Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History by Bill Schutt

GN 409 .S38 2017

“For centuries scientists have written off cannibalism as a bizarre phenomenon with little biological significance. Its presence in nature was dismissed as a desperate response to starvation or other life-threatening circumstances, and few spent time studying it. A taboo subject in our culture, the behavior was portrayed mostly through horror movies or tabloids sensationalizing the crime of real-life flesh-eaters. But the true nature of cannibalism – the role it plays in evolution as well as human history – is even more intriguing (and more normal) than the misconceptions we’ve come to accept as fact.

In Cannibalism, zoologist Bill Schutt sets the record straight, debunking common myths and investigating our new understanding of cannibalism’s role in biology, anthropology, and history in the most fascinating account yet written on this complex topic. Schutt takes readers from Arizona’s Chiricahua Mountains, where he wades through ponds full of tadpoles devouring their siblings, to the Sierra Nevadas, where he joins researchers who are shedding new light on what happened to the Donner Party – the most infamous episode of cannibalism in American history. He even meets with an expert on the preparation and consumption of human placenta (and, yes, it goes well with Chianti).

Bringing together the latest cutting-edge science, Schutt answers questions such as why some amphibians consume their mother’s skin, why certain insects bite the heads off their partners after sex; why, up until the end of the twentieth century, Europeans regularly ate human body parts as medical curatives; and how cannibalism might be linked to the extinction of the Neaderthals. He takes us into the future as well, investigating whether, as climate change causes famine, disease, and overcrowding, we may see more outbreaks of cannibalism in many more species – including our own.

Cannibalism places a perfectly natural occurrence into a vital new context and invites us to explore why it both enthralls and repels us.”
– publisher description


I Contain Multitudes

I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life
by Ed Yong

QR 171 .A1 Y66 2016

“For most of human existence, microbes were hidden, visible only through the illnesses they caused. When they finally surfaced in biological studies, they were cast as rogues. Only recently have they immigrated from the neglected fringes of biology to its center. Even today, many people think of microbes as germs to be eradicated, but those that live with us – the microbiome – are invaluable parts of our lives.

I Contain Multitudes lets us peer into that world for the first time, allowing us to see how ubiquitous and vital microbes are: they sculpt our organs, defend us from disease, break down our food, educate our immune systems, guide our behavior, bombard our genomes with their genes, and grant us incredible abilities. While much of the prevailing discussion around the microbiome has focused on its implications for human health, Yong broadens this focus to the entire animal kingdom, giving us a grander view of life.

With humor and erudition, Ed Yong prompts us to look at ourselves and our fellow animals in a new light: less as individuals and more as the interconnected, interdependent multitudes we assuredly are. When we look at the animal kingdom through a microbial lens, even the most familiar parts of our lives take on a striking new air. We learn the secret, invisible, and wondrous biology behind the corals that construct mighty reefs, the glowing squid that can help us understand the bacteria in our own guts, the beetles that bring down forests, the disease-fighting mosquitoes engineered in Australia, and the ingredients in breast milk that evolved to nourish a baby’s first microbes. We see how humans are disrupting these partnerships and how scientists are now manipulating them to our advantage. We see, as William Blake wrote, the world in a grain of sand.

I Contain Multitudes is the story of these extraordinary partnerships, between the familiar creatures of our world and those we never knew existed. It will change both our view of nature and our sense of where we belong in it.”
– publisher description

Lab Girl

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

QH 31 .J344 A3 2016

“Acclaimed scientist Hope Jahren has built three laboratories in which she’s studied trees, flowers, seeds, and soil. Her first book is a revelatory treatise on plant life – but it is also so much more.

Lab Girl is a book about work, love, and the mountains that can be moved when those two things come together. It is told through Jahren’s remarkable stories: about her childhood in rural Minnesota with an uncompromising mother and a father who encouraged hours of play in his classroom’s labs; about how she found a sanctuary in science, and learned to perform lab work done “with both the heart and the hands”; and about the inevitable disappointments, but also the triumphs and exhilarating discoveries, of scientific work.

Yet at the core of this book is the story of a relationship Jahren forged with a brilliant, wounded man named Bill, who becomes her lab partner and best friend. Their sometimes rogue adventures in science take them from the Midwest across the United States and back again, over the Atlantic to the ever-light skies of the North Pole and to tropical Hawaii, where she and her lab currently make their home.

Jahren’s probing look at plants, her astonishing tenacity of spirit, and her acute insights enliven every page of this extraordinary book. As Lab Girl opens your eyes to the beautiful, sophisticated mechanisms within every leaf, blade of grass, and flower petal, it will forever change how you see the natural world. Here is an eloquent demonstration of what can happen when you find the stamina, passion, and sense of sacrifice needed to make a life out of what you truly love, as you discover along the way the person you were meant to be.”
– publisher description

Evolution: The Whole Story

Evolution: The Whole Story edited by Steve Parker

QH 367 .E8667 2015

“The origin of humans fascinates us all. This comprehensive book traces that extraordinary journey spanning 4 billion years, from the emergence of living bacteria to the rise of the varied species that coexist today, including humans.

Evolution: The Whole Story is an in-depth account of how each of the major groups of living organisms evolved. Beginning with the origins of life – the first fossils and single-celled organisms, then early invertebrates, plants, arthropods, insects, fish, amphibians, reptiles, dinosaurs and finally, mammals and humans – each chapter presents thematic essays on particular subgroups.

Fascinating photographic features investigate organisms in detail with reference to the ways in which their anatomy suited their environment, the factors that necessitated adaptation – or caused their demise – and their evolutionary legacies. Extinct species are analyzed with reference to pivotal fossil specimens, reassembled skeletons and reconstructions, while living species are compared to their ancestors. Evolution: The Whole Story ends with examples of de-extinction projects and impending extinctions.

Learn about the giant spiders that inhabited the seas until 250 million years ago, the sharks that have changed little in 400 million years, the carnivorous dinosaurs that roamed during the Cretaceous period, the terror birds that gave rise to ostriches, and the complex evolution of the horse. Helpful cladograms clarify relationships between each animal group and its members.

Profiles of theorists, fossil-hunters, paleontologists and geneticists that contributed to the unraveling of the evolutionary story place important discoveries in historical context.

Our understanding of evolution has a profound effect on our appreciation of the natural world. The plants and animals alive today account for one percent of the species that have ever lived. This book will enable you to understand why and how the other 99 percent perished. Evolution: The Whole Story equips you with everything you need to know about the development and survival of life on Earth.”
– publisher description



Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ by Giulia Enders

QP 145 .E4513 2015

“With quirky charm, rising science star Giulia Enders explains the gut’s magic, answering questions like: Why does acid reflux happen? What’s really up with gluten and lactose intolerance? How does the gut affect obesity and mood? Enders’s beguiling manifesto will make you finally listen to those butterflies in your stomach: they’re trying to tell you something important.”
– publisher description

Inheritance: How Our Genes Change Our Lives and Our Lives Change Our Genes


Inheritance: How Our Genes Change Our Lives and Our Lives Change Our Genes
by Sharon Moalem, MD, PhD

RB 155 .M58 2014

“Award-winning physician and New York Times bestselling author Sharon Moalem, MD, PhD, reveals how genetic breakthroughs are completely transforming our understanding of both the world and our lives.

Conventional wisdom dictates that our genetic destiny is fixed at conception. But Dr. Moalem’s groundbreaking book shows us that the human genome is far more fluid and fascinating than your ninth grade biology teacher ever imagined. By bringing us to the bedside of his unique and complex patients, he masterfully demonstrates what rare genetic conditions can teach us all about our own health and well-being.

In the brave new world we’re rapidly rocketing into, genetic knowledge has become absolutely crucial. Inheritance provides an indispensable roadmap for this journey by teaching you:

  • Why you may have recovered from the psychological trauma caused by childhood bullying – but your genes may remain scarred for life.
  • How fructose is the sugar that makes fruits sweet – but if you have certain genes, consuming it can buy you a one-way ticket to the coroner’s office.
  • Why ingesting common painkillers is like dosing yourself repeatedly with morphine – if you have a certain set of genes.
  • How insurance companies legally use your genetic data to predict the risk of disability for you and your children – and how that impacts the coverage decisions they make for your family.
  • How to have the single most important conversation with your doctor – one that can save your life.

And finally:

  • Why people with rare genetic conditions hold the keys to medical problems affecting millions.

In this trailblazing book, Dr. Moalem employs his wide-ranging and entertaining interdisciplinary approach to science and medicine – explaining how art, history, superheroes, sex workers, and sports stars all help us understand the impact of our lives on our genes, and our genes on our lives. Inheritance will profoundly alter how you view your genes, your health – and your life.”
– publisher description

Odd Couples: Extraordinary Differences Between the Sexes in the Animal Kingdom

Odd Couples

Odd Couples: Extraordinary Differences Between the Sexes in the Animal Kingdom
by Daphne J. Fairbairn

QP 81.5 .F35 2013

“While we joke that men are from Mars and women are from Venus, our gender differences can’t compare to those of other animals. For instance, the male garden spider spontaneously dies after mating with a female more than fifty times his size. Female cichlids must guard their eggs and larvae – even from the hungry appetites of their own partners. And male blanket octopuses employ a copulatory arm longer than their own bodies to mate with females that outweigh them by four orders of magnitude. Why do these gender gulfs exist? Introducing readers to important discoveries in animal behavior and evolution, Odd Couples explores some of the most extraordinary sexual differences in the animal world. From the fields of Spain to the deep oceans, evolutionary biologist Daphne Fairbairn uncovers the unique and bizarre characteristics – in size, behavior, ecology, and life history – that exist in these remarkable species and the special strategies they use to maximize reproductive success.

Fairbairn describes how male great bustards aggressively compete to display their gorgeous plumage and large physique to watching, choosey females. She investigates why female elephant seals voluntarily live in harems where they are harassed constantly by eager males. And she reveals why dwarf male giant seadevils parasitically fuse to their giant female partners for life. Fairbairn also considers humans and explains that although we are keenly aware of our own sexual differences, they are unexceptional within the vast animal world.

Looking at some of the most amazing creatures on the planet, Odd Couples sheds astonishing light on what it means to be male or female in the animal kingdom.” – publisher description