PRIME MOVER by Steven Vogel
Kirkus Star


A Natural History of Muscle
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Bioengineer Vogel (Cats’ Paws and Catapaults, 1998, etc.) lucidly explains the nature of muscle and examines how it has shaped human history, culture, and technology.

Beginning with a resume of what is known about muscle and how it works, Vogel (Biology/Duke Univ.) traces the evolution of this knowledge from Aristotle through Andreas Vesalius, Giovanni Borelli, and two Huxleys (Hugh E. and Andrew F.) to Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, as well as a number of contemporary researchers in morphology, physiology, and biochemistry. It’s fascinating to learn how muscles act to produce the rapid wing beats of flying insects, the powerful grasp of a crab’s claw, or the sound of a katydid—but the real story here is human muscle. From a close-up look at the performance of muscles themselves, how they are arranged in the body and how we make use of them, Vogel moves on to our extensions of them: first, simple hand tools such as levers, cranks, and axes; then devices for propelling our bodies over land and across water, for carrying loads, moving large objects, and clearing land. Analyzed by Vogel, the wheelbarrow reveals itself as a singularly ingenious device, as does the crosscut saw. The story of how we have put animal muscle to work for us, first to carry loads and then to pull them, takes Vogel into the workings of harnesses, hitches, and horseshoes, as well as comparisons of ox-power with horsepower. Following this is a well-illustrated capsule history of muscle-powered tools for killing and lastly an entertaining consideration of muscle as food: why horsemeat tastes sweeter than beef and why filet mignon is so tender.

The author’s interests seemingly know no bounds, and he takes the reader along with him on a complex, absorbing journey of exploration notable for its unexpected twists and turns. (100 line drawings)

Pub Date: March 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-393-02126-2
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 2001


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