Archive for June, 2007

Skin: a Natural History

June 7, 2007

From the book jacket:

We expose it, cover it, paint it, tattoo it, scar it, and pierce it. Our intimate connection with the world, skin protects us while advertising our health, our identity, and our individuality. This dazzling synthetic overview, written with a poetic touch and taking many intriguing side excursions, is a complete guidebook to the pliable covering that makes us who we are. Skin: A Natural History celebrates the evolution of three unique attributes of human skin: its naked sweatiness, its distinctive sepia rainbow of colors, and its remarkable range of decorations. Jablonski begins with a look at skin’s structure and functions and then tours its three-hundred-million-year evolution, delving into such topics as the importance of touch and how the skin reflects and affects emotions. She examines the modern human obsession with age-related changes in skin, especially wrinkles. She then turns to skin as a canvas for self-expression, exploring our use of cosmetics, body paint, tattooing, and scarification. Skin: A Natural History places the rich cultural canvas of skin within its broader biological context for the first time, and the result is a tremendously engaging look at ourselves.

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Why Size Matters: From Bacteria to Blue Whales

June 7, 2007

From the book jacket:

John Tyler Bonner, one of our most distinguished and creative biologists, here offers a completely new perspective on the role of size in biology. In his hallmark friendly style, he explores the universal impact of being the right size. By examining stories ranging from Alice in Wonderland to Gulliver’s Travels, he shows that humans have always been fascinated by things big and small. Why then does size always reside on the fringes of science and never on the center stage? Why do biologists and others ponder size only when studying something else–running speed, life span, or metabolism?

Why Size Matters, a pioneering book of big ideas in a compact size, gives size its due by presenting a profound yet lucid overview of what we know about its role in the living world. Bonner argues that size really does matter–that it is the supreme and universal determinant of what any organism can be and do. For example, because tiny creatures are subject primarily to forces of cohesion and larger beasts to gravity, a fly can easily walk up a wall, something we humans cannot even begin to imagine doing.

Bonner introduces us to size through the giants and dwarfs of human, animal, and plant history and then explores questions including the physics of size as it affects biology, the evolution of size over geological time, and the role of size in the function and longevity of living things.

As this elegantly written book shows, size affects life in its every aspect. It is a universal frame from which nothing escapes.

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Secret Weapons: Defenses of Insects, Spiders, Scorpions, and Other Many-Legged Creatures

June 6, 2007

Book Description

Mostly tiny, infinitely delicate, and short-lived, insects and their relatives–arthropods–nonetheless outnumber all their fellow creatures on earth. How lowly arthropods achieved this unlikely preeminence is a story deftly and colorfully told in this follow-up to the award-winning For Love of Insects. Part handbook, part field guide, part photo album, Secret Weapons chronicles the diverse and often astonishing defensive strategies that have allowed insects, spiders, scorpions, and other many-legged creatures not just to survive, but to thrive.

In sixty-nine chapters, each brilliantly illustrated with photographs culled from Thomas Eisner’s legendary collection, we meet a largely North American cast of arthropods–as well as a few of their kin from Australia, Europe, and Asia–and observe at firsthand the nature and extent of the defenses that lie at the root of their evolutionary success. Here are the cockroaches and termites, the carpenter ants and honeybees, and all the miniature creatures in between, deploying their sprays and venom, froth and feces, camouflage and sticky coatings. And along with a marvelous bug’s-eye view of how these secret weapons actually work, here is a close-up look at the science behind them, from taxonomy to chemical formulas, as well as an appendix with instructions for studying chemical defenses at home. Whether dipped into here and there or read cover to cover, Secret Weapons will prove invaluable to hands-on researchers and amateur naturalists alike, and will captivate any reader for whom nature is a source of wonder.

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Rene’ Dubos: Friend of the Good Earth: Microbiologist, Medical Scientist, Environmentalist

June 6, 2007

 From the book jacket:

Rene Dubos, Friend of the Good Earth: Microbiologist, Medical Scientist, Environmentalist is a biography of one of the most influential scientists in recent history. Documenting his life from his birth in 1901 or his death in 1982, this book examines the intriguing career of Dubos and his impact on science, medicine, society and the environment.

Dubos’ science is presented in the context of 20th Century biology, medicine and ecology. The ecological approach that led to his discovery of the first antibiotic was the foundation for his career as a medical scientist and environmentalist. The issues he raised, including antibiotic resistance, the interrelatedness of environmental health to human health, and the potential danger of relying too heavily on vaccines and drugs to eradicate disease, continue to be provocative and increasingly relevant today. A prolific author and a passionate humanist, Dubos served as the conscience of the environmental movement and founded the popular motto “Think globally, act locally.”

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