Deserves to find its way into schoolrooms across the nation.

READ REVIEW

ENDLESS FORMS MOST BEAUTIFUL

THE NEW SCIENCE OF EVO DEVO

The key to understanding diversity in nature is what happens in the embryo, says Carroll (Genetics/Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison), and he provides compelling proof.

One of the great revelations of comparative genome studies over the past 20 years has been the discovery that animals share certain sets of master genes and switches that determine the ultimate shape of the animal, from flies and centipedes to mice and men. The fruit fly, for example, has a set of “Hox” genes on a single chromosome ordered in such a way that when expressed, they shape the fly’s body from head to end. Mind-bogglingly, these same Hox genes, or multiples of them on different chromosomes, are found in vertebrates, mammals and humans—where they play the same roles. Such “tool-kit” genes, as Carroll calls them, and the all-important genetic switches that orchestrate where and when the tool-kit proteins are turned on, not only determine animal forms but more nuanced details. These discoveries, along with the realization that embryonic development builds on repeated modular forms (think of the multiple segments of the human spine) are also clues to complexity: Further tinkering in gene expression and timing can lead to new, specialized appendages like arms and legs or wings and webbed feet. Admittedly, taking in all the details of these discoveries in the early chapters can be heavy going, but if the reader persists, there are delights to come. In the latter half, Carroll neatly describes the development of eyespots on butterfly wings, stripes in zebras, circles on fruit flies and red hair on redheads. His final chapters tackle human evolution, providing an up-to-date reprise of current fossil finds and speculation on how unique human traits may have developed. All this is further fallout from the new field of “evo devo” (evolutionary developmental biology) and provides more fuel to fight the creationist/intelligent-design folks.

Deserves to find its way into schoolrooms across the nation.

Pub Date: April 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-393-06016-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2005

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

An authoritative, engaging study of plant life, accessible to younger readers as well as adults.

THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY OF PLANTS

A neurobiologist reveals the interconnectedness of the natural world through stories of plant migration.

In this slim but well-packed book, Mancuso (Plant Science/Univ. of Florence; The Revolutionary Genius of Plants: A New Understanding of Plant Intelligence and Behavior, 2018, etc.) presents an illuminating and surprisingly lively study of plant life. He smoothly balances expansive historical exploration with recent scientific research through stories of how various plant species are capable of migrating to locations throughout the world by means of air, water, and even via animals. They often continue to thrive in spite of dire obstacles and environments. One example is the response of plants following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Three decades later, the abandoned “Exclusion Zone” is now entirely covered by an enormous assortment of thriving plants. Mancuso also tracks the journeys of several species that might be regarded as invasive. “Why…do we insist on labeling as ‘invasive’ all those plants that, with great success, have managed to occupy new territories?” asks the author. “On a closer look, the invasive plants of today are the native flora of the future, just as the invasive species of the past are a fundamental part of our ecosystem today.” Throughout, Mancuso persuasively articulates why an understanding and appreciation of how nature is interconnected is vital to the future of our planet. “In nature everything is connected,” he writes. “This simple law that humans don’t seem to understand has a corollary: the extinction of a species, besides being a calamity in and of itself, has unforeseeable consequences for the system to which the species belongs.” The book is not without flaws. The loosely imagined watercolor renderings are vague and fail to effectively complement Mancuso’s richly descriptive prose or satisfy readers’ curiosity. Even without actual photos and maps, it would have been beneficial to readers to include more finely detailed plant and map renderings.

An authoritative, engaging study of plant life, accessible to younger readers as well as adults.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-63542-991-6

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more