Recommended Holiday Gift Books

Brand new, clearly excellent, I’ve not finished reviewing but you need to know about them:

Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters by Don Prothero.Though I’ve not seen this latest edition, I’m very familiar with the earlier version of the book, which was excellent. I recommend this as a textbook, or as a general reader book for those who want to delve into the topic.

A Different Kind of Animal: How Culture Transformed Our Species (The University Center for Human Values Series)

The Quotable Darwin

Modern Humans: Their African Origin and Global Dispersal

Books for kids


For children’s books, for kids from about zero to 8 or so, check out these two previous posts:

The Best Children’s Books #1

The Best Children’s Books #2

Extinct Mammals

Aside from McKay’s book (below) on Mammoths, you another fantastic extinct mammal book came out recently. The Princeton Field Guide to Prehistoric Mammals (Princeton Field Guides) will be very handy in case you run into an extinct mammal. The cool thing about this book is that it is written by the paleontologist who has the most experience with the North American fossil record than anyone, and given that the fossil record almost always grows and rarely shrinks, that means that this book is written by the one person who knows more about this material than anyone ever has. Amazing illustrations as well.

Butterflies

A Swift Guide to Butterflies of North America is a field guider’s field guide. It is the shape and size of a traditional field guide. The designers of this book said “we don’t need no stinking margins” so there are no margins. Color bleeds on the page edges allow a quick index to major butterfly categories. There is a two page spread visual index. A no nonsense introduction give you the basics about how to use the book, how to be a butterflyer, and how to not be a jerk about butterflies (like, don’t net them and kill them). The front covers even have those flaps that you can use as bookmarks. Excellent example of an animal field guide. My full review is here.

Monarchs and Milkweed: A Migrating Butterfly, a Poisonous Plant, and Their Remarkable Story of Coevolution by Anurag Agrawal is a fantastic, readable, scientifically rich, detailed monograph about – you guessed it – the monarch butterfly and the milkweed plant. The conclusions about monarch conservain reached in this book will surprise you. My full review is here.

Best Climate Change Books (not all recent, yet, scientifically current)

Dire Predictions: Understanding Climate Changeis everyperson’s guide to the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. The IPCC issues a periodic set of reports on the state of global climate change, and has been doing so for almost two decades. It is a massive undertaking and few have the time or training to read though and absorb it, yet it is very important that every citizen understands the reports’ implications. Why? Because human caused climate change has emerged as the number one existential issue of the day, and individuals, corporations, and governments must act to implement sensible and workable changes in behavior and policy or there will be dire consequences.

How Mammoths Changed How Science Works

John McKay’s excellent Discovering the Mammoth: A Tale of Giants, Unicorns, Ivory, and the Birth of a New Science exposes the role that mammoth fossils played in cajoling Europeans to struggle out of the clutches of ancient bible based thinking about the world, and finally embrace science to explain the strange things they saw. John is the world’s authority in this subject, and this book is a must read.

Math and related

You can solve mysteries with math, and you can do it in either English or Spanish, with One Minute Mysteries – Misterios de un Minuto: Short Mysteries You Solve With Math! – ¡Misterios Cortos que Resuelves con Matemáticas!, by Yoder and Yoder.

The original version of this book was all English, and was a best seller. This new version obviously gives you mucho mucho mas and math to boot.

The One Minute Mysteries series is well known and widely loved, and is recommended by the NSTA.

Have a notebook or a pile of blank paper and some writing instruments handy because you will need them to work out some of these problems.

This is for kids age 10-14, and is a well written, well constructed, well printed resource. I strongly recommend it if your family has young ones around that age, regardless of their math level. Also check out One Minute Mysteries: 65 Short Mysteries You Solve With Science! and One-Minute Mysteries and Brain Teasers: Good Clean Puzzles for Kids of All Ages.

Horses

Over the years, the field guide and the coffee table book have merged, and we now have coffee table-ish books (but serious books) that include a species description of every critter in a certain clade. In the case of Horses of the World by Élise Rousseau (Author), Yann Le Bris (Illustrator), Teresa Lavender Fagan (Translator), while every living species of horse is in fact covered, the book is a comprehensive guide to breeds of horses.

Of which there are 570.

A horse is horse, of course, but but is a donkey or an ass? What about zebras?

Horse people are very picky about what they call a horse. It is generally thought that there are onlly three living or recent species of horse. The Prewalski’s horse (Equus ferus prezewalski), which lives in Asia, the tarpan (Equus ferus ferus) which is the European version of this animal, and went extinct when the last zoo inmate of this species died in 1909, and the modern horse, Equus ferus caballus. But if you think of a horse as a member of the genus Equus, there are more, including the donkey/ass and three species of zebra, the Kiang (a Tibetan ass), and another Asian ass called the Onager. And, since when speaking of horses, the extinct European wild horse is generally mentioned, we will add the Quagga, the half horse-half zebra (in appearance) African equid that went extinct in 1984 (having disappeared from the wild in 1883).

Since “horses” (as in Mr. Ed and friends) and Zebras can interbreed successfully, and some of these other forms can as well to varying degrees, we need to think of Equus as a close knit genus and not be exclusionary in disregarding the Zebra and Donkey.

Anyway, that is not what this book is about. As noted, there are some 570 or possibly more varieties of horse (no two experts will likely agree on that number) and Horses of the World covers them all. There is introductory material about horses, breeds, how we tell them apart, conservation status, etc. Each horse breed is then given one half of a page on each of two folios, so you see overleaf some illustrated text on one side, and a fuller and very official illustration on the other, for most breeds, with some variation.

This is one of the few books that comes with a movie, compete with some rather galloping music:

Élise Rousseau is the author of numerous books on horses. Illustrator Yann Le Bris has illustrated numerous books.

Physical Science

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry is Neil deGrasse Tyson’s new book.

The War on Science

No science interested person’s library is complete without a copy of Shawn Otto’s The War on Science: Who’s Waging It, Why It Matters, What We Can Do About It

Nature

Consider the Neotropical Companion, especially if you plan to visit the neotropics any time soon. See my full review of it here. I love this book.

Skepticism

Another book by Don Prothero, which I’ve not seen but that is probably very good (I read an early draft of a chapter, IIRC): UFOs, Chemtrails, and Aliens: What Science Says

Get this book that I have a chapter in! Karen Stollznow has edited this book: Would You Believe It?: Mysterious Tales From People You’d Least Expect, and you will find my chapter on page 112.

This is a great idea for a book. Suppose Susan Blackmore told you she had an out of body experience? Or that Don Prothero had an alien abduction story for you? Or that I claimed I had once hunted down and captured a ghost? Would you believe it??? Indeed.

You would probably be skeptical if any of the 30+ established skeptics who authored chapters in this book told you that they had a paranormal, psychic, or otherwise impossible experience. But that is what this book is full of: people who don’t believe in any of these things having these very experiences.

In some cases, the teller of the True Tale of Mystery can explain their experience as a natural phenomenon. In other cases, not, but for some reason, they still believe that what happened to them was not paranormal. Why? Well, read the chapters to find out.

Would You Believe It?: Mysterious Tales From People You’d Least Expect has a forward by James Randi, and a few of the chapters are more theory than observation. There is an afterward by James Alcock.

Has anything mysterious ever happened to you?

Experiences of this kind are more common than you think. And they happen to people you’d least expect, even notable scientists and skeptics.

This collection features personal stories and experiences of the mysterious, as told by Banachek, Susan Blackmore, Joe Nickell, Eugenie Scott, Chris French, Ken Feder, George Hrab, Brian Regal, Steve Cuno, Ray Hyman, and many others, with a foreword by James Randi and an afterword by James Alcock. These are tales about a wide range of extraordinary experiences, including ghost and UFO sightings, alien abduction, Bigfoot encounters, faith healing, séances, superstitions, coincidences, demonic possession, out-of-body-experiences, past lives, episodes of missing time and one case where time stood still. You will read about a poltergeist in a bakery, a genius baby, a haunted concert hall, a stone carving that vanishes and reappears mysteriously, a one-time palm reader, and a former Mormon missionary who once believed he healed a woman of a brain tumor.

Indeed, when Karen asked me to write a chapter for the book, and if I had any stories of this kind, several such experiences came to mind. I didn’t mention to her two UFO observations I had made as a kid (one seemingly bogus even at the time although all the adults bought it as real, the other very realistic and still a bit difficult to explain). I did have a more recent, adult-age, UFO experience that I could easily explain that I put on the initial list to consider. Also, having grown up in an old-world style religious household (not American evangelical Christian, but rather, Midlevel demonic possession poltergeisty Central European and Irish Catholic style household), I had a lot of stories handed on to me from relatives, including one harrowing story having to do with Exorcist style levitation, vomiting of green goo, and all that. And, of course, there are those non drug induced time shifting experiences and the pets that can read your mind and all that. I settled on the story about the ghost because it is the best story for the telling.

Birds

This book from last year is still one of the best books out there on birds that is not a bird guide: What the Robin Knows by John Young.

Some excellent new bird guides worth checking out if they pertain:

Birds of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East

The Birds Of India

Birds of Australia

Maker and Tech

Excellent volumes on Arduino, operating at various levels:

Arduino Inventor’s Guide for the Medium level tinkerer. Check out Arduino Playground for the much more advanced user.

For the novice: Arduino Project Handbook Volume 2 (see the review for a link to Volume 1, also excellent)

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