A thrilling voyage through what most of us think of as an ordinary item sold at the supermarket.
Birkhead (Animal Behavior and History of Science/Univ. of Sheffield; Bird Sense: What It’s Like to Be a Bird, 2012, etc.), an expert in the reproductive biology of birds, takes readers on an outside-to-inside journey through an egg. Before launching his trip, the erudite and entertaining British author introduces egg collecting, a now-forbidden pastime that began in the 17th century with wealthy amateurs filling private cabinets with beautiful eggshells, many of them plundered from guillemot nests on the cliffs of Skomer of South Wales. Turning to eggs themselves, Birkhead tells how the outside is formed and what lovely shapes and beautiful colors shells can make. Each chapter moves inward, focusing next on the protective albumin and then the huge, food-filled yolk. Finally, the author provides a chapter on the laying of the egg, its incubation, and the hatching of the chick. This is no basic biology text, however. Birkhead, an accomplished popular science writer, is also an authority on the history of science. The journey through the egg is full of side trips into earlier times and related stories. It seems that even Aristotle and William Harvey found eggs puzzling, and although researchers today, equipped with scanning electron microscopes, have revealed many of the egg’s mysteries, the remaining gaps in knowledge are significant. What makes this book such a pleasure is not just the author’s breadth of knowledge—he has researched guillemots for more than 40 years—but his unbridled enthusiasm and the clarity of his explanations. The black-and-white illustrations are simple and clear, and the backmatter includes a helpful glossary for general readers as well as extensive notes, a bibliography, and a list of birds mentioned in the text.
One doesn’t have to be a bird enthusiast to relish this book, but it would be the most perfect gift for anyone who is.