Tag Archives: Book Reviews

How to keep your kids out of trouble in this modern age

Do you worry that your kid is going to be rejected from civilization, or, at least, college or the boy scouts or something, because of dumb stuff they do on line? Do you see evidence that your children are copying the jerky characters that grace our TV screens and movies, and are becoming too annoying, compared to how we all were when we grew up? Do you want to just tell the up coming generation to GET OFF THE LAWN!!!!

Here is a way to do that. Continue reading How to keep your kids out of trouble in this modern age

Science Books: New And Cheap (not necessarily both)

Let’s start with CheMystery.

This is a fun graphic novel mystery book by C.A. Preece and Josh Reynolds. Two cousins experience an incident that would make a physicist cry, but that works in a chemistry book because they now have the ability to observe and change matter. So this is a superhero book, designed to teach chemistry. The story is great, the science is great, and the pedagogy is well suited for kids and adults that like graphic novels.

Preece is the chem teacher (high school) and Reynolds is the artist.

This is written for grades 7 through 10 (ages 8-12) but some younger kids will do fine with it.

This book is pretty new, but I think it is available.

Here are some books that are currently available cheap on Kindle, for anywhere from free to two bucks, that are either science or otherwise, I suspect, of interest to readers of this blog:

Electric Universe: How Electricity Switched on the Modern World

In Praise of Doubt: How to Have Convictions Without Becoming a Fanatic

You Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory Is Mostly Fiction, an d 46 Other Ways You’re Deluding Yourself

Bad Girls Throughout History: 100 Remarkable Women Who Changed the World

Adams: An American Dynasty

The Age of Radiance

The Age of Radiance: The Epic Rise and Dramatic Fall of the Atomic Era by Craig Nelson (author of Rocket Men: The Epic Story of the First Men on the Moon) is a well done history of the atomic age. If you are a bit squeamish (justifiably I’m sure) about the nuclear industry or nuclear stuff generally you’ll find Nelson’s dismissal of your concerns as the product of a public relations fail on the part of the nuclear industry to be patronizing and annoying, but there isn’t too much of that in the book, and he’s partly right; most fears people have about nuclear energy are not especially accurate, but then again, that applies to all fears all the time, it seems. Nuclear power does not have as much of a power to make people stupid as nuclear power advocates suggest. But I digress…

…. this is a biography of an important age in our history, one that we are currently leaving but will still be with us for hundreds of thousands of years, seeping into the groundwater. It is a fascinating story. I mean, seriously, the whole idea of nuclear physics is fascinating. Everything we knew about everything prior to the discoveries related to the cracking of the atom have two important characteristics: 1) almost off of that applies perfectly to the world around us (basic chemistry and Newtonian physics) and 2) it is all wrong. The opening days of the nuclear age involved that remarkable discovery. There was research, radiation, x-rays, then bombs and power generation. The cold war, terrorism, accidents. Nelson’s book is, really, just full of interesting stories.

Ten Thousand Birds

There are over 10,000 species of bird on the Earth today. There is one blog called “10,000 Birds” for which I write a monthly article, in case you did not know. But this post is about Ten Thousand Birds: Ornithology Since Darwin, a book by Tim Birkhead, Jo Wimpenny and Bob Monegomerie.

Birds and various studies of birds are central to evolutionary theory and the development of all of the surrounding biology and science. Here’s a short list of key roles birds have played in evolutionary biology:

<li>Darwin's study of pigeon breeding was central to <a href='http://www.powells.com/partner/41349/biblio/9780674637528?p_ti' title='More info about this book at powells.com' rel='powells-9780674637528'>On the Origin of Species</a> and later works. </li>

<li>The Galapagos <a href="http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2008/02/14/charles-darwin-finches/">finches</a> and other birds, observed by Darwin during <a href='http://www.powells.com/partner/41349/biblio/9781626365605?p_ti' title='More info about this book at powells.com' rel='powells-9781626365605'>The Voyage of the Beagle</a> were also key in the development of his work.</li>

<li>Darwin's work involved a great deal of other birds, such as <a href="http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2011/02/13/darwin-and-the-voyage-10-rheas-1/">the Rhea</a> and helped shape his thinking about species.</li>

<li>Skipping past many examples, and far ahead in time, The Sibleyโ€“Ahlquist taxonomy was the first major application of DNA to develop phylogeny. </li>

<li>As described in <a href='http://www.powells.com/partner/41349/biblio/9780679733379?p_ti' title='More info about this book at powells.com' rel='powells-9780679733379'>The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time</a>, the Grants' study of finches in the Galapagos advanced evolutionary theory with detailed tests of Darwin's models, and influenced <a href="http://gregladen.com/wordpress/wp-content/pdf/Laden_Wrangham_Roots.pdf">one of the most important works on the origin of humans</a>. </li>

<li>Birds have often been used as examples in teaching evolution.  Have a look at this example: <a href="http://10000birds.com/a_new_case_study_of_natural_selection_in_birds.htm">It May Be Hard To Swallow, But Bumpus Could Get Bumped To The Back Burner</a> </li>

Ten Thousand Birds: Ornithology Since Darwin is an absolutely spectacular book. It is big and heavy and over 500 pages long. It is dark green like all great scholarly books. Despite it’s great lenght it has only 11 chapters, so you know the material is treated in depth. It has dozens and dozens of pages of notes and references. It has an appendix with a list of 500 ornithologists. It has a separate appendix with a list of ornithologies.

That’s all nice but the meat of the book is in those long intense chapters. These chapters provide a very thorough, detailed, and fascinating history of ornithology, often focusing on the ornithologists, their quirks, their visions, the contexts in which they worked, and their findings. So, yes, this is a history of the science. The story starts when birds first flew into the field of evolutionary biology, or perhaps, were captured by it, and traces the history of biology from a birds eye’s point of view, including the development of the modern synthesis, and on to the behavioral revolution of Lack, the conceptual revolution of Tinbergen, and the ecological reframing of MacArthur.

This could serve as a very readable core of a college elective in the history of science, though it is certainly not a textbook. Richly illustrated, well written, engaging.

Tim Birkhead is a professor of zoology at Sheffield, and has done major bird research. He wrote The Wisdom of Birds: An Illustrated History of Ornithology and Bird Sense: What It’s Like to Be a Bird. Jo Wimpenny is a bird researcher at Sheffield. Bob Montgomerie is professor of biology at Queenโ€™s University in Ontario, and studies the evolution of plumage and bird sex.

Rare Birds of North America

Rare Birds of North America is the only extensive treatment I’ve see of the so called “vagrant birds” in the US and Canada. Most, or at least many, traditional bird books have a section in the back for rare birds, occasionals or accidentals, which one might see now and then. But when you think about it, how can five or even a dozen species in a bird book really do justice to the problem of spotting birds that are normally not supposed to be spotted?

I’m reminded of one South African bird guide that has a half dozen penguin species listed in it. There is only one species of penguin in South Africa but a handful of others have shown up, almost always as a corpse floating around with other junk on the beach somewhere. I suppose when we’re talking penguins, that counts.

Anyway, Rare Birds of North America by Steve Howell, Ian Lewington and Will Russell includes 262 species illustrated across 275 plates, from the Old World, the New World Tropics, and the planet’s oceans. The first 44 pages or so are about rare birds, and the rest of the book is a morphologically-grouped compendium of the species. The species discussion run from page to page (unlike a typical modern guide). They include common name, binomial, basic size stats, then info on taxonomy, rarity, normal distribution, and as appropriate, subspecies Most of the plates have multiple illustrations showing various angles and flight vs. non-flight, sex-specirc, and other views. The illustrations are drawings and as far as I can tell are good quality. But since you never see these birds who the heck knows!?!?

An appendix includes brand new rare species not covered in the book. A second appendix includes species that may or may not have occurred. A third appendix lists the “birds new to North America” by year. This appendix and various data presented at the beginning of the book are analyzed in the work, but seem ripe for further Science by Spreadsheet!

This is a Hefty, thick-leaved, well made book (I reviewed the hardcover). Not a field guide but not a big coffee table book either. More like the bird-book-shelf and truck of the car style book.

Steve N. G. Howell is research associate at PRBO Conservation Science and is affiliated with WINGS, an international bird tour company. Hew wrote Petrels, Albatrosses, and Storm-Petrels of North America. Ian Lewington a bird illustrator famous for the high quality of his work. Will Russell is cofounder and managing director of WINGS.