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review 2018-06-13 08:32
The Hyena Scientist by Sy Montgomery & Nic Bishop
The Hyena Scientist - Sy Montgomery,Anne Bishop

The Hyena Scientist is a book written with 10-12 year old's in mind.  However, I'm sure most adults can get something out of it as well.  In this book Montgomery and Bishop take a tour through the Hyena research station in Kenya lead by zoologist Kay Holecamp.  The book reads like a travelogue with intersting bits about the spotted hyenas that this group studies, along with a nail-biting episode of floods and getting stuck in mud.  There are also short biographical sections for the scientists and assistants that operate this particular research station.  The main attraction of this book are the numerous (every single page!) colour photographs of spotted hyenas (fascinating creatures!) and other wildlife.  This is a good inspirational and educational book for children.

 

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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

 

EXPECTED PUBLICATION DATE:  December 2018

 

FORMAT:  ARC ebook

 

ISBN-13:  9781108425049

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

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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

 

DATE PUBLISHED:  2017

 

FORMAT:  Paperback

 

ISBN-13:  978-1-68177-312-4

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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 2018-05-07 07:32
A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie by Kathryn Harkup
A Is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie - Kathryn Harkup

 

TITLE:  A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie

 

AUTHOR:  Kathryn Harkup

 

DATE PUBLISHED:  2015

 

FORMAT:  Hardcover

 

ISBN-13:  9781472911308

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From the blurb:

"People are fascinated by murder. The popularity of murder mystery books, TV series, and even board games shows that there is an appetite for death, and the more unusual or macabre the method, the better. With gunshots or stabbings the cause of death is obvious, but poisons are inherently more mysterious. How are some compounds so deadly in such tiny amounts?

Agatha Christie used poison to kill her characters more often than any other crime fiction writer. The poison was a central part of the novel, and her choice of deadly substances was far from random; the chemical and physiological characteristics of each poison provide vital clues to the discovery of the murderer. Christie demonstrated her extensive chemical knowledge (much of it gleaned by working in a pharmacy during both world wars) in many of her novels, but this is rarely appreciated by the reader.

Written by former research chemist Kathryn Harkup, each chapter takes a different novel and investigates the poison used by the murderer. Fact- and fun-packed, A is for Arsenic looks at why certain chemicals kill, how they interact with the body, and the feasibility of obtaining, administering, and detecting these poisons, both when Christie was writing and today.
"

 

Kathryn Harkup has written a lovely book that explores the poisons used by Agatha Christie in her novels.  The introductory chapter provides some interesting biographical material of Christie and why she knew so much about poisons.  Harkup then dedicates the next 14 chapters to a specific poison, such as arsenic, belladonna, cyanide, digitalis, eserine, hemlock, monkshood, nicotine, opium, phosphorus ricin, strychnine, thallium and veronal (a type of barbiturate).  Each chapter describes how Christie used the poison in her novels, how the poison works, if there is an antidote, and examples of the poison used in real life.
 

I am not an Agatha Christie fan so found the sections describing Christie's novels and their plot summaries didn't particularly appeal to me, and also became tedious after a while.  Reading several plot summaries does not make for thrilling reading.  Harukp managed to avoid spoilers for the most part, or at least warned of spoilers before discussing pertinent Christie novels.  This will no doubt be appreciated for Christie fans who haven't read all of her novels.

 

The sections that describe how each poison effects the body were more interesting to me.  Harkup provided enough science to understand why substances were toxic without bogging the lay reader down with irrelevant detail.    Many poisons have similar effects on the body (i.e. they impair nerve functioning), so some sections were a bit repetitive by necessity.  Appendix 2 provides structures of a few of the chemicals described in the book, which was a nice addition.

 

The real life poisoning attempts were also interesting, especially the manner in which the poisoners were eventually caught.

 

This book would appeal to fans of Agatha Christie and for those who would like to know how a variety of poisons work.  There is no overall narrative, and each chapter can be read separately and out of order.  None the less, this is an interesting, informative and enjoyable book.

 

 

 

 

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review 2018-05-04 09:38
Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker
Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams - Matthew Walker

TITLE:  Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams 

 

AUTHOR:  Matthew Walker

 

DATE PUBLISHED:  2017

 

FORMAT:  Hardcover

 

ISBN-13:  9781501144318

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From the blurb:

"The first sleep book by a leading scientific expert—Professor Matthew Walker, Director of UC Berkeley’s Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab—reveals his groundbreaking exploration of sleep, explaining how we can harness its transformative power to change our lives for the better.

Sleep is one of the most important but least understood aspects of our life, wellness, and longevity. Until very recently, science had no answer to the question of why we sleep, or what good it served, or why we suffer such devastating health consequences when we don't sleep. Compared to the other basic drives in life—eating, drinking, and reproducing—the purpose of sleep remained elusive.

An explosion of scientific discoveries in the last twenty years has shed new light on this fundamental aspect of our lives. Now, preeminent neuroscientist and sleep expert Matthew Walker gives us a new understanding of the vital importance of sleep and dreaming. Within the brain, sleep enriches our ability to learn, memorize, and make logical decisions. It recalibrates our emotions, restocks our immune system, fine-tunes our metabolism, and regulates our appetite. Dreaming mollifies painful memories and creates a virtual reality space in which the brain melds past and present knowledge to inspire creativity.

Walker answers important questions about sleep: how do caffeine and alcohol affect sleep? What really happens during REM sleep? Why do our sleep patterns change across a lifetime? How do common sleep aids affect us and can they do long-term damage? Charting cutting-edge scientific breakthroughs, and synthesizing decades of research and clinical practice, Walker explains how we can harness sleep to improve learning, mood, and energy levels; regulate hormones; prevent cancer, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes; slow the effects of aging; increase longevity; enhance the education and lifespan of our children, and boost the efficiency, success, and productivity of our businesses. Clear-eyed, fascinating, and accessible, Why We Sleep is a crucial and illuminating book.
"

 

This is an interesting, informative and important book on sleep and how it effects us.  The contents of the book are as described in the blurb.  The writing is clear and the science easy to understand.  I would recommend this book to everyone because the subject is important and potentially life altering.

 

 

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