BOOK: The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

Elizabeth Kolbert, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (New York : Henry Holt and Co, 2014), 336 pp.

A major book about the future of the world, blending intellectual and natural history and field reporting into a powerful account of the mass extinction unfolding before our eyes.

Over the last half a billion years, there have been five mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. This time around, the cataclysm is us. In The Sixth Extinction, two-time winner of the National Magazine Award and New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert draws on the work of scores of researchers in half a dozen disciplines, accompanying many of them into the field: geologists who study deep ocean cores, botanists who follow the tree line as it climbs up the Andes, marine biologists who dive off the Great Barrier Reef. She introduces us to a dozen species, some already gone, others facing extinction, including the Panamian golden frog, staghorn coral, the great auk, and the Sumatran rhino. Through these stories, Kolbert provides a moving account of the disappearances occurring all around us and traces the evolution of extinction as concept, from its first articulation by Georges Cuvier in revolutionary Paris up through the present day. The sixth extinction is likely to be mankind’s most lasting legacy; as Kolbert observes, it compels us to rethink the fundamental question of what it means to be human.

Kolbert has done any radio interviews and podcasts about her new book, including for NPR, Slate, New Books in Environmental Studies, and the American Museum of Natural History.

On a similar note – a new documentary, 6 the Movie:

BOOK: The Extreme Life of the Sea

While I post about a lot of history books, sometimes it’s fun to dig into a simple popular science book, such as this new title:

Stephen R. Palumbi and Anthony R. Palumbi, The Extreme Life of the Sea (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014), 256 pp.

The ocean teems with life that thrives under difficult situations in unusual environments. The Extreme Life of the Sea takes readers to the absolute limits of the ocean world–the fastest and deepest, the hottest and oldest creatures of the oceans. It dives into the icy Arctic and boiling hydrothermal vents–and exposes the eternal darkness of the deepest undersea trenches–to show how marine life thrives against the odds. This thrilling book brings to life the sea’s most extreme species, and tells their stories as characters in the drama of the oceans. Coauthored by Stephen Palumbi, one of today’s leading marine scientists, The Extreme Life of the Sea tells the unforgettable tales of some of the most marvelous life forms on Earth, and the challenges they overcome to survive. Modern science and a fluid narrative style give every reader a deep look at the lives of these species.

The Extreme Life of the Sea shows you the world’s oldest living species. It describes how flying fish strain to escape their predators, how predatory deep-sea fish use red searchlights only they can see to find and attack food, and how, at the end of her life, a mother octopus dedicates herself to raising her batch of young. This wide-ranging and highly accessible book also shows how ocean adaptations can inspire innovative commercial products–such as fan blades modeled on the flippers of humpback whales–and how future extremes created by human changes to the oceans might push some of these amazing species over the edge.

BOOK: After Darwin: Animals, Emotions, and the Mind

Angelique Richardson, ed. After Darwin: Animals, Emotions, and the Mind (New York: Rodopi, 2013), 386 pp.

‘What is emotion?’ pondered the young Charles Darwin in his notebooks. How were the emotions to be placed in an evolutionary framework? And what light might they shed on human-animal continuities? These were among the questions Darwin explored in his research, assisted both by an acute sense of observation and an extraordinary capacity for fellow feeling, not only with humans but with all animal life. After Darwin: Animals, Emotions, and the Mind explores questions of mind, emotion and the moral sense which Darwin opened up through his research on the physical expression of emotions and the human-animal relation. It also examines the extent to which Darwin’s ideas were taken up by Victorian writers and popular culture, from George Eliot to the Daily News. Bringing together scholars from biology, literature, history, psychology, psychiatry and paediatrics, the volume provides an invaluable reassessment of Darwin’s contribution to a new understanding of the moral sense and emotional life, and considers the urgent scientific and ethical implications of his ideas today.

BOOK: Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons

Sara Levine, Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons (Minneapolis, MN: Lerner Publishing Group, 2013), 32 pp. Illustrated by T.S Spookytooth.

What animal would you be if your finger bones grew so long that they reached your feet? Or what if you had no leg bones but kept your arm bones? This picture book will keep you guessing as you read about how human skeletons are like—and unlike—those of other animals.

Although this book does not discuss evolutionary relationships (homology, common descent), it is a fun introduction to comparative anatomy for elementary students!

LECTURE: From Charles Darwin to Lonesome George: Writing the New Animal History in the Galapagos Islands

Via H-SCI-MED-TECH:

The Institute for the Study of the Americas cordially invites you to attend the following events. I would be most grateful if you could circulate this event information to colleagues or mailing lists members who may wish to attend.

Wednesday 19 June, 17:30 – 19:30

From Charles Darwin to Lonesome George: Writing the New Animal History in the Galapagos Islands

Nicola Foote (Associate Professor, Latin American and Caribbean Histoy, Florida Gulf Coast University)

Chair: Linda Newson (Director, ISA)

The Galapagos Islands are famous for their iconic wildlife. Yet the critical examination of this wildlife has been left overwhelmingly to scientists – to date, there have been no studies by humanities or social science scholars that engage with either the representation or realities of Galapagos fauna. As a result, some of Latin America’s most famous animals have been left out of the emerging field of Latin American animal studies.This paper seeks to begin to fill this gap.

Venue: Room G35 (Senate House, Ground Floor)

Venue addresses:
Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU

For further information, please contact chloe.pieters@sas.ac.uk

Institute for the Study of the Americas
School of Advanced Study
University of London
Senate House
Malet Street
London WC1E 7HU
E: americas@sas.ac.uk
W: www.americas.sas.ac.uk

BOOK: Animal Wise: The Thoughts and Emotions of Our Fellow Creatures

Animal Wise: The Thoughts and Emotions of Our Fellow Creatures, by Virgina Morrell (New York: Crown, 2013), 291 pp.

Did you know that ants teach, earthworms make decisions, rats love to be tickled, and chimps grieve? Did you know that some dogs have thousand-word vocabularies and that birds practice songs in their sleep? That crows improvise tools, blue jays plan ahead, and moths remember living as caterpillars?

Animal Wise takes us on a dazzling odyssey into the inner world of animals, from ants to elephants to wolves, and from sharp-shooting archerfish to pods of dolphins that rumble like rival street gangs. With 30 years of experience covering the sciences, Morell uses her formidable gifts as a story-teller to transport us to field sites and laboratories around the world, introducing us to pioneering animal-cognition researchers and their surprisingly intelligent and sensitive subjects. She explores how this rapidly evolving, controversial field has only recently overturned old notions about why animals behave as they do. She probes the moral and ethical dilemmas of recognizing that even “lesser animals” have cognitive abilities such as memory, feelings, personality, and self-awareness–traits that many in the twentieth century felt were unique to human beings.

By standing behaviorism on its head, Morell brings the world of nature brilliantly alive in a nuanced, deeply felt appreciation of the human-animal bond, and she shares her admiration for the men and women who have simultaneously chipped away at what we think makes us distinctive while offering a glimpse of where our own abilities come from.

RIP, Lonesome George

At some point in our lives, my family and I wish to visit the Galapagos Islands. No surprise, huh?

It is sad to report the news that Lonesome George, the last known member of the Galapagos Tortoise subspecies Chelonoidis nigra abingdoni, died on June 24th. Originally from Pinta Island and relocated to the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island, George died in his habitat, assumed to be from natural causes. He was an estimated 100 years old.

RIP, Lonesome George. Patrick drew a picture for you:

Tonight, we will be reading a children’s book we have about Lonesome George. And we came across a neat online book about him and other Galapagos critters, The Only One.