Scientifically inclined dog lovers will find this a trove of information and provocation.

ONCE A WOLF

THE SCIENCE BEHIND OUR DOGS' ASTONISHING GENETIC EVOLUTION

How did wolves evolve into dogs? Sykes (Genetics/Oxford Univ.; The Nature of the Beast, 2015, etc.) reviews the state of the art on matters canine and lupine.

Past studies of canine evolution have relied on osteological and archaeological evidence, but since 2005, the fully sequenced dog genome has been available, allowing, among other things, for “re-drawing the evolutionary tree of dog breeds constructed with mitochondrial DNA over twenty years previously.” Five years later, writes the author, a new family tree was published, with all 64 breeds—even the Chihuahua—pointing back to the wolf. Some of those breeds are “ancient,” such as the Basenji and Samoyed; others are quite recent. Making those breeds required domestication, for which Sykes finds no evidence before about 50,000 years ago—still far earlier than previous studies have projected. Like other scholars, the author locates that origin in shared hunting, a process that may have altered humans as much as dogs in “the unstoppable current of natural selection.” Scholarly argument persists over whether the original raw materials of the dog were really wolves and not coyotes, jackals, hyenas, and other canids. Sykes charts the development of the Carnivora before settling, persuasively, on the scenario of Paleolithic hunters working in concert with wolves to bring down large game such as bison. The author goes on to examine some of the mutations that subsequently allowed human breeders to select for certain characteristics, whether the ridge of the ridgeback or the pigmentation of the bull terrier (with a passing nod to the heterochromia exhibited by David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust). Melanism, hyperuremia, progressive rod-cone retinal degeneration: The author’s discussion can be densely technical at times but never enough to render the text inaccessible to those without a background in genetics and population dynamics. Moreover, he closes by looking outside of nature to find the nurture connected to our love of dogs, that “amazing psychic symbiosis."

Scientifically inclined dog lovers will find this a trove of information and provocation.

Pub Date: March 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-63149-379-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2019

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Readers unfamiliar with the anecdotal material Greene presents may find interesting avenues to pursue, but they should...

MASTERY

Greene (The 33 Strategies of War, 2007, etc.) believes that genius can be learned if we pay attention and reject social conformity.

The author suggests that our emergence as a species with stereoscopic, frontal vision and sophisticated hand-eye coordination gave us an advantage over earlier humans and primates because it allowed us to contemplate a situation and ponder alternatives for action. This, along with the advantages conferred by mirror neurons, which allow us to intuit what others may be thinking, contributed to our ability to learn, pass on inventions to future generations and improve our problem-solving ability. Throughout most of human history, we were hunter-gatherers, and our brains are engineered accordingly. The author has a jaundiced view of our modern technological society, which, he writes, encourages quick, rash judgments. We fail to spend the time needed to develop thorough mastery of a subject. Greene writes that every human is “born unique,” with specific potential that we can develop if we listen to our inner voice. He offers many interesting but tendentious examples to illustrate his theory, including Einstein, Darwin, Mozart and Temple Grandin. In the case of Darwin, Greene ignores the formative intellectual influences that shaped his thought, including the discovery of geological evolution with which he was familiar before his famous voyage. The author uses Grandin's struggle to overcome autistic social handicaps as a model for the necessity for everyone to create a deceptive social mask.

Readers unfamiliar with the anecdotal material Greene presents may find interesting avenues to pursue, but they should beware of the author's quirky, sometimes misleading brush-stroke characterizations.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-670-02496-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Sept. 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

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An intriguing meditation on the nature of the universe and our attempts to understand it that should appeal to both...

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SEVEN BRIEF LESSONS ON PHYSICS

Italian theoretical physicist Rovelli (General Relativity: The Most Beautiful of Theories, 2015, etc.) shares his thoughts on the broader scientific and philosophical implications of the great revolution that has taken place over the past century.

These seven lessons, which first appeared as articles in the Sunday supplement of the Italian newspaper Sole 24 Ore, are addressed to readers with little knowledge of physics. In less than 100 pages, the author, who teaches physics in both France and the United States, cogently covers the great accomplishments of the past and the open questions still baffling physicists today. In the first lesson, he focuses on Einstein's theory of general relativity. He describes Einstein's recognition that gravity "is not diffused through space [but] is that space itself" as "a stroke of pure genius." In the second lesson, Rovelli deals with the puzzling features of quantum physics that challenge our picture of reality. In the remaining sections, the author introduces the constant fluctuations of atoms, the granular nature of space, and more. "It is hardly surprising that there are more things in heaven and earth, dear reader, than have been dreamed of in our philosophy—or in our physics,” he writes. Rovelli also discusses the issues raised in loop quantum gravity, a theory that he co-developed. These issues lead to his extraordinary claim that the passage of time is not fundamental but rather derived from the granular nature of space. The author suggests that there have been two separate pathways throughout human history: mythology and the accumulation of knowledge through observation. He believes that scientists today share the same curiosity about nature exhibited by early man.

An intriguing meditation on the nature of the universe and our attempts to understand it that should appeal to both scientists and general readers.

Pub Date: March 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-18441-3

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

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