THE BEAUTY OF THE BEASTLY: New Views of the Nature of Life by Natalie Angier

THE BEAUTY OF THE BEASTLY: New Views of the Nature of Life

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A hymn in praise of all things great and small, from elephants to cockroaches, dolphins to beetles, by Meistersinger Angler (Natural Obsession: The Search for the Oncogene, 1988). Readers are in for a treat as the Pulitzer Prize winner updates and embellishes dozens of pieces she has done for the New York Times, organized in six broad areas: loving (mating and parenting); dancing (DNA and all its partners orchestrating cell life); slithering (many beastlies here: scorpions, scarabs, pit vipers); adapting (or ill adapting) as seen in behaviors of monkeys, hyenas, cichlids, and cheetahs; healing (about veggies, fat, menstruation, and the positive power of joy); creating (including profiles of three scientists), and dying (with some personal essays on AIDS and aging). What puts Angler in a class by herself is her ability to absorb a depth of knowledge about a given subject and play it back to the reader in language that sparkles with wit and imagery and metaphor. In this collection she even confesses to the pleasures of anthropomorphizing and lets us know exactly how she feels about some of the critters. Given a chance to hold a baby aye-aye (a small primate) acknowledged to have a bite that can ""pop the top off a coconut,"" she ""enthusiastically shoved the creature into [the primatologist's] hands as though it were a baby with diapers to be changed."" There are plenty of facts (""the amount of human blood sucked by hookworms in a single day is equivalent to the total blood of 1.5 million people"") and lots of theories (for example, the idea that menstruation serves to cleanse the uterus of pathogens). The mark of excellence in a science writer is the ability to convey the excitement of discovery with a passion -- while being dispassionate in reporting all sides of a story. Angler is a perfect example.

Pub Date: June 19th, 1995
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin