These well-crafted tales of bio-inspired innovation will entrance general readers and warrant the close attention of...

ADAPT

HOW HUMANS ARE TAPPING INTO NATURE'S SECRETS TO DESIGN AND BUILD A BETTER FUTURE

Los Angeles Times science writer Khan debuts with a richly detailed account of biologically inspired engineering.

Snakes that fly; geckos that walk on walls; blindfolded seals that track swimming objects by following their invisible wakes. These are among the “weird and wonderful” discoveries in nature that are helping scientists find ways to improve human technology, writes the author of this meticulous, well-written book. Following researchers from Woods Hole to an African desert, she reveals how cutting-edge, multidisciplinary research is harnessing the efficiency of nature’s “most astounding innovations” to make human life better “in a world where we’re running out of resources, in which we need to learn to live sustainably.” Grouping her stories into thematic sections—materials science, mechanics of movement, architecture of systems, and sustainability—she offers lucid, engaging discussions of a remarkable range of scientific work. Consider the cuttlefish, a cousin of the octopus. A shape-shifter with the many-fingered face of H.P. Lovecraft’s fictional god, Cthulhu, the creature can blend in to its surroundings by changing colors and patterns (with an obvious application to camouflage). It uses the same color-changing to hypnotize prey. Other stories show how scientists are building robots that mimic the gecko’s ability to cling to smooth walls (for possible use in disaster zones); refining hydrogen-producing artificial leaves that can serve as clean, renewable energy sources; and studying mound-building termites to inform human architecture. Khan explores fully the science behind nature’s many innovative abilities and how it is being harnessed. At the same time, she offers fascinating portraits of scientists at work—e.g., the ant researcher who studies the “personalities” of some 300 ant colonies in annual visits to the Southwest and two physicists whose dead-serious study of termite mounds is offset by their hilarious “odd-couple” behavior, reminiscent of the TV sitcom Parks and Recreation.

These well-crafted tales of bio-inspired innovation will entrance general readers and warrant the close attention of scientists and technologists.

Pub Date: April 18, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-250-06040-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: March 7, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2017

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A quirky wonder of a book.

WHY FISH DON'T EXIST

A STORY OF LOSS, LOVE, AND THE HIDDEN ORDER OF LIFE

A Peabody Award–winning NPR science reporter chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century scientist and how her quest led to significant revelations about the meaning of order, chaos, and her own existence.

Miller began doing research on David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) to understand how he had managed to carry on after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his work. A taxonomist who is credited with discovering “a full fifth of fish known to man in his day,” Jordan had amassed an unparalleled collection of ichthyological specimens. Gathering up all the fish he could save, Jordan sewed the nameplates that had been on the destroyed jars directly onto the fish. His perseverance intrigued the author, who also discusses the struggles she underwent after her affair with a woman ended a heterosexual relationship. Born into an upstate New York farm family, Jordan attended Cornell and then became an itinerant scholar and field researcher until he landed at Indiana University, where his first ichthyological collection was destroyed by lightning. In between this catastrophe and others involving family members’ deaths, he reconstructed his collection. Later, he was appointed as the founding president of Stanford, where he evolved into a Machiavellian figure who trampled on colleagues and sang the praises of eugenics. Miller concludes that Jordan displayed the characteristics of someone who relied on “positive illusions” to rebound from disaster and that his stand on eugenics came from a belief in “a divine hierarchy from bacteria to humans that point[ed]…toward better.” Considering recent research that negates biological hierarchies, the author then suggests that Jordan’s beloved taxonomic category—fish—does not exist. Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence.

A quirky wonder of a book.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6027-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

Unsentimental nature writing that sheds as much light on humans as on eels.

THE BOOK OF EELS

OUR ENDURING FASCINATION WITH THE MOST MYSTERIOUS CREATURE IN THE NATURAL WORLD

An account of the mysterious life of eels that also serves as a meditation on consciousness, faith, time, light and darkness, and life and death.

In addition to an intriguing natural history, Swedish journalist Svensson includes a highly personal account of his relationship with his father. The author alternates eel-focused chapters with those about his father, a man obsessed with fishing for this elusive creature. “I can’t recall us ever talking about anything other than eels and how to best catch them, down there by the stream,” he writes. “I can’t remember us speaking at all….Because we were in…a place whose nature was best enjoyed in silence.” Throughout, Svensson, whose beat is not biology but art and culture, fills his account with people: Aristotle, who thought eels emerged live from mud, “like a slithering, enigmatic miracle”; Freud, who as a teenage biologist spent months in Trieste, Italy, peering through a microscope searching vainly for eel testes; Johannes Schmidt, who for two decades tracked thousands of eels, looking for their breeding grounds. After recounting the details of the eel life cycle, the author turns to the eel in literature—e.g., in the Bible, Rachel Carson’s Under the Sea Wind, and Günter Grass’ The Tin Drum—and history. He notes that the Puritans would likely not have survived without eels, and he explores Sweden’s “eel coast” (what it once was and how it has changed), how eel fishing became embroiled in the Northern Irish conflict, and the importance of eel fishing to the Basque separatist movement. The apparent return to life of a dead eel leads Svensson to a consideration of faith and the inherent message of miracles. He warns that if we are to save this fascinating creature from extinction, we must continue to study it. His book is a highly readable place to begin learning.

Unsentimental nature writing that sheds as much light on humans as on eels.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-296881-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

more