BOOK REVIEW: Plesiosaur Peril

About a year ago I posted about two children’s books that combine interesting stories, beautiful illustrations, and factual information about dinosaurs and other extinct animals: Ankylosaur Attack and Pterosaur Trouble. Moving on to another group of extinct reptile, Daniel Loxton rounds out this trilogy in the Tales of Prehistoric Life series: Plesiosaur Peril (Tonawanda, NY: Kids Can Press, 2014, 32 pp.).

Plesiosaur Peril

Again combining beautiful digital illustrations with landscape photography (or should I say, seascape photography) by Loxton and Jim W.W. Smith, this book recounts the “day in the life” of a family of ocean-dwelling Cryptoclidus as they evade the hungry jaws of a much larger plesiosaur, Liopleurodon. Young readers will enjoy the action, while parents will appreciate the theme of family bonds. Educators will enjoy the current paleontological information (paleontologist Darren Naish was a consultant, and he posted on his blog a lot of information about plesiosaurs and the process of working on the book), while everyone will enjoy the beautiful rendering of plesiosaurs, ammonites, ichthyosaurs, and belemnites (squid-like creatures). This trilogy is perfect for science-minded kids, and would be great set of books to have on elementary school library shelves.

Spread from Plesiosaur Peril, from Kids Can Press. Art by Daniel Loxton with Jim W.W. Smith. All rights reserved.

Spread from Plesiosaur Peril, from Kids Can Press. Art by Daniel Loxton with Jim W.W. Smith. All rights reserved.

Spread from Plesiosaur Peril, from Kids Can Press. Art by Daniel Loxton with Jim W.W. Smith. All rights reserved.

 

BOOK: Ten Thousand Birds: Ornithology since Darwin

This new title is an absolutely beautiful book:

Tim Birkhead, Jo Wimpenny, and Bob Montgomerie, Ten Thousand Birds: Ornithology since Darwin (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014), 544 pp.

Ten Thousand Birds provides a thoroughly engaging and authoritative history of modern ornithology, tracing how the study of birds has been shaped by a succession of visionary and often-controversial personalities, and by the unique social and scientific contexts in which these extraordinary individuals worked. This beautifully illustrated book opens in the middle of the nineteenth century when ornithology was a museum-based discipline focused almost exclusively on the anatomy, taxonomy, and classification of dead birds. It describes how in the early 1900s pioneering individuals such as Erwin Stresemann, Ernst Mayr, and Julian Huxley recognized the importance of studying live birds in the field, and how this shift thrust ornithology into the mainstream of the biological sciences. The book tells the stories of eccentrics like Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen, a pathological liar who stole specimens from museums and quite likely murdered his wife, and describes the breathtaking insights and discoveries of ambitious and influential figures such as David Lack, Niko Tinbergen, Robert MacArthur, and others who through their studies of birds transformed entire fields of biology.

Ten Thousand Birds brings this history vividly to life through the work and achievements of those who advanced the field. Drawing on a wealth of archival material and in-depth interviews, this fascinating book reveals how research on birds has contributed more to our understanding of animal biology than the study of just about any other group of organisms.

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.

KickStarter campaign for children’s book “Great Adaptations”

Evolutionary biologist Tiffany Taylor (see here) is working with a a group of artists to illustrate ten short stories in rhyme that “explain the evolutionary advantages of some of the natural world’s unusual traits in child-friendly terms.” And Taylor has teamed up with a scientist for each story to ensure science accuracy.

For Great Adaptations, she has raised over $20,000 of their $25,000 goal, with 15 days to go. Click here to read much more, watch a video, and donate!

BOOK: Darwin’s On the Origin of Species: A Modern Rendition

A new book from Indiana University Press, which is having a Darwin Day sale from February 12-28:

Darwin's On the Origin of Species

Daniel Duzdevich, Darwin’s on the Origin of Species: A Modern Rendition (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2014), 352 pp. Foreword by Olivia Judson.

Charles Darwin’s most famous book On the Origin of Species is without question, one of the most important books ever written. While even the grandest works of Victorian English can prove difficult to modern readers, Darwin wrote his text in haste and under intense pressure. For an era in which Darwin is more talked about than read, Daniel Duzdevich offers a clear, modern English rendering of Darwin’s first edition. Neither an abridgement nor a summary, this version might best be described as a “translation” for contemporary English readers. A monument to reasoned insight, the Origin illustrates the value of extensive reflection, carefully gathered evidence, and sound scientific reasoning. By removing the linguistic barriers to understanding and appreciating the Origin, this edition aims to bring 21st-century readers into closer contact with Darwin’s revolutionary ideas.

Duzdevich was interviewed for IUP’s podcast about A Modern Rendition, here.

BOOK: Alfred Russel Wallace: Letters from the Malay Archipelago

John van Wyhe and Kees Rookmaaker, eds. Alfred Russel Wallace: Letters from the Malay Archipelago (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2013), 352 pp.

This volume brings together the letters of the great Victorian naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913) during his famous travels of 1854-62 in the Malay Archipelago (now Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia), which led him to come independently to the same conclusion as Charles Darwin: that evolution occurs through natural selection. Beautifully written, they are filled with lavish descriptions of the remote regions he explored, the peoples, and fascinating details of the many new species of mammals, birds, and insects he discovered during his time there. John van Wyhe and Kees Rookmaaker present new transcriptions of each of the letters, including recently discovered letters that shed light on the voyage and on questions such as Wallace’s reluctance to publish on evolution, and why he famously chose to write to Darwin rather than to send his work to a journal directly. A revised account of Wallace’s itinerary based on new research by the editors forms part of an introduction that sets the context of the voyage, and the volume includes full notes to all letters. Together the letters form a remarkable and vivid document of one of the most important journeys of the 19th century by a great Victorian naturalist.

You can read the introduction here.