Reading matters


I’m just about done with a couple of natural history books I got myself in the post-Christmas binge (one of the few times a year I allow myself to purchase new, rather than pre-owned, books). Confession: I lose interest in well over half the books that seem perfect for me; never getting around to finishing them, always thinking I’ll get back to it later. Not so with these books; I read the first one in under a week, and devoured the second one practically in one sitting.

The first was Robert Michael Pyle’s Mariposa Road, the story of the first […]

Fabulous finds

I was browsing my favorite used bookstore in Boca the other day (I say “my favorite,” but actually, I think it’s the only used bookstore in Boca. Nevertheless.) when I ran across four volumes in the Florida’s Fabulous… series. I pounced on them the way a tiger beetle pounces on other beetles, or a robber fly pounces on a bee, even though paying full price for these large format mass market volumes wouldn’t break the bank.

Mark Deyrup, the author of Florida’s Fabulous Insects, is another of those entomological writers who proves how one can relate charming stories […]

The Diversity of Life

I’ve been reading Edward O. Wilson’s The Diversity of Life recently*, and was struck by some of his turns of phrase, and thought I’d share a couple of them with you. I’ve also been reading two of his three books co-authored with Bert Holldöbbler (Journey to the Ants and Superorganism), where the writing is much less dynamic. In this more personal book, though, Wilson writes lyrically and movingly about the “big picture” biology that so many of us need to remind ourselves about.

On mental puzzles that verge on obsession

Wilson opens the book with a vivid scene of walking […]

More books

Berkeley’s best book store, Moe’s, is probably the best book store in the world. I’ve been to many a book store, in London, Los Angeles, Edinburgh, Chicago, Paris, Boston, New Delhi, Portland, and New York, and I still think Moe’s is the best. The Strand in Manhattan may be bigger, and Powell’s, in Portland and environs may have more branches and a better web presence, but I always seem to come back more heavily laden from Berkeley than I do from anywhere else in the world. From this latest haul (trip report still to come):

Seabirds of the World: The […]

The seabird syndrome

Tony Gaston’s Seabirds: A Natural History (Yale UP, 2004) is a book-length exploration of an idea that he calls the “seabird syndrome.” Based on the idea that feeding ecology in the marine environment is what drove the evolution of all seabirds, Gaston’s treatment ties together almost every aspect of seabird life that one can imagine. Taken in this light, seabirds’ “low reproductive rates, long lives, deferred breeding, coloniality, and sexes that behave alike and look alike” can be explained by that one element of their lives: their feeding ecology. All of the above characteristics of seabirds “form part of a […]

Frog Concertos

Lang Elliott, author and coauthor of many fabulous compilations of nature sounds (the Stokes Field Guide to Bird Songs, Frogs and Toads of North America, Songs of Insects, and many more) has just (finally!) released his much-anticipated CD of Frog Concertos. No narration, nothing to get in the way of the sounds of these wonderful little critters. Just 20 tracks, 1.2 hours (118.6MB in my iTunes), of frog recordings.

Downloadable through Amazon, or you can buy the CD from the author’s website. He has also posted descriptions of the songs (where and when recorded, what species are on the track) […]

Book Review: Paradise Found

Despite being a fairly committed environmentalist, I rarely have the patience to read through an entire book about any of the environmental problems facing our generation, let alone Eric‘s. They’re usually written by committed treehuggers, a group of people with whom I sympathize, but with whom I have very little in common. I love trees, I respect their contribution to clean air, soil retention, habitat creation, and so on, but I can’t help thinking that if it comes down to a choice between me and a tree, I’ll choose myself every time. And I have a hard time denying anyone […]

By way of review: Conniff’s Swimming with Piranhas

Entomology is, apparently, dangerous work. In the 1950s, apparently, an insect researcher (a human entomologist, not an insectoid scientist) by the name of Paul Hurd went to work in Point Barrow, Alaska with a faulty aspirator (that’s a sort of siphon operated by the researcher’s own mouth), which resulted some months later in “four major groups of insects (Coleoptera, Colembola, Diptera, Hymenoptera)” passing out through his nostrils.

In his write-up in Science magazine, the author recommends that “those persons who utilize this apparatus so modify it that the flow of air will not be toward the operator’s mouth” (815).

This […]

Swimming with piranhas

Basically just an update to yesterday’s post. For technical reasons (technically: I’m a softhead), I didn’t link to the book that sparked the blog entry that sparked the post. I’ve got some reading to do over the weekend, and maybe then I’ll post an actual review. (Of course, I’ve been promising a review of Paradise Found for about 10 days now, and where is it? Still in my drafts file…).


Why Herptiles? Some recent books…

If you’re like me, you might never have really wondered why the word herptile was invented. After all, “Reptiles and Amphibians” is easy enough to say. And besides, “reptiles” aren’t such a simple class, anyway: lots of reptiles have no business being included in the class Reptilia. Until recently, though, no one like me has really had to care about this, because until recently there hasn’t been anything like the slew of high-quality books about the herpetofauna of North America, and particularly of the Southeast, where I live, that has recently hit the market.