A slim but comprehensive zoological guide.

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A BASIC GLOSSARY OF INVERTEBRATE ZOOLOGY

Zoologist Clouse (The Wiring Diagram, 2016, etc.) offers a beginner’s reference manual of scientific terms relating to invertebrates.

Invertebrate zoology is a vast field, containing numerous strange and wondrous subjects from insects to worms to jellyfish. Its great diversity, however, has given rise to a specialized vocabulary that can seem impenetrable to those who may be looking to enter the field. Clouse’s book is “intended to be a companion that beginners can take to lectures, laboratories, and study sessions to help them navigate the maze of terminology which underlies a course in invertebrate zoology.” He begins with a quick 10-page primer on the Latin and Greek roots that form the building blocks of zoological terminology to help readers suss out the meanings of unfamiliar words: echin means “spiny”; gnath means “jaw”; stoma means “mouth.” He then moves into the glossary proper, taking readers alphabetically through the most essential terms of invertebrate zoology, from “book lungs” (“The respiratory structures of some arachnids”) to “Gordian worms” (“Common name for nematomorphs, also called ‘hairworms’ or ‘horsehair worms’ ”) to “slime glands” (“The large glands in velvet worms that open on either side of the mouth and shoot out sticky secretions for defense and prey capture”). Terms that aren’t common English words feature pronunciations in addition to definitions, and every term lists the taxonomic groups to which it refers. Clouse’s prose possesses the crispness and precision that befits a scientific reference text. The book’s layout is highly accessible and pleasing to the eye, with occasional black-and-white illustrations of creatures at the bottoms of pages. Reading one definition will likely lead readers to a number of other terms; italicized words in each entry are defined elsewhere in the text, allowing one to move through the book by pursuing one’s interests. Even spending half an hour with this text will make readers more knowledgeable about invertebrate zoology than they were prior to picking it up, and it would be difficult to imagine an easier or more handsome reference guide for a novice.

A slim but comprehensive zoological guide.

Pub Date: April 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5306-7002-4

Page Count: 190

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2017

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Ackerman writes with a light but assured touch, her prose rich in fact but economical in delivering it. Fans of birds in all...

THE GENIUS OF BIRDS

Science writer Ackerman (Ah-Choo!: The Uncommon Life of Your Common Cold, 2010, etc.) looks at the new science surrounding avian intelligence.

The takeaway: calling someone a birdbrain is a compliment. And in any event, as Ackerman observes early on, “intelligence is a slippery concept, even in our own species, tricky to define and tricky to measure.” Is a bird that uses a rock to break open a clamshell the mental equivalent of a tool-using primate? Perhaps that’s the wrong question, for birds are so unlike humans that “it’s difficult for us to fully appreciate their mental capabilities,” given that they’re really just small, feathered dinosaurs who inhabit a wholly different world from our once-arboreal and now terrestrial one. Crows and other corvids have gotten all the good publicity related to bird intelligence in recent years, but Ackerman, who does allow that some birds are brighter than others, points favorably to the much-despised pigeon as an animal that “can remember hundreds of different objects for long periods of time, discriminate between different painting styles, and figure out where it’s going, even when displaced from familiar territory by hundreds of miles.” Not bad for a critter best known for bespattering statues in public parks. Ackerman travels far afield to places such as Barbados and New Caledonia to study such matters as memory, communication, and decision-making, the last largely based on visual cues—though, as she notes, birds also draw ably on other senses, including smell, which in turn opens up insight onto “a weird evolutionary paradox that scientists have puzzled over for more than a decade”—a matter of the geometry of, yes, the bird brain.

Ackerman writes with a light but assured touch, her prose rich in fact but economical in delivering it. Fans of birds in all their diversity will want to read this one.

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59420-521-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

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Exemplary writing about the world and a welcome gift to readers.

HORIZON

Distinguished natural history writer and explorer Lopez (Outside, 2014, etc.) builds a winning memoir around books, voyages, and biological and anthropological observations.

“Traveling, despite the technological innovations that have brought cultural homogenization to much of the world, helps the curious and attentive itinerant understand how deep the notion goes that one place is never actually like another.” So writes the author, who has made a long career of visiting remote venues such as Antarctica, Greenland, and the lesser known of the Galápagos Islands. From these travels he has extracted truths about the world, such as the fact that places differ as widely as the people who live in them. Even when traveling with scientists from his own culture, Lopez finds differences of perception. On an Arctic island called Skraeling, for instance, he observes that if he and the biologists he is walking with were to encounter a grizzly feeding on a caribou, he would focus on the bear, the scientists on the whole gestalt of bear, caribou, environment; if a native of the place were along, the story would deepen beyond the immediate event, for those who possess Indigenous ways of knowledge, “unlike me…felt no immediate need to resolve it into meaning.” The author’s chapter on talismans—objects taken from his travels, such as “a fist-size piece of raven-black dolerite”—is among the best things he has written. But there are plentiful gems throughout the looping narrative, its episodes constructed from adventures over eight decades: trying to work out a bit of science as a teenager while huddled under the Ponte Vecchio after just having seen Botticelli’s Venus; admiring a swimmer as a septuagenarian while remembering the John Steinbeck whom he’d met as a schoolboy; gazing into the surf over many years’ worth of trips to Cape Foulweather, an Oregon headland named by Capt. James Cook, of whom he writes, achingly, “we no longer seem to be sailing in a time of fixed stars, of accurate chronometers, and of reliable routes.”

Exemplary writing about the world and a welcome gift to readers.

Pub Date: March 20, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-394-58582-6

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 26, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2018

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