Tales from the Wild Side of Wildlife


AUTHOR:  Lucy Cooke




FORMAT:  ebook


ISBN-13:  978-0-465-09465-3



From the blurb:

"Mary Roach meets Sam Kean and Bill Bryson in this uproarious tour of the basest instincts and biggest mysteries of the animal world.  Humans have gone to the Moon and discovered the Higgs boson, but when it comes to understanding animals, we've still got a long way to go. Whether we're seeing a viral video of romping baby pandas or a picture of penguins "holding hands," it's hard for us not to project our own values--innocence, fidelity, temperance, hard work--onto animals. So you've probably never considered if moose get drunk, penguins cheat on their mates, or worker ants lay about. They do--and that's just for starters. In The Truth About Animals, Lucy Cooke takes us on a worldwide journey to meet everyone from a Colombian hippo castrator to a Chinese panda porn peddler, all to lay bare the secret--and often hilarious--habits of the animal kingdom. Charming and at times downright weird, this modern bestiary is perfect for anyone who has ever suspected that virtue might be unnatural."




The Truth About Animals provides an entertaining and interesting look at the private lives of animals.  The book takes a look at the oddball myths that surround some of these animals and the (sometimes ling-winded) opinions/works of historical (and modern) naturalists with regards to these myths.  Each chapter deals with a different animal and is filled with fascinating tidbits and humour.  Animals covered in the book include eels, beavers, sloths, hyenas, storks, vultures, bats, frogs, pandas, penguins, hippos, mooses, and chimpanzees.  This is an enjoyable, informative and light read.


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review 2018-04-07 18:26
Furry Logic by Matin Durrani & Liz Kalaugher
Furry Logic: The Physics of Animal Life - Matin Durrani,Liz Kalaugher

TITLE:  Furry Logic: The Physics of Animal Life


AUTHOR:  Matin Durrani & Liz Kalaugher




FORMAT:  Paperback


ISBN-13:  978-1-4729-1411-8



Furry Logic is an interesting book that takes a look at the physics concepts used by a  large variety of animal life for survival.  The writing style is informal, chatty and whitty. Some of the puns and jokes were just awful, but most led to snickers or laughs, so I can't complain about them too much.  While the authors do not go into a great deal of depth with their scientific explanations, the explanations are comprehensive enough to understand the concept.  This is a fun, fast paced, fascinating and informative book, especially for the non-physicist and non-biologist.  This book is divided into 6 chapters that show how animals make use of physics in terms of heat, forces, fluids, sound, electricity, magnetis and light.  


The book covers such topics as flight, how cats drink, heat detection in snakes, the Komodo Dragon's bite, the electric field of flowers and how they attract bees, the sounds of peacocks and how elephants detect sound through the ground, how some animals use polarized light or magnetic fields to determine direction, how electric eels produce their electricity, how pondskaters skate on water, how geckos walk on ceilings, how the Harlequin Mantis Shrimp punches through crap shells (and aquarium tanks), how well mosquitos fly in the rain, why dogs shake themselves dry, why giant squid have such large eyes, and many more. 


The book includes a section of colour photographs and has a few illustrations to explain concepts spread throughout the book.  Unfortunately, the book did not contain a list of references or a bibliography, which is a bit strange for a science book!



Furry Logic Website


Internet Review and Excerpts





-Storm in a Teacup: The Physics of Everyday Life by Helen Czerski

-Restless Creatures: The Story of Life in Ten Movements by Matt Wilkinson

-The Gecko’s Foot: How Scientists are Taking a Leaf from Nature's Book by Peter Forbes

-What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins by Jonathan Balcombe

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review 2018-03-18 11:28
The Rise of Yeast by Nicholas P. Money
The Rise of Yeast: How the Sugar Fungus Shaped Civilization - Nicholas P. Money

TITLE:   The Rise of Yeast:  How the Sugar Fungus Shaped Civilization


AUTHOR:  Nicholas P. Money




FORMAT:  Hardcover


ISBN-13:  9780190270711


I love this book.  It has actual science for intelligent people in it, with witty and amusing observations.  This book takes a look at man's ancient co-dependence with yeast (the sugar fungus) and how that relationship is still going strong in the 21st century. 


The author first starts off with "Yeasty Basics" - a bit of yeast biology, biochemistry and history.  The role of yeast in ancient and modern alcoholic beverages (beer, wine) and food (bread, marmite) is examined.  True to the subtitle, the author explains how yeast's ability to ferment sugars cultivated the beginnings of civilization.  The author also expands of the role of yeast beyond just brewing and baking - yeast is also been used extensively in biologicaly research and biotechnology, such as biofuel production, synthetic silk production, and the production of some medicines (e.g. insulin, blood products, vaccines, ocriplasmin).  In a chapter title "Yeasts of Wrath", the role of  yeasts in human health and disease has been explored.  A chapter is also dedicated to different types of yeast in the wild.


I found this book wildly entertaining, extremely interesting, educational and a joy to read. 


In the author's own words:

 "Yeast come in many species, but the sugar fungus reigns supreme as our partner in civilization.  We would not be here without her.  Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Homo sapiens have been inseparable for thousands of years.  We are reflections of each other, our genetic similarities reflecting the deep ancestral root from which our common cellular machinery arose.  Matched expressions of these genomes allow the fungus to ferment alcohol and us to digest it.  This metabolic coordination, spread over a few thousand generations of human pleasure and pain - alcohol delivering both - developed in the rainforests from which apes with an upright gait migrated to the savannah.  Our complex relationship with alcohol, and later with leavened bread, drove agriculture and settlement.  From these splendors came civilization, political organization, militarization, and mass starvation.  Later fruits of our yeast-driven civilization included science and technology, engineering and medicine, exponential population growth, and the attendant destruction of the biosphere.  And in this time of considerable climatic peril, industrial applications of yeast promise major advance in biotechnology and offer some hope - perhaps our only hope - of powering a carbon neutral economy.  The future of humanity depends more on this bug than on any farm animal or crop plant.


In short order, science has transformed the mysterious agent of fermentation into a living factory known inside and out, scrutinized in all its molecular splendor, and manipulated gene by gene to perform astounding feats of biotechnology.  this inspiring microbe, the sugar fungus Saccharomyces cerevisiae, is a secular deity, something to be revered as much as the warmth of the sun."






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