In this diverse collection of essays, short stories, illustrations, anecdotes, and other missives, Raham informs without being dry and teaches without being pedantic while covering a wide range of subjects in biology and the history of science.
The project of making sense of human existence may be endless, but you’ve got to start somewhere. In one piece, Raham explains how the story of the evolution of life on Earth is intimately related to microbial development. An obituary for a revered scientist sheds light on the value of her discoveries, translating them into everyday speech while capturing the personal significance of her work for Raham. “Alive & Aloft in the Aeolian Zone,” a combined essay and interview with science professors, describes the role played by the wind in creating and sustaining the planet’s complex aerial ecosystem. Other pieces discuss metamorphosis, Thomas Jefferson’s interest in the study of fossils, and the momentous discovery of arrowheads by Loren Eiseley in the 1930s. Also included are captivating excerpts from original works of sci-fi and adventure following “a dynasty of outstanding fossil hunters….Like me—and most paleontologists—the Sternbergs became captive to the lure of finding worlds lost in the catacombs of deep time.” Raham’s striking illustrations figure prominently throughout, varying in style from pen-and-ink sketches and cartoons to colorful, otherworldly paintings of tiny life forms. What’s more, comments from Raham preface each piece in the collection, providing context and background, which adds a personal touch and something of an overarching narrative to the book. Overall, the well-rounded collection testifies to the riches gained by sustained dedication to scientific inquiry, an enterprise that involves patience, persistence, and original thinking. Though the pieces differ in style and intent, the general outlook is broadly humanist, emphasizing the importance of scientific experimentation as a fundamental component of our collective self-understanding as a species. And yet this enthusiasm is tempered by humility about our place in an incomprehensibly large cosmos.
A welcome excursion for pop-sci fans featuring a number of striking artworks.