An illuminating whirl--or possibly a whorl--through the world of natural forms and human engineering. Willis (The Hominid Gang, 1989), a have-notebook-will-travel kind of science writer, looks at how architects and engineers of various stripes are looking to nature for design inspiration. The sand dollar, for instance, is an example of efficiency at the water's edge--an economy of shape that allows burrowing in the sand and capturing edibles (while avoiding being captured). Countless examples abound, and some have been copied: from the Wright brothers looking to the turkey vulture for lessons in reducing turbulence to an architect's mimicking the tensile strength of spider webs and soap bubbles in lightweight lattice domes and roof structures. The grand master in the look-to-nature school was the English aristocrat D'Arcy Thompson, whose 1917 volume On Growth and Form remains a classic. Willis duly pays homage and speaks as well of the contributions of Leonardo, Antonio Gaud°, and Buckminster Fuller before turning to today's practitioners of fractal geometry and chaos theory. Germany and England are particularly fertile in the study of natural structures, which Willis illustrates in interviews with leaders like Dolf Seilacher at Stuttgart, who talks of constructive morphology, and Peter Allen at the Eco-Technology Center at Cranfield, England, whose focus is on dynamic instability and self-organization. America is on board, too, what with the followers of Fuller and a new generation of eco-tech planners and evolutionary thinkers. At times Willis's thoughts fly off in different directions with allusions, quotations, and asides that introduce a huge cast and canvas. The result is not your usual linear prose, but perhaps one that is faithful to the imaginative links between technology and nature that are the forte of her subjects. A good introduction to a new science in the making.