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review 2019-07-01 12:16
Turtles as Hopeful Monsters by Olivier Rieppel
Turtles as Hopeful Monsters: Origins and Evolution (Life of the Past) - Olivier Rieppel

TITLE:  Turtles as Hopeful Monsters:  Origins and Evolution


AUTHOR:  Olivier Rieppel




FORMAT:  Hardcover


ISBN-13:  9780253024756



"Where do turtles hail from? Why and how did they acquire shells? These questions have spurred heated debate and intense research for more than two hundred years. Brilliantly weaving evidence from the latest paleontological discoveries with an accessible, incisive look at different theories of biological evolution and their proponents, Turtles as Hopeful Monsters tells the fascinating evolutionary story of the shelled reptiles. Paleontologist Olivier Rieppel traces the evolution of turtles from over 220 million years ago, examining closely the relationship of turtles to other reptiles and charting the development of the shell. Turtle issues fuel a debate between proponents of gradual evolutionary change and authors favoring change through bursts and leaps of macromutation. The first book-length popular history of its type, this indispensable resource is an engaging read for all those fascinated by this ubiquitous and uniquely shaped reptile."




This is an article about turtle evolution, excessively padded with biographical and historical material to turn it into a short book.  The information about turtles was technical and interesting, but the reader has to sift through vast quanitites of (mostly irrelevant) text on various researchers (including the author) - their biographies, places of residence and work, politics, field trips, historical context and the like.  Turtles only make an appearance halfway through the book.  This made the whole book rather tedious despite the interesting examination of  turtle evolutionary developmental history.  The book also covers the development of evolutionary theory and cladistics.  Some sketches and graphics were included, but nothing particularly exciting or useful.





Voyage of the Turtle: In Pursuit of the Earth's Last Dinosaur by Carl Safina





PS: I just found more useful diagrams and information on turtle evolution looking for diagrams to add to this review!







A Glowing Sea Turtle: World's First Bioflourescent Reptile


Turtle Origins


More About Turtles


What's the Difference between Turtle, Tortoise & Terrapin?





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review 2018-07-30 07:00
In Search of the Canary Tree by Lauren E. Oakes
In Search of the Canary Tree: The Story of a Scientist, a Cypress, and a Changing World - Lauren Oakes

TITLE:  In Search of the Canary Tree: The Story of a Scientist, a Cypress, and a Changing World

AUTHOR:   Lauren E. Oakes



27 November 2018




ISBN-13:  9781541697126


NOTE: I received an Advanced Readers Copy of this book from NetGalley. This review is my honest opinion of the book.



Book Description:

"The surprisingly hopeful story of one woman's search for resiliency in a warming world

Several years ago, ecologist Lauren E. Oakes set out from California for Alaska's old-growth forests to hunt for a dying tree: the yellow-cedar. With climate change as the culprit, the death of this species meant loss for many Alaskans. Oakes and her research team wanted to chronicle how plants and people could cope with their rapidly changing world. Amidst the standing dead, she discovered the resiliency of forgotten forests, flourishing again in the wake of destruction, and a diverse community of people who persevered to create new relationships with the emerging environment. Eloquent, insightful, and deeply heartening, In Search of the Canary Tree is a case for hope in a warming world. "



In Search of the Canary Tree is not so much a popular science book about a specific topic, but rather the author’s personal experiences while doing research for her PhD project in Alaska.  In the author’s own words:  "This book is about a species - a tree called Callitropsis nootkatensis, how I fell under its spell, and how it inspired my search for people and plants thriving amidst change.  It chronicles my effort to answer what happens in the wake of yellow-cedar death, not only to uncover the future of these old-growth forests, but to share lessons that apply to people on other parts of the planet.  It is a book about finding faith, not of any religious variety, but as a force that summons local solutions to a global problem, that helps me live joyfully and choose what matters most in seemingly dark times.  If we start looking at the local picture and the ways in which we all depend on nature in various ways every day, solutions emerge.  I witnessed this in Alaska".


The book starts off slowly but picks up pace.  The book is a nicely-written, accessible, personable, informative, and rather intimate view of what one scientist actually did for her research project, the people that influenced her, what her findings were and how this affected her personally. 


If you are only looking for scientific information, this book is not for you.  If you want a more personal relationship with the scientists behind the number crunching, then you may enjoy this book.

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review 2018-03-05 05:23
Planet of Microbes by Ted Anton
Planet of Microbes: The Perils and Potential of Earth's Essential Life Forms - Ted Anton


TITLE:  Planet of Microbes: The Perils and Potential of Earth's Essential Life Forms


AUTHOR: Ted Anton 




FORMAT: Hardcover


ISBN-13: 9780226353944



This book is supposed to be about the recent discoveries that have to do with microbes.  In fact, it ends up being a long-winded, somewhat disorganised, poorly written biography of the scientists involved in those discoveries.  There is minimal actual science in this book (none of which is explained properly) and even the discoveries are given highly superficial treatment, thus providing a vague idea of the importance of microbes but not explaining how they do what they do.  There were also many repetitions and what I assume are editing oversights (left out words and nonsense sentences), as well as some oddball choices, such as describing Lynne Margulis by her maiden surname (Alexander) then in the same paragraph referring to her by her second marriage surname (Margulis), while discussing her first marriage to Carl Sagan; or discussing one scientist and then jumping around to other scientists and different topics before randomly jumping back to the first scientist.  Nothing in this book is new.  The topics covered in this book are discussed more successfully in other books.   The most exciting thing about this book is the cover.


-I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life by Ed Yong
-Amoeba in the Room: Lives of the Microbes by Nicholas P. Money
-The Hidden Half of Nature: The Microbial Roots of Life and Health by David R. Montgomery
-March of the Microbes: Sighting the Unseen by John L. Ingraham
-Superbug: The Fatal Menace of MRSA by Maryn McKenna
-The Killers Within: The Deadly Rise Of Drug-Resistant Bacteria by Michael Shnayerson, Mark J. Plotkin
-Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life by Nick Lane

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review 2017-09-11 05:57
Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal - Mary Roach

TITLE:  Gulp:  Adventures of the Alimentary Canal


AUTHOR:  Mary Roach


FORMAT:  e-book


ISBN-13:  978-0-393-24030-6




NOTE:  The Flat Book Society Book Club selected Gulp by Mary Roach as the book to read for September and October 2017.




When a book is titled “Gulp: Adventures of the Alimentary Canal” and marketed as popular science, the potential reader assumes they will be reading a book that discusses how the digestive system works and other interesting facts about the alimentary canal.  Well… that is NOT this book.  This book is something of an unfocused hodge-podge of breezy, superficial facts; throw-away statements (we want to know more!); and odd historical stories about the scientists and their less than savoury experiments on the digestive tract.


The book is divided into 17 chapters which loosely  follow the physiological structure of the alimentary canal, beginning with taste and smell, and covering such topics as organ meats, cultural food preferences, chewing, gastric acid, saliva, swallowing, being eaten alive, eating too much, intestinal gasses and flammability, extra-curricular storage functions, colonic direction, constipation, and gut-microflora transplants.  After a while I found that the chapters started to blur together due to the collection of random facts, pointless fillers, multiple side tangents, and not-so-witty footnotes. 


I’m not really sure what the aim of this book was supposed to be, but it is more entertaining (if you find potty humour and fashion commentary entertaining) than educational.  In any case, Roach seems to take delight in showcasing the more sensational trivia and taboos about the digestive system, while at the same time providing excessive fashion commentary of the people she interviews.  There is very little actual science in this book and a limited coverage of the functioning of the alimentary canal.  This book emphasized the strange and bizarre occurrences related to the digestive system, but never fully explained the system itself.   


I found the writing to be a little sloppy with odd sentence structures, interesting single sentence comments that went no-where and lack of clarity between fact and personal opinion.  In addition, the author has an irreverent, rambling style with excessive asides, puns, dodgy humour and innuendoes, and a preoccupation with toilet humour that might appeal more to a 12 year old boy trying to revolt his baby sister than someone actually looking for information about the topic.  The excessive, crude toilet humour also didn’t appeal to me.


The subject matter has the potential to be extremely interesting; however, this book is not.  One reviewer described this book as the “Trivial Pursuit version of the “adventures on the alimentary canal,” not the informative, organized tour designed to give insight in an entertaining way”.  I can’t really argue with that.


I would not recommend this book to anyone, except possibly the aforementioned 12 year old boy in the hopes of enticing him away from the computer/ TV for a while.  There is too much filler and pointless trivia; and very little actual science in this book.



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review 2017-06-12 09:38
The Ground Beneath Us: From the Oldest Cities to the Last Wilderness, What Dirt Tells Us About Who We Are by Paul Bogard
The Ground Beneath Us: From the Oldest Cities to the Last Wilderness, What Dirt Tells Us About Who We Are - Paul Bogard

This book was disappointing. This book is 95% biographical anecdote (which got boring after a while) and 5% science, environmentalism and politics explained in the most vague manner possible. I also found the book somewhat disjointed.  The message this author wishes to convey is important, he just doesn't do the subject justice.

Other recommended books:

- Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations by David R. Montgomery
- Earth Matters: How Soil Underlies Civilization by Richard D. Bardgett
- Against the Grain: How Agriculture Has Hijacked Civilization by Richard Manning
- Our Stolen Future: Are We Threatening Our Fertility, Intelligence and Survival? A Scientific Detective Story by Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski, John Peterson Myers
- What Has Nature Ever Done for Us?: How Money Really Does Grow on Trees by Tony Juniper

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