"Entire industries are built on our desire to get as close as safely possible to wild tigers, bears, lions, and many other species that could kill us at whim."
~ from J.A. Mills' The Blood of the Tiger
In Search of Sir Thomas Browne: The Life and Afterlife of the Seventeenth Century's... by Hugh Aldersey-WilliamsA professional skeptic whose seven-volume Pseudoxia Epidemica sought to debunk (among other popular superstitions) the belief that goat's blood dissolves diamonds, 17th-century scientist and philosopher Sir Thomas Browne is the reason we attach weather vanes to rooftops instead of dead birds. Although Browne himself has fallen into relative obscurity, his writings have inspired literary luminaries such as Herman Melville, Virginia Woolf, and Jose Luis Borges -- not least by coining some 784 new words, among them "medical," "insecurity," and "hallucination." This engaging, richly detailed biography explores Browne's life and legacy by examining his obsessions: the relationship between science and religion, the meaning of life and death, and the nature of reality.
Domesticated: Evolution in a Man-Made World by Richard C. FrancisScience writer Richard C. Francis draws on zooarchaeology (a combination of biology, anthropology, and natural history) to explore how the evolution of domesticated animals has influenced human history. Francis examines both genetic and behavioral changes in the evolution of domestic dogs, cats, and livestock species -- as well as rodents, camels, ferrets, and reindeer -- and evaluates their impact on us through the ages. In his comparisons on domestic animals to their wild ancestors, Francis reveals the thin line between natural and artificial selection, distinguishing between creatures that allowed themselves to be tamed and those that domesticated themselves by choosing proximity to humans.
The Weather Experiment: The Pioneers Who Sought to See the Future by Peter MooreWeather forecasting only date back to the 1860s. Before the 19th century, no one really understood what caused atmospheric processes, let alone how to predict them. This engaging history delves into the science of meteorology, which author Peter Moore calls the result of "one of the most notorious and daring experiments" of its time. Outlining the scientific underpinnings of natural phenomena such as wind, storms, and clouds, Moore considers the contributions of individuals who have significantly advanced our understanding of weather: navigator and "wind scale" developer Francis Beaufort, landscape artist John Constable, and astronomer George Airy, to name but a few.
Of Orcas and Men: What Killer Whales Can Teach Us by David NeiwertCommonly known as "killer whales," orcas are a gentle, highly intelligent species of dolphin known for their sophisticated language and complex social structures. Revered since prehistoric times by indigenous peoples in the Pacific Northwest, Canadian Maritime provinces, New Zealand, and Siberia, orcas have recently become a fixture of marine parks all over the world -- a trend that threatens their survival as a species. In this compelling book, journalist David Neiwert introduces readers to the biology and behavior of these cetaceans, while describing the catastrophic effects of captivity on killer whale populations. For an account of wild orcas, try Alexandra Morton's Listening to Whales; if you're interested in the controversy surrounding the use of marine mammals as entertainment, check out David Kirby's Death at SeaWorld.
The Strange Case of the Rickety Cossack: And Other Cautionary Tales... by Ian TattersallLinnaeus was the first to classify humans as apes (specifically the genus Homo in the Family Hominidae of the Order Mammalia), a revolutionary move in 1758. Before and since, we have attempted to define ourselves and our place in the world with varying degrees of success. In this entertaining history of the science of human evolution, Ian Tattersall, a paleoanthropologist and Curator Emeritus for the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, explains the concept of human exceptionalism influences the way we think about our origins as a species. Combining an overview of milestones in evolutionary theory with anecdotes from his own experiences in the field, Tattersall proves a knowledgeable guide to this fascinating subject.
Focus on: Endangered Species
The Last Unicorn: A Search for One of Earth's Rarest Creatures by William DeBuysIn 2011, journalist William DeBuys accompanied field biologist William Robichaud to Nakai-Nam Theun, in Laos, to observe the saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis) -- a rare, near-extinct ungulate unknown to science until 1992. DeBuys' engaging, lyrical account of the search for this elusive animal is interwoven with a frank discussion of the dangers facing the remaining members of the species, including poaching, habitat destruction, and climate change.
Blood of the Tiger: A Story of Conspiracy, Greed, and the Battle to Save... by J.A. MillsAlthough there are only an estimated 3,000 tigers remaining in the wild, at least twice that number are raised on farms in China to supply wealthy consumers with luxury goods, including furs and tiger-bone wine. The result of turning tigers into livestock, argues journalist J.A. Mills, is that the practice increases demand for animal products, putting all tigers in danger. The result of 20 years spent investigating the global, multi-billion-dollar illegal wildlife trade, this impassioned account by Mills presents an eye-opening look at an evolving threat to a critically endangered species as well as a front-line dispatch on the state of global conservation efforts. For another perspective on the fraught relationship between tigers and humans, check out John Vaillant's The Tiger.
Monster of God: The Man-Eating Predator in the Jungles of History and the Mind by David QuammenWhen it comes to organisms that can destroy us, David Quammen knows his stuff. In Monster of God, the author of such terror-inducing reads as Ebola and Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic, turns his attention from microscopic marauders to man-eaters. A category more psychological than ecological, "man-eater" refers to a relatively small number of mammals, fish, and reptiles that can, if so inclined, kill and eat a human being. Introducing animals both familiar (Nile crocodiles, Siberian tigers) and relatively unknown (Asiatic lion, Ganges shark), Quammen vividly brings to life some of the deadliest predators on Earth.
The Intimate Ape: Orangutans and the Secret Life of a Vanishing Species by Shawn ThompsonOrangutans make dolls out of leaves, which they then take to their (elaborately constructed) nests and cuddle. Among the most intelligent of primates, these arboreal apes also manufacture tools and practice calculated reciprocity, performing cost-benefit analyses when exchanging gifts. These are just some of the reasons that orangutans fascinate journalist Shawn Thompson, who travels to the jungles of Southeast Asia to observe them. In The Intimate Ape, Thompson introduces scientists and conservationists working to save these critically endangered animals, while recounting his own interactions with orangutans including Kusasi, the 300-pound male with the ability, if not the inclination, to "rip your arms and legs off like daisy petals"; Princess, who communicates using sign language; and Kiki, who remains inquisitive and lively despite near-total paralysis.
Ivory's Ghosts: The White Gold of History and the Fate of Elephants by John Frederick WalkerThe future of elephants is closely tied to the history of ivory. Also known as dentin, this rare substance forms the tusks of pachyderms. Prized by humans since the Paleolithic era, ivory has also fueled the global slave trade and caused the mass slaughter of elephants (with an estimated 2.8 million animals killed between 1850 and 1914). Whether describing the famed Kilimanjaro tusks -- each ten feet long, weighing over 200 pounds, and as thick as a human leg -- or recounting the circumstances that led to the 1990 worldwide ban on ivory products, author John Frederick Walker keeps readers riveted throughout this sobering book. For more on the illegal trade of tusks, horns, and other endangered animal products, check out Ronald Orenstein's Ivory, Horn, and Blood.
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