Category Archives: Books

The Furry and Creepy Creatures of Britain

A Field Guide to Britain’s Spiders

No, this is not a new Harry Potter story. It is a pair of books on British Wildlife.

I wish I had Britain’s Spiders: A Field Guide (Princeton University Press (WILDGuides)) Lawrence Bee, Geoff Oxford & Helen Smith for the United States.

The Chelicerata include the Arachnids, which in turn includes such as the scorpions, harvestmen, mites, etc. The largest single group of Arachnids is the spiders (Araneae). They all breath air, they all have eight legs, they all have venom injecting fangs (see THIS for more on that). Of all of the orders of organisms, spiders are seventh in terms of total species diversity, with over 45,000 species. (For reference, there are about 5,400 species of mammal and about 10,000 species of bird. Continue reading The Furry and Creepy Creatures of Britain

Venomous: How the Earth’s Deadliest Creatures Mastered Biochemistry

You can read this book review, or you can just go HERE and listen to our interview with author Christie Wilcox. I promise you in advance that you will want to read her book!

But, if you want to read the book review, here it is…

Did you ever do anything that hurt, then you had to do it again and you knew it would still hurt, and you didn’t like that? Like getting your teeth cleaned, or licking a nine volt battery. OK, maybe you didn’t have to lick the nine volt battery, but you get my point.

When I was working in the Ituri Forest, in the Congo, taking a walk in the forest was one of those things. All sorts of things hurt. Your feet hurt because of jungle rot combined with sandy gritty stuff permanently indurated in your shoes. The leaves and branches you would have to move through hurt because it was early in the morning and they were cold and wet. And so on.

But one of the things that was not inevitable, but nearly daily, was being stung by a venomous beast of some kind. The most serious threat, of course, was snakes but that never happened to me. Much more common, but more common a night, was to be bitten or stung by a venomous ant. But that only happened, maybe, once a week or so. But nearly every day, if I would walk far enough in the forest (hundreds of meters) especially early in the morning, would be the venomous caterpillars.

Cute little caterpillars with some extra long furry thingies sticking out of them. When you brush against them, there is instant local pain, a bit like a bee sting (but different) followed quickly by shooting pains from the site of contact to the nearest major lymph node (usually the arm pit), followed by pain in the lymph node. The pain would eventually go away, after minutes, sometimes a bit longer.

Continue reading Venomous: How the Earth’s Deadliest Creatures Mastered Biochemistry

A guide to the butterflies (book review)

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.

Ranges are an interesting problem with butterflies, since their biogeography is both very heterogeneous and in some cases rapidly changing. Also, a key feature of their breeding ranges is not so much when they are there, but how many times they cycle through broods over the warm months. So the maps are interesting: Continue reading A guide to the butterflies (book review)

Monarch Butterflies and Milkweed: An amazing new book

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 monarch butterfly begins a springtime northward migration by flying a good ways north, where females lay eggs and die. Then the eggs hatch, the caterpillars feed and metamorphose, and the newly minted butterflies then fly further north, and this cycle happens again. This happens a few times. The southward migration is different. The butterflies, which are across large areas of temperate North America, fly all the way south to their Mexican wintering grounds.

Continue reading Monarch Butterflies and Milkweed: An amazing new book

New Book by Michael Mann and Meg Herbert

The Tantrum that Saved the World is a kickstarter fueled campaign to produce a children’s book about climate change.

The book will come in two parts. the first part is the story about a small girl child who finds out about, and attempts to address, global warming (more or less … you’ll have to read the book to find out the details!). the second part is about the science of climate change, expanding on the first part.

According to Michael Mann, “We wrote this book because, in our view, nothing like it exists. It educates by entertaining kids. It encourages action by inspiring them.” For her part, illustrator Megan Herbert wanted to turn her “frustration about climate inaction into something positive, to tell myson that I care about the world that I’m passing onto him. I want all kids to understand the challenges ahead and to be inspired to act positively rather than be overwhelmed.”

The book will be printed in an eco-friendly way, especially the eVersion of it!

Click HERE to visit the Kickstarter page and get in on this during the first hours of the campaign, which just started!

Check out the video:

Other books by the same authors:

GRANDMOTHERS CHAIR by AH

The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy by MM

The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines by MM

Dire Predictions, 2nd Edition: Understanding Climate Change by MM

New Book: Democracy in Chains

I’ve heard the story a half dozen times, and every time it is different. But only a little different, and most if not all of the versions I’ve heard are basically correct. Very wealthy individuals and corporations have a stranglehold over the government, and in many cases, call the shots. The only time they are not calling the shots is when a strong movement opposes them, and such movements inevitably weaken and die.

Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America by Nancy MacLean is a book much hated by the right wing, and that is very much under attack by them, so it is a fair guess that MacLean is on to something.

The enemy in this particular story is not Barry Goldwater, or the Koch Brothers, but rather economics James McGill Buchanan. Of course, Charles Koch ends up being a disciple of Buchannan’s approach, ad do others. And that is where the money comes from.

MacLean’s key point is that this is not Continue reading New Book: Democracy in Chains

The Wildlife of Equator: Book review

Wildlife of Ecuador: A Photographic Field Guide to Birds, Mammals, Reptiles, and Amphibians by naturalist Andrés Vásquez Noboa, witih photography byablo Cervantes Daza, covers mainland Ecuador (but by “mainland” we also mean ocean mammals). Focusing only on non-piscine verts, you will need to go elsewhere for your inverts and plants and such. But you get the point. This book covers most of what you are looking for when you are out in the wild looking for animals.

This is not a comprehensive guide, but covers the most frequently seen animals, totaling to 350 distributed across over 400 plates.

There is a good chance that if you are an American or European going to Ecuador, you are visiting the Galapagos, in which you will want to check outg Wildlife of the Galápagos: Second Edition. A rather broad gulf of evolutionary change and outlandish biogeography separates Ecuador from its famous island possessions. But there is a good chance that if you are going to teh Galapagos, you are making at lease one nature related stop, so this is the book for you.

This is a well done nicely bound standard field guide of field guide size and format with animal info and excellent photos on the same pages, and organized by taxonomic category (not all field guides are!). You might think a tiny country like Ecuador does not need range maps, but the topography is highly variable with conditions running from lowland moist to alpin-ish and from wet to dry, so there are, indeed, range maps as needed. And, that ecological diversity is explained in the preface material.

I highly recommend this book for travelers to the region.

If you want more ecology and evoluitonary biology with your field guides, check out my review of the Neotropical Companion, here.

Back to School Science and Culture Stuff

I usually write my annual back to school post earlier than this, but I was distracted by various events. There are three themes here.

1) You are a science teacher and I have some stuff for you.

2) You have a student in a school and you want to support the school’s science teacher.

3) You have a student-offspring or elsewise and are looking for a cool back to school gift.

First, for themes 1 and 2, a mixture of traditional back to school blog posts and some items that may be useful and happen to be on sale at the moment so now’s your chance.

My For Teachers Page has posts providing some science content in evolutionary biology (about Natural Selection and some other topics)

On the same page are essays on teaching philosophy, supporting life science teachers, and evolution and creationism in the classroom, including this famous video.

Books that teachers might find helpful. Consider sending your kids in to school with one of them, focusing on evoluton-creationism and climate change-denial:

Classic text on fighting creationism: Evolution vs. Creationism: An Introduction by Genie Scott

This book should be on the shelf or in the classroom for every teacher in science, or even social science. It is essentially the highly digestable (and illustration rich) version of the IPCC report on the scientific basis for climate change, written by one of that report’s famous authors: Dire Predictions, 2nd Edition: Understanding Climate Change

Teachers and parents of kids in school are in the trenches in the war on science. So you need to know what the war on science is and how to fight it. So, read Shawn Otto’s book The War on Science: Who’s Waging It, Why It Matters, What We Can Do About It

The Manga books on science and math. See this review of Regression Analysis, where you’ll find a list of others. Most recent and hot off the presses is The Manga Guide to Microprocessors

A handful of recent science for various ages (Links are to my reviews):

The Outdoor Science Lab for Kids
Monarch Butterflies and Milkweed: An amazing new book

The Grand Canyon: Monument To An Ancient Earth. Great new book.

And finally, how to not get caught plagiarizing, and what does that pillow that says “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops” really mean? Not what you think!

And now for the fun part, the toys. Amazon is having a huge sale on refurbished devices that you may want to have. I assume they are getting ready for the holidays or something. Go to this link to see what they are

I myself got a Kindle Paperwhite E-reader a while back, and I love it. Then, for her birthday, I got one for Julia. I recommend starting out with the one with “special offers” which are basically ads that are not there when you are reading. The device is cheaper this way, and if the ads really annoy you, you can pay them off to upgrade to the no ad version.

I’m seriously thinking about getting Amanda one of these refurb-Kindle paperwhites. She likes the Kindle just enough for a refurbished one, maybe not enough for a new one…

At the very least, when you meet your teacher at the beginning of the school year, say to them what I say or something like it. “If you ever get hassled by anyone — parent, administration, other teachers — about teaching real science, let me know, I’ll be your best ally. Of course, if you are a science denier or a creationist so the situation is turned around, let me know, I’ll be your worst nightmare …” Then kind of pat them on the shoulder, flip your cape to one side, get on your motorcycle, and drive off.

The Best Bird Books

A few suggestions for holiday gifts, or library upgrades, in the topic of birds.

Thinking About Birds Thinking

Some very interesting books came out this year that investigate bird brains.

Bird Brain: An Exploration of Avian Intelligence by Nathan Emery is the best current book on animal intelligence, and one of the best bird books you’ll be able to lay your hands on right now.

bird_brain_evolution_of_intelligence_nathan_emeryMy review of the book is here.

What the Robin Knows: How Birds Reveal the Secrets of the Natural World by Jon Young is an exploration of nature via the senses (mainly visual and auditory) of birds, and of the reader. I’ve spent a fair amount of time communing with nature, either living with foragers in the Congo, or when I was a kid, being left in the forest by my parents who would drive away quickly, that sort of thing. You learn to read the signs of nature, and part of that is understanding what other animals are understanding, because that is information.

I review Yong’s book here. This is a fantastic book that you will really enjoy if you have any interest at all in nature or birds. Or not. You’ll still enjoy it.

Also check out The Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman.

This elegant scientific investigation and travelogue weaves personal anecdotes with fascinating science. Ackerman delivers an extraordinary story that will both give readers a new appreciation for the exceptional talents of birds and let them discover what birds can reveal about our changing world. Richly informative and beautifully written, The Genius of Birds celebrates the triumphs of these surprising and fiercely intelligent creatures.

About birds

New this year is the important conservation oriented book Birds in Trouble by Lynn Barber. This is about birds threatened by all manner of things. In particular, she looks at just under 50 species in the US that have specific reasons to be considered as threatened.

Not new this year, but a book that I like so much I always want to mention it (when talking about bird books) is Ten Thousand Birds: Ornithology since Darwin by Birkhead, Wimpenny, and Montgomerie. Check it out. The title says it all.

watefowl_north_america

Pretty Bird

Waterfowl of North America, Europe and Asia by Sebastien Reeber is one of those bird books you keep handy and use to expand your knowledge of birds laterally. You see a duck, then you explore the duck’s kin globally in this very nice looking and at the same time informative book.

The Crossley Guides

The Crossley ID Guides did not come out in 2016, but I list them here because they are still current, must have, highly innovative and beautiful books. If you don’t have the appropriate guides for your area, get them!

<li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0691147787/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0691147787&linkCode=as2&tag=grlasbl0a-20&linkId=b07fe7215836f1dae723663f8d276637">The Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds</a><img src="//ir-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/ir?t=grlasbl0a-20&l=am2&o=1&a=0691147787" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" /></li>
<li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0691157405/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0691157405&linkCode=as2&tag=grlasbl0a-20&linkId=00f5c3fd704c68fd8c894014f6112e7a">The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors</a><img src="//ir-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/ir?t=grlasbl0a-20&l=am2&o=1&a=0691157405" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" /></li>
<li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0691151946/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0691151946&linkCode=as2&tag=grlasbl0a-20&linkId=83bd46ac51800e8627195c6b02a2b7b1">The Crossley ID Guide: Britain and Ireland </a><img src="//ir-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/ir?t=grlasbl0a-20&l=am2&o=1&a=0691151946" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" /></li>

screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-7-16-38-pmBut also by Birkhead, and current, is The Most Perfect Thing: Inside (and Outside) a Bird’s Egg. From the publishers:

Renowned ornithologist Tim Birkhead opens this gripping story as a female guillemot chick hatches, already carrying her full quota of tiny eggs within her undeveloped ovary. As she grows into adulthood, only a few of her eggs mature, are released into the oviduct, and are fertilized by sperm stored from copulation that took place days or weeks earlier. Within a matter of hours, the fragile yolk is surrounded by albumen and the whole is gradually encased within a turquoise jewel of a shell. Soon afterward the fully formed egg is expelled onto a bare rocky ledge, where it will be incubated for four weeks before a chick emerges and the life cycle begins again.

The image of the owl at the top of the post is a screen grab from this gallery of photos by Ana Miller. I’ve got a couple of original Millers hanging in my library. You should get one too! Makes a great holiday gift.

The Best and Most Current Climate Change Books

Time to make sure you are stocked up and up to date on your climate science books. First, you will need reference materials throughout the holiday season, because Uncle Bob is going to challenge you more stridently than usual. Climate change deniers have taken over the US government. You are on the run. Underground. Up against the wall. So, you need to be ready. Uncle Bob is coming for you.

Second, you may want to give a few climate change related books away for the holidays. Know any science or social studies teachers? Maybe a nice book for Uncle Bob’s wife? Ha, that would be funny. Anyway, you’ll want to do that.

There are four books I recommend as gifts for anybody, but also, for your own enjoyment.

The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy by climate scientist Michael Mann and Washington Post political cartoonist Tom Toles is one of the most current, and in many ways, the most fun, of the climate books. The authors go right after the science deniers, but not at the expense of a lot of excellent explanation of the science itself, and the overall political situation. The cartoons are great, the text is engaging.

Also richly illustrated, but in a totally different way, and by one of the same authors, is Dire Predictions, 2nd Edition: Understanding Climate Change. Michael Mann shared a Nobel Prize with the IPCC and the other scientists for their work on climate change. That process involved the production of the Scientific Basis for Climate Change IPCC report, which is redone every several years, and includes all the science behind the broad consensus. Dire Predictions represents that science in a fully understandable way, and adds additional material on the other aspects of the problem: Policy. This is a basic on the shelf text you need in your home, and that your kid’s science teachers need in their classrooms.

Not a climate change book but essential, and that I’ll put right here for you to consider: The War on Science: Who’s Waging It, Why It Matters, What We Can Do About It, Shawn Otto’s latest popular yet scholarly work on the effort to destroy science, is a must read. Climate science isn’t the only science under attack. This book covers it all.

Caring for Creation: The Evangelical’s Guide to Climate Change and a Healthy Environment by Paul Douglas and Mitch Hescox is specifically written for your Uncle Bob, is Uncle Bob is a conservative Evangelical Christian. Paul is the country’s top meteorologist-communicator who happens to be a conservative (he claims) Evangelical Christian. Paul wrote the science in this book and it is real science, no holding back. Mitch is an Evangelical Christian guy who supplies the scriptural-religious part of the story. The book, obviously, is about how if you are an Evangelical Christian you should not be a dick about climate change.

Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know® by Joe Romm is unique among climate change books. Romm looks at the actual personal impacts of climate change, in the near and longer term future, on typical Americans. Think about it for a second. Many Americans who live in the north plan to eventually retire to warmer, southerly climes. Is that a good idea, with global warming and sea level rise happening? Are you sure that shorefront (or near shorefront) property on the Gulf Coast is a good idea right about now? What about your investment portfolio, what with changes happening in the energy industry and uncertainty in other areas? This is the book that covers that.

Climatology versus Pseudoscience: Exposing the Failed Predictions of Global Warming Skeptics by Dana Nuccitelli attacks climate science denialism by rushing right through the battle lines into enemy territory and deconstructing their bogus tripe. This is like the Guns of Navarone, where the guys sneak pas the Nazis and boow up their stuff, but with models. Just how have those alternative ideas and predictions, made over the last several years by climate change deniers, done, compare to the mainstream science? Well, read the book and find out. But I’ll bet you can guess.