Archive for the ‘History’ Category

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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Masks: Faces of Culture

May 30, 2007

From the book’s foreword:

It is rare and exciting for a major art exhibition to be organized around so universal and appealing as masks. In an age when large retrospectives and carefully culled thematic presentations are abundant, we take great pride in presenting Masks: Faces of Culture. The individual masks selected for exhibition, and the themes of human existence they relate to, are as accessible to the youngest visitor as they are to the most sophisticated museum-goer.

That said, it is important to note that the driving forces behind this exhibition have been concerned not only with the expression–indeed facial expressions–of basic human themes, but also with a quality of visual aesthetics that exemplifies the highest culture of individual societies. The masks represented in these pages reveal some of the best craftmanship, artistry, creativity, and design that we could expect in any art form.

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Laughing Gas, Viagra, and Lipitor: The Human Stories Behind the Drugs We Use

May 25, 2007

Book Description

The stories behind drug discovery are fascinating, full of human and scientific interest. This is a book on the history of drug discovery that highlights the intellectual splendor of discoverers as well as the human frailty associated them. History is replete with examples of breakthrough medicines that have saved millions of lives. To offer just a few examples: ether as an anesthetic by Morton; penicillin as an antibiotic by Fleming; and insulin as an anti-diabetic by Banting discovered the use of insulin for treating diabetes.

In this book on the history of drug discovery, author Jie Jack Li highlights both the intellectual splendor of the discoverers as well as their human frailty, and he shows us that the discoverers of these medicines are, beyond a doubt, great benefactors to mankind. For instance, it is probable that without penicillin, 75% of us would not be alive today.

Li is a medicinal chemist and is intimately involved with drug discovery. Through extensive research and interviews with the inventors of drugs, including those of Viagra and Lipitor, he has assembled an astounding number of facts and anecdotes as well as much useful information about important drugs we know and use in our lives today. Figures, diagrams, and illustrations highlight the text throughout.

Both specialists and laymen alike will find Laughing, Gas, Viagra, and Lipitor information and entertaining. Students in chemistry, pharmacy, and medicine, workers in healthcare, and high school science teachers will find this book most useful.

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Sustainable communities and the challenge of environmental justice

May 1, 2007

Sustainable Communities and the Challenge of Environmental Justice

From the book jacket:

Environmental justice and sustainability have evolved over the past two decades to provide new and exciting directions for public policy and planning, but the relationship between their movements has traditionally been uneasy. What might, at first glance, seem like an obvious case for coalition is fraught with ideological and other concerns. How has it come to this, and how can we move forward?

Sustainable Communities and the Challenge of Environmental Justice argues that there exists an area of theoretical and practical compatibility between these movements, a critical nexus for a broad social movement to create just and sustainable communities for all people. Agyeman shows how these two related movements can potentially work together by providing practical examples of organizations which employ the types of strategies he advocates. This book is vital to the efforts of community organizers, academics, policymakers, and everyone interested in more livable communities.

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The Gecko’s Foot: Bio-Inspiration–Engineering New Materials From Nature

April 27, 2007

From the book jacket:

Bio-inspiration is the new engineering: nature’s own nanotechnology. Instead of-in crude terms-welding large pieces of hard, “dry,” right-angled metal together, scientists, architects, and engineers are now taking a leaf from nature’s book by building intricate structures with surprising new properties, using the kind of “wet” self-assembly techniques that nature has perfected over millions of years of evolution.

The quest to match the amazing adhesion of the gecko’s foot is just one of many examples of this new science. In Peter Forbe’s engaging book we also discover how George de Mestral’s brush with the spiny fruits of the cocklebur inspired him to invent the hook-and-loop fastener usually known by its trade name Velcro; how unfolding leaves, insect wings, and space solar panels share similar origami folding patterns; how the self-cleaning leaves of the sacred lotus plant spawned a new industry of self-cleaning surfaces; and how the photonic crystal, perhaps the most important innovation since the transistor, was actually invented by the humble sea create Aphrodite eons ago.

The new “smart” science of bio-inspiration is going to produce a plethora of products over the next decades that will transform our lives and force us to look at the world in a completely new way. It is the science we will be reading about in tomorrow’s papers; it is the science of tomorrow’s world.

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Fire Mountains of the West: The Cascade and Mono Lake Volcanoes, 3rd Edition

April 27, 2007

From the book jacket:

Fire Mountains of the West is a completely revised, thoroughly researched account of the volatile history and deadly potential of volcanic activity from California to southwestern British Columbia. The heart of the book is a fascinating biography of each of the major volcanoes of the West. From the subterranean lava tube caves of the Medicine Lake volcano to the fire-and-ice formation of Mount Garibaldi, from the cataclysmic collapse of Crater Lake to the incinerating blast of modern Mount St. Helens, and from deadly volcanic gas currently killing trees at Mammoth Mountain to massive mudflows waiting to burst from Mount Rainier, this book brings to life in dynamic, crystal-clear language the geologic story of our western mountainscape.

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Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo and the Making of the Animal Kingdom

April 26, 2007

From the book’s preface:

The key to understanding form is development, the process through which a single-celled egg gives rise to a complex, multi-billion-celled animal. This amazing spectacle stood as one of the great unsolved mysteries of biology for nearly two centuries. And development is intimately connected to evolution because it is through changes in embryos that changes in form arise. Over the past two decades, a new revolution has unfolded in biology. Advances in developmental biology and evolutionary developmental biology (dubbed “Evo Devo”) have revealed a great deal about the invisible genes and some simple rules that shape animal form and evolution. Much of what we have learned has been so stunning and unexpected that it has profoundly reshaped our picture of how evolution works. Not a single biologist, for example, ever anticipated that the same genes that control the making of an insect’s body and organs also control the making of our bodies.

This book tells the story of this new revolution and its insights into how the animal kingdom has evolved. My goal is to reveal a vivid picture of the process of making animals and how various kinds of changes in that process have molded the different kinds of animals we know today and those from the fossil record.

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Building Houses Out of Chicken Legs: Black Women, Food, & Power

April 25, 2007

From the book jacket:
Chicken–both the bird and the food–has played multiple roles in the lives of African American women from the slavery era to the present. It has provided food and a source of income for their families, shaped a distinctive culture, and helped women define and exert themselves in racist and hostile environments. Psyche A. Williams-Forson examines the complexity of black women’s legacies using food as a form of cultural work. While acknowledging the negative interpretations of black culture associated with chicken imagery, Williams-Forson focuses her analysis on the ways black women have forged their own self-definitions and relationships to the “gospel bird.”Exploring material ranging from personal interviews to the comedy of Chris Rock, from commercial advertisements to the art of Kara Walker, and from cookbooks to literature, Williams-Forson considers how black women arrive at degrees of self-definition and self-reliance using certain foods. She demonstrates how they defy conventional representations of blackness in relationship to these foods and exercise influence through food preparation and distribution.

Understanding these phenomena clarifies how present interpretations of blacks and chicken are rooted in a past that is fraught with both racism and agency. The traditions and practices of feminism, Williams-Forson argues, are inherent in the foods women prepare and serve.

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AC/DC: The Savage Tale of the First Standards War

April 25, 2007

From the book jacket:
Long before there was VHS versus Betamax, Windows versus Macintosh, or Blu-Ray versus HD-DVD, the first and nastiest standards war was fought between alternating current (AC) and direct current (DC).

AC/DC tells the little-known story of how Thomas Edison bet wrong in the fierce war between supporters of alternating current and direct current. The savagery of this electrical battle can hardly be imagined today. The showdown between AC and DC began as a rather straightforward conflict between technical standards, a battle of competing methods to deliver essentially the same product, electricity. But the skirmish soon metastasized into something bigger and darker. In the AC/DC battle, the worst aspects of human nature somehow got caught up in the wires; a silent, deadly flow of arrogance, vanity, and cruelty. Following the path of least resistance, the war of currents soon settled around that most primal of human emotions: fear. AC/DC serves as an object lesson in bad business strategy and poor decision making. Edison’s inability to see his mistake was a key factor in his loss of control over the “operating system” for his future inventions—not to mention the company he founded, which would later become General Electric.

The battle over whether alternating or direct current would be the standard for transmitting electricity around the world changed the lives of billions of people, shaped the modern technological age, and set the stage for all standards wars to follow. Today’s Digital Age wizards can take lessons from Edison’s fierce battle—control an invention’s technical standard and you control the market.

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Napoleon’s Buttons: 17 Molecules that Changed History

April 25, 2007

From the book jacket:
Though many factors have been proposed to explain the failure of Napoleon’s 1812 Russian campaign, it has also been linked to something as small as a button-a tin button, the kind that fastened everything from the greatcoats of Napoleon’s officers to the trousers of his foot soldiers. When temperatures drop below 56°F, tin crumbles into powder. Were the soldiers of the Grande Arm& evacutee fatally weakened by cold because the buttons of their uniforms fell apart? How different our world might be if tin did not disintegrate at low temperatures and the French had continued their eastward expansion!

This fascinating book tells the stories of seventeen molecules that, like the tin of those buttons, greatly influenced the course of history. These molecules provided the impetus for early exploration and made possible the ensuing voyages of discovery. They resulted in grand feats of engineering and spurred advances in medicine; lie behind changes in gender roles, in law, and in the environment; and have determined what we today eat, drink, and wear.

Showing how a change as small as the position of an atom can lead to enormous differences in the properties of a substance, the authors reveal the astonishing chemical connections among seemingly unrelated events. Napoleon’s Buttons offers a novel way to understand how our contemporary world works and how our civilization has been shaped over time.

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