The Death and Life of the Great Lakes by Dan EganClustered along the border between the United States and Canada, the Great Lakes are an "interconnected watery expanse that sprawls across 94,000 square miles." In this thought-provoking book, journalist Dan Egan recounts the 14,000-year history of the world's largest freshwater system from its Ice Age origins to its modern-day role as both a shipping corridor and threatened ecosystem. He also explores what lies beneath the surface (an estimated 6,000 shipwrecks as well as a number of invasive species, the result of 19th-century efforts to connect these bodies of water to the Atlantic Ocean) and reflects on the precarious future of this unique natural resource.
The Sensational Past: How the Enlightenment Changed the Way We Use Our Senses by Carolyn PurnellThe "Age of Reason" heralded by the philosophes of the 18th-century European Enlightenment might just as easily been called the Age of Sensation, as intellectuals sought to discover how our five senses influence our perceptions of the world. While their conclusions were somewhat hit-or-miss -- therapeutic doses of chocolate were prescribed alongside tobacco enemas, while attempts to link music theory and cosmology are responsible for pianos made of live cats -- their insatiable curiosity laid the groundwork for aspects of our society that we take for granted, from coffee shops to special education. With its blend of history, science, and philosophy, this book may appeal to fans of Diane Ackerman's A Natural History of the Senses.
Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History by Bill SchuttNever has the expression "you are what you eat" been more apt. Sometimes called "intraspecific predation," cannibalism -- in which members of a species eat part or all of other members of their species -- is widespread in the animal kingdom for reasons that include (but are not limited to) overpopulation and the stresses of captivity. It's also not that uncommon among humans, who may engage in cannibalism for medicinal purposes, as part of funeral rites, or as a demonstration of filial piety. Examining biological and cultural aspects of cannibalism, author and zoologist Bill Schutt also offers thoughts on the circumstances (such as famine and disease caused by climate change) that could make this taboo more...um, palatable.
The Inkblots: Hermann Rorschach, His Iconic Test, and the Power of Seeing by Damion SearlsAlthough most people are familiar with the iconic Inkblot test, not many know about its creator, Swiss psychoanalyst Hermann Rorschach. A student of Eugen Bleuler and Carl Jung, Rorschach was also the son of a painter and an admirer of modernist and abstract art, all of which influenced his work. However, Rorschach's life and career are only part of the story. After his death, the test took on a life of its own: adopted by military, embraced by the advertising industry, and debated within the psychological community, this set of ten symmetrical images continues to be administered to students, job applicants, and even war criminals while at the same time leaving an indelible mark on the popular imagination.
The Vaccine Race: Science, Politics, and the Human Costs of Defeating Disease by Meredith WadmanUntil the 1960s, children regularly suffered (and frequently died) from measles, mumps, rubella, diptheria, pertussis, polio, and more. Thanks to immunizations, this is no longer the case. However, as author Meredith Wadman explains, the breakthroughs in virology that saved so many lives came at a high human cost. While researchers benefited from advances in tissue culture, they also owed their success to a steady supply of test subjects in orphanages and schools, asylums and prisons. Readers who enjoy moving and thought-provoking books about medical ethics, such as Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, will want to read The Vaccine Race.
The Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman"Birdbrain" should be a compliment, because our feathered friends (or foes: hello, pigeons!) are very intelligent. (If nothing else, they've had 100 million years to get smart.) Addressing our imperfect understanding of intelligence as well as longstanding misconceptions about bird cognition, author Jennifer Ackerman assesses what we now know about avian intelligence by drawing on copious research, as well as personal observations drawn from a lifetime of birdwatching. For more on animal cognition in general, check out Frans de Waal's Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?
The Most Perfect Thing: Inside (and Outside) a Bird's Egg by Tim BirkheadOn the outside, a bird's egg is "irresistible." Inside, it's "perfect." Working inwards from the shell through the albumen to the yolk, ornithologist Tim Birkhead examines the physical structure and evolutionary development of the egg through the three-part process of fertilization, laying, and hatching. In the process, he recounts episodes from a 40-year career studying birds and reflects on the enduring appeal of birds' eggs to collectors. If you're inspired by this ode to the ovum, you may also like Roger J. Lederer's Beaks, Bones, and Birdsong: How the Struggle for Survival has Shaped Birds and their Behavior.
H is for Hawk by Helen MacdonaldStruggling with depression in the wake of her beloved father's unexpected death, author and academic Helen Macdonald decided to acquire and train a goshawk, a challenge even for an experienced falconer like herself. As she rears Mabel, her goshawk chick, she reflects on the history of the sport and reconsiders a favorite book from her childhood: The Goshawk by T.H. White. Replete with sensory details of falconry and soaring descriptions of the countryside near her home in Cambridge, England, H is for Hawk is both a moving account of grief and a fascinating glimpse into an unseen world. For another lyrical memoir by a falconer, try Richard Hines' No Way But Gentlenesse.
Birdology: Adventures with Hip Hop Parrots, Cantankerous Cassowaries, Crabby Crows... by Sy MontgomeryWhat makes a bird a bird? To find out, nature writer Sy Montgomery observes and interacts with specimens ranging from bean-sized baby hummingbirds to six-foot-tall, 150-pound cassowaries. Describing seven encounters with birds, including Montgomery's own backyard flock and the dancing cockatoo whose moves made him an internet celebrity, this upbeat book by the author of The Soul of an Octopus will delight animal lovers with its enthusiasm and gentle humor.
The Thing with Feathers: The Surprising Lives of Birds and What They Reveal About... by Noah StryckerWhat do penguins fear? How do pigeons find their way home? Why do bowerbirds build such elaborate nests? Noah Strycker, an associate editor for Birding magazine, explores these and other questions. Divided into three sections, "Body," "Mind," and "Spirit," this book considers behaviors specific to birds, such as homing instincts and the pecking order, as well as those once attributed solely to humans, such as self-awareness, the creation of art, and romantic love. For more insight into bird behavior, try Tim Birkhead's Bird Sense: What It's Like to Be a Bird.
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