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19 September 2018

The Tangled Tree, by David Quammen

The talented science writer David Quammen has a new book out, and it’s excellent. The Tangled Tree explores endosymbiosis and horizontal gene transfer, two aspects of evolution that undercut the traditional ever-more-branching “tree of life” vision for the relatedness of living things. The lineage of organisms is not only divergent, but convergent too: populations diverge and sometimes merge, in whole or in part, complicating the traditional “ramose” structure of phylogenetic …

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13 September 2018

A New History of Life, by Peter Ward and Joe Kirschvink

Yesterday, I finished listening to the audiobook version of A New History of Life, by Peter Ward and Joe Kirschvink (2016). This book is only a couple of years old, and takes as its topic ‘the modern perspective’ on life’s long history on Earth, using the latest insights available. It aims to debunk old hypotheses that don’t stand up to new data, and to expand the purview of life’s reign …

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11 September 2018

Drawing geological structures, by Jörn Kruhl

After blogging about geovisualization, reader James Safranek alerted me to this new book about two of my favorite things: drawing and structural geology! I requested a review copy from the publisher, who kindly provided one. It’s great! This is “a whole book” about drawing and geology and specifically structural geology. As such, it’s not going to be as pertinent to every reader as it was to me. But I found …

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27 August 2018

Beautiful Swimmers, by William Warner

The subtitle of this wonderful book is “Watermen, Crabs, and the Chesapeake Bay.” It’s an excellent account of crab ecology in the Chesapeake Bay as it stood in the mid-1970s, and simultaneously a sympathetic portrait of the lives of the locals who capture those crabs for sale to the seafood market. The writing is thoughtful and calm, paced very similarly to John McPhee’s writing, rich in quotes from the watermen …

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20 August 2018

Under a Green Sky, by Peter Ward

I’ve got a few books to catch up on from my summer reading. The first is Under a Green Sky (2007), by University of Washington geoscientist Peter Ward. I picked this up because it was referenced in another book I’d read recently: Peter Brannen’s The Ends of the World (2017). (I’ve got a review of that one coming out in a forthcoming issue of EARTH magazine, by the way!) Brannen …

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6 August 2018

The Invention of Air, by Steven Johnson

This is an interesting book – simultaneously about Enlightenment science, energy flows driving human history, and the boundary-less conception of politics, religion, and science that was embraced by Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and the book’s principal protagonist, Joseph Priestley (and to a lesser, or at least less-well-documented, degree by John Adams).  The discussion begins in the coffeehouses of 1760’s London, where conversation roamed freely and exuberantly  between intellectuals and amateur …

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16 July 2018

Religion Explained by Pascal Boyer

Religion Explained is an interesting book. It examines the phenomenon of religion in human beings from the perspective of our best understanding (as of 2001) of neurology, psychology, anthropology, and evolution. It takes the modern scientific understanding of how brains evolved, and looks there for the origins of religious thought and its tenacity despite countervailing forces. Pascal Boyer’s contention is that we can come to understand religion better by thinking …

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13 May 2018

A Most Improbable Journey, by Walter Alvarez

As mentioned the week before last, Walter Alvarez has a new book out. I’ve read it. It’s good. It’s Alvarez’s take on what he calls “Big History” – the story that spans the cosmos, the Earth, life, and humanity. It’s pretty great for the reasons that Alvarez’s other books are excellent – his voice is calm, appreciative, and patient. His language is accessible and appropriate (though I will grouse that …

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10 May 2018

Last Stand, by Michael Punke

A reader of this blog recently recommended Michael Punke’s Last Stand. I thoroughly enjoyed his novel The Revenant, and so last week I started the audiobook version of the nonfictional Last Stand (2007). Last Stand is subtitled “George Bird Grinnell, the Battle to Save the Buffalo, and the Birth of the New West.” Prior to reading it, I knew little of Grinnell, save that he was a conservationist, and that he …

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24 April 2018

T. rex and the Crater of Doom, by Walter Alvarez

Walter Alvarez has a new book out, and its publication reminded me that though I read and appreciated The Mountains of St. Francis, I had never read his most famous work — the account of how he and his father and a team of other researchers zeroed in on an extraterrestrial impact explanation for the end-Cretaceous extinction. So last week I read T. rex and the Crater of Doom (1997). …

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