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LEARNING FROM THE OCTOPUS

HOW SECRETS FROM NATURE CAN HELP US FIGHT TERRORIST ATTACKS, NATURAL DISASTERS, AND DISEASE

Opens interesting doors—it would be good to see more along this line.

A marine ecologist looks at social problems from the perspective of natural science.

Sagarin (Environmental Policy/Univ. of Arizona) identifies adaptability as the key to survival in an uncertain world. Improvised responses to threats—the “hillbilly armor” U.S. troops adopted to defend against roadside IEDs—are a clear example. A key point is that natural selection operates not just in the wild but in modern asymmetrical warfare, where lightly armed insurgents take on large professional armies. The high casualty rate among insurgents is a selective pressure; the stupid and incompetent are killed off, and those who survive are better equipped to fight on—as the Taliban has done in Afghanistan. The author argues that dedicated task forces are less effective at problem solving than independent groups seeking answers to a specific challenge. Redundant features, which efficiency experts hate, aid survival by preserving vital information, and cooperation and exchange of information among organisms in the same environment is a major tool for increased security. Sagarin cites cooperation among Middle East countries, bitter rivals in many ways, that helped slow the spread of H1N1 in 2009-10. Even the apparently irrational “sacred truths” of religious minorities can be turned to assets in the survival of larger groups, by such simple means as athletics. The author is sometimes too abstract in his approach. However, when gives real-life examples, either from nature or from human society, the points are usually convincing, and he provides plentiful documentation.

Opens interesting doors—it would be good to see more along this line.

Pub Date: April 2, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-465-02183-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Basic Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 15, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2012

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SOUL MADE FLESH

THE DISCOVERY OF THE BRAIN--AND HOW IT CHANGED THE WORLD

Absorbing and thought-provoking.

Seventeenth-century England forms the tumultuous backdrop for science journalist Zimmer’s account of the handful of thinkers who established that the brain, not the heart, was the seat of the soul.

The author singles out as his hero Thomas Willis, a name best known today among anatomy students for the “circle of Willis,” a ring of blood vessels at the base of the brain. A poor boy educated in medicine at Oxford, Willis eventually removed to London to become a rich and famous society physician. But it was his Oxford days, at the center of a circle of scholars that included Christopher Wren, Robert Hooke, and Robert Boyle that marked the revolution that dethroned Aristotle and Galen. Meticulous autopsies of Willis’s patients and multiple experiments on animals dead and living (PETA would weep) established that it was the brain and the system of nerves carrying “spirits” to and fro that accounted for thoughts, emotions, and actions. Moreover, the dissections were also able to point to brain specialization, linking diseased parts to symptoms suffered by the deceased. Willis and his peers were not ready to surrender all to a mechanistic view. They posited a dual soul: a sensitive, material soul subject to disease and a “rational” soul deep in the brain that was immaterial and immortal. And for all Willis’s acute observations of patients’ signs and symptoms, his treatments stuck to the potions, purges, emetics, and bloodletting that were standard care at the time. Zimmer details all of these developments, along with brief bios of the principals, against the chaos and calamities of the English civil war, the beheading of Charles I, the rise of Cromwell, the Restoration, the Irish rebellion, the devastating plague of 1664–5, the great London fire of 1666, and enough bloody religious battles to satisfy the Taliban. Indeed, the many parallels that can be drawn between politics, religion, science, and human behavior then and now add unexpected dividends to this engaging narrative.

Absorbing and thought-provoking.

Pub Date: Jan. 6, 2004

ISBN: 0-7432-3038-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2003

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CHOSEN SOLDIER

THE MAKING OF A SPECIAL FORCES WARRIOR

Macho prose full of praise for would-be warriors and the men who train them, seemingly designed to enthrall young men, boost...

Former Navy SEAL Couch redeploys the you-are-there approach of The Warrior Elite (2001) to depict the grueling training undergone by Army Special Forces Class 8-04.

Popularly known as the Green Berets, this elite program has a graduation rate of less than one in five. Beginning in August 2004, the author stayed for ten months at Camp Mackall in North Carolina, following the men closely as they were winnowed and hardened by the Special Forces Qualification Course and subsequent specialized training programs. First, however, Couch gives civilian readers some basic information about the mission and organization of Special Forces, a group that he believes is essential to winning the global war on terrorism. Standards are high, and candidates undergo mental and psychological screening as well as physical and professional assessment. The Green Berets, Couch stresses, are soldier-teachers who must be able to connect with and train local people to battle insurgents in their own country. Using lots of army acronyms and lingo, the veteran novelist (Silent Descent, 1993, etc.) creates an on-the-spot picture of the men’s tough, dirty and exhausting daily life. Couch not only observes and reports on the exceptionally demanding classroom- and field-training, he interviews many students and their instructors. Class members, here given pseudonyms, seem to talk freely about their reasons for being in the program and their reactions to the training; staff comments about the men (including those who leave, voluntarily or involuntarily) are also frank.

Macho prose full of praise for would-be warriors and the men who train them, seemingly designed to enthrall young men, boost recruitment and please the army.

Pub Date: March 6, 2007

ISBN: 0-307-33938-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2006

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