Our Natural World
Ebola, SARS, Hendra, AIDS, and countless other deadly viruses all have one thing in common: the bugs that transmit these diseases all originate in wild animals and pass to humans by a process called spillover. In this gripping account, David Quammen takes the reader along on this astonishing quest to learn how, where from, and why these diseases emerge and asks the terrifying question: What might the next big one be?
By examining fossils and DNA, he shows us that our hands actually resemble fish fins, our heads are organized like long-extinct jawless fish, and major parts of our genomes look and function like those of worms and bacteria. Your Inner Fish makes us look at ourselves and our world in an illuminating new light. This is science writing at its finest—enlightening, accessible and told with irresistible enthusiasm.
In 1637, one Dutchman paid as much for a single tulip bulb as the going price of a town house in Amsterdam. Three and a half centuries later, Amsterdam is once again the mecca for people who care passionately about one particular plant—though this time the obsessions revolves around the intoxicating effects of marijuana rather than the visual beauty of the tulip. How could flowers, of all things, become such objects of desire that they can drive men to financial ruin?
In The Botany of Desire, Michael Pollan argues that the answer lies at the heart of the intimately reciprocal relationship between people and plants. In telling the stories of four familiar plant species that are deeply woven into the fabric of our lives, Pollan illustrates how they evolved to satisfy humankinds’s most basic yearnings—and by doing so made themselves indispensable. For, just as we’ve benefited from these plants, the plants, in the grand co-evolutionary scheme that Pollan evokes so brilliantly, have done well by us. The sweetness of apples, for example, induced the early Americans to spread the species, giving the tree a whole new continent in which to blossom. So who is really domesticating whom?
Weaving fascinating anecdotes and accessible science into gorgeous prose, Pollan takes us on an absorbing journey that will change the way we think about our place in nature.
From the Hardcover edition.
The riveting true story of a small town ravaged by industrial pollution, Toms River melds hard-hitting investigative reporting, a fascinating scientific detective story, and an unforgettable cast of characters into a sweeping narrative in the tradition of A Civil Action, The Emperor of All Maladies, and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.
One of New Jersey’s seemingly innumerable quiet seaside towns, Toms River became the unlikely setting for a decades-long drama that culminated in 2001 with one of the largest legal settlements in the annals of toxic dumping. A town that would rather have been known for its Little League World Series champions ended up making history for an entirely different reason: a notorious cluster of childhood cancers scientifically linked to local air and water pollution. For years, large chemical companies had been using Toms River as their private dumping ground, burying tens of thousands of leaky drums in open pits and discharging billions of gallons of acid-laced wastewater into the town’s namesake river.
In an astonishing feat of investigative reporting, prize-winning journalist Dan Fagin recounts the sixty-year saga of rampant pollution and inadequate oversight that made Toms River a cautionary example for fast-growing industrial towns from South Jersey to South China. He tells the stories of the pioneering scientists and physicians who first identified pollutants as a cause of cancer, and brings to life the everyday heroes in Toms River who struggled for justice: a young boy whose cherubic smile belied the fast-growing tumors that had decimated his body from birth; a nurse who fought to bring the alarming incidence of childhood cancers to the attention of authorities who didn’t want to listen; and a mother whose love for her stricken child transformed her into a tenacious advocate for change.
A gripping human drama rooted in a centuries-old scientific quest, Toms River is a tale of dumpers at midnight and deceptions in broad daylight, of corporate avarice and government neglect, and of a few brave individuals who refused to keep silent until the truth was exposed.
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY NPR AND KIRKUS REVIEWS
“A thrilling journey full of twists and turns, Toms River is essential reading for our times. Dan Fagin handles topics of great complexity with the dexterity of a scholar, the honesty of a journalist, and the dramatic skill of a novelist.”—Siddhartha Mukherjee, M.D., author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning The Emperor of All Maladies
“A complex tale of powerful industry, local politics, water rights, epidemiology, public health and cancer in a gripping, page-turning environmental thriller.”—NPR
“Unstoppable reading.”—The Philadelphia Inquirer
“Meticulously researched and compellingly recounted . . . It’s every bit as important—and as well-written—as A Civil Action and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.”—The Star-Ledger
“Fascinating . . . a gripping environmental thriller.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“An honest, thoroughly researched, intelligently written book.”—Slate
“[A] hard-hitting account . . . a triumph.”—Nature
“Absorbing and thoughtful.”—USA Today
From the Hardcover edition.
Like many of us, historians have long been guilty of taking trees for granted. Yet the history of trees in America is no less remarkable than the history of the United States itself—from the majestic white pines of New England, which were coveted by the British Crown for use as masts in navy warships, to the orange groves of California, which lured settlers west. In fact, without the country’s vast forests and the hundreds of tree species they contained, there would have been no ships, docks, railroads, stockyards, wagons, barrels, furniture, newspapers, rifles, or firewood. No shingled villages or whaling vessels in New England. No New York City, Miami, or Chicago. No Johnny Appleseed, Paul Bunyan, or Daniel Boone. No Allied planes in World War I, and no suburban sprawl in the middle of the twentieth century. America—if indeed it existed—would be a very different place without its millions of acres of trees.
As Eric Rutkow’s brilliant, epic account shows, trees were essential to the early years of the republic and indivisible from the country’s rise as both an empire and a civilization. Among American Canopy’s many fascinating stories: the Liberty Trees, where colonists gathered to plot rebellion against the British; Henry David Thoreau’s famous retreat into the woods; the creation of New York City’s Central Park; the great fire of 1871 that killed a thousand people in the lumber town of Peshtigo, Wisconsin; the fevered attempts to save the American chestnut and the American elm from extinction; and the controversy over spotted owls and the old-growth forests they inhabited. Rutkow also explains how trees were of deep interest to such figures as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Teddy Roosevelt, and FDR, who oversaw the planting of more than three billion trees nationally in his time as president.
As symbols of liberty, community, and civilization, trees are perhaps the loudest silent figures in our country’s history. America started as a nation of people frightened of the deep, seemingly infinite woods; we then grew to rely on our forests for progress and profit; by the end of the twentieth century we came to understand that the globe’s climate is dependent on the preservation of trees. Today, few people think about where timber comes from, but most of us share a sense that to destroy trees is to destroy part of ourselves and endanger the future.
Never before has anyone treated our country’s trees and forests as the subject of a broad historical study, and the result is an accessible, informative, and thoroughly entertaining read. Audacious in its four-hundred-year scope, authoritative in its detail, and elegant in its execution, American Canopy is perfect for history buffs and nature lovers alike and announces Eric Rutkow as a major new author of popular history.
This remarkable medical parallel launched Natterson-Horowitz on a journey of discovery that reshaped her entire approach to medicine. She began to search for other connections between the human and animal worlds: Do animals get breast cancer, anxiety-induced fainting spells, sexually transmitted diseases? Do they suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder, bulimia, addiction?
The answers were astonishing. Dinosaurs suffered from brain cancer. Koalas catch chlamydia. Reindeer seek narcotic escape in hallucinogenic mushrooms. Stallions self-mutilate. Gorillas experience clinical depression.
Joining forces with science journalist Kathryn Bowers, Natterson-Horowitz employs fascinating case studies and meticulous scholarship to present a revelatory understanding of what animals can teach us about the human body and mind. “Zoobiquity” is the term the authors have coined to refer to a new, species-spanning approach to health. Delving into evolution, anthropology, sociology, biology, veterinary science, and zoology, they break down the walls between disciplines, redefining the boundaries of medicine.
Zoobiquity explores how animal and human commonality can be used to diagnose, treat, and heal patients of all species. Both authoritative and accessible, offering cutting-edge research through captivating narratives, this provocative book encourages us to see our essential connection to all living beings.
Stepping effortlessly from myth to cutting-edge science, Mutants gives a brilliant narrative account of our genetic code and the captivating people whose bodies have revealed it—a French convent girl who found herself changing sex at puberty; children who, echoing Homer’s Cyclops, are born with a single eye in the middle of their foreheads; a village of long-lived Croatian dwarves; one family, whose bodies were entirely covered with hair, was kept at the Burmese royal court for four generations and gave Darwin one of his keenest insights into heredity. This elegant, humane, and engaging book “captures what we know of the development of what makes us human” (Nature).
The most fatal virus known to science, rabies kills nearly 100 percent of its victims once the infection takes root in the brain. A disease that spreads avidly from animals to humans, rabies has served throughout history as a symbol of savage madness, of inhuman possession. And today, its history can help shed light on the wave of emerging diseases, from AIDS to SARS to avian flu, that we now know to originate in animal populations.
From Greek myths to zombie flicks, from the laboratory heroics of Louis Pasteur to the contemporary search for a lifesaving treatment, Rabid is a fresh, fascinating, and often wildly entertaining look at one of mankind’s oldest and most fearsome foes.
In The Fever, the journalist Sonia Shah sets out to answer these questions, delivering a timely, inquisitive chronicle of the illness and its influence on human lives. Through the centuries, she finds, we've invested our hopes in a panoply of drugs and technologies, and invariably those hopes have been dashed. From the settling of the New World to the construction of the Panama Canal, through wars and the advances of the Industrial Revolution, Shah tracks malaria's jagged ascent and the tragedies in its wake, revealing a parasite every bit as persistent as the insects that carry it. With distinguished prose and original reporting from Panama, Malawi, Cameroon, India, and elsewhere, The Fever captures the curiously fascinating, devastating history of this long-standing thorn in the side of humanity.
Examining everything from food sources in the extremely barren winter land-scape to the chemical composition that allows certain creatures to survive, Heinrich's Winter World awakens the largely undiscovered mysteries by which nature sustains herself through winter's harsh, cruel exigencies.
What do we know about this remarkable takeover? Who were the first modern Europeans and what were they like? How did they manage to thrive in such an extreme environment? And what legacy did they leave behind them after the cold millennia? The age of the Cro-Magnons lasted some 30,000 years-longer than all of recorded history. Cro-Magnon is the story of a little known, yet seminal, chapter of human experience.
Trilobites were shelled animals that lived in the oceans over five hundred million years ago. As bewilderingly diverse then as the beetle is today, they survived in the arctic or the tropics, were spiky or smooth, were large as lobsters or small as fleas. And because they flourished for three hundred million years, they can be used to glimpse a less evolved world of ancient continents and vanished oceans. Erudite and entertaining, this book is a uniquely exuberant homage to a fabulously singular species.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
What happens during a heart attack? Can someone really die of fright? What is death, anyway? How does electroshock treatment affect the brain? What is consciousness? The answers to these questions lie in the electrical signals constantly traveling through our bodies, driving our thoughts, our movements, and even the beating of our hearts.
The history of how scientists discovered the role of electricity in the human body is a colorful one, filled with extraordinary personalities, fierce debates, and brilliant experiments. Moreover, present-day research on electricity and ion channels has created one of the most exciting fields in science, shedding light on conditions ranging from diabetes and allergies to cystic fibrosis, migraines, and male infertility. With inimitable wit and a clear, fresh voice, award-winning researcher Frances Ashcroft weaves together compelling real-life stories with the latest scientific findings, giving us a spectacular account of the body electric.
For centuries we have collectively marveled at plant diversity and form—from Charles Darwin's early fascination with stems to Seymour Krelborn's distorted doting in Little Shop of Horrors. But now, in What a Plant Knows, the renowned biologist Daniel Chamovitz presents an intriguing and scrupulous look at how plants themselves experience the world—from the colors they see to the schedules they keep. Highlighting the latest research in genetics and more, he takes us into the inner lives of plants and draws parallels with the human senses to reveal that we have much more in common with sunflowers and oak trees than we may realize. Chamovitz shows how plants know up from down, how they know when a neighbor has been infested by a group of hungry beetles, and whether they appreciate the Led Zeppelin you've been playing for them or if they're more partial to the melodic riffs of Bach. Covering touch, sound, smell, sight, and even memory, Chamovitz encourages us all to consider whether plants might even be aware of their surroundings.
A rare inside look at what life is really like for the grass we walk on, the flowers we sniff, and the trees we climb, What a Plant Knows offers us a greater understanding of science and our place in nature.
RATS was named a New York Public Library "Book to Remember" in 2004
When Europeans arrived in North America, 25 to 40 percent of the continent's birds were passenger pigeons, traveling in flocks so massive as to block out the sun for hours or even days. The downbeats of their wings would chill the air beneath and create a thundering roar that would drown out all other sound. John James Audubon, impressed by their speed and agility, said a lone passenger pigeon streaking through the forest "passes like a thought.” How prophetic-for although a billion pigeons crossed the skies 80 miles from Toronto in May of 1860, little more than fifty years later passenger pigeons were extinct. The last of the species, Martha, died in captivity at the Cincinnati Zoo on September 1, 1914.
As naturalist Joel Greenberg relates in gripping detail, the pigeons' propensity to nest, roost, and fly together in vast numbers made them vulnerable to unremitting market and recreational hunting. The spread of railroads and telegraph lines created national demand that allowed the birds to be pursued relentlessly. Passenger pigeons inspired awe in the likes of Audubon, Henry David Thoreau, James Fenimore Cooper, and others, but no serious effort was made to protect the species until it was too late. Greenberg's beautifully written story of the passenger pigeon paints a vivid picture of the passenger pigeon's place in literature, art, and the hearts and minds of those who witnessed this epic bird, while providing a cautionary tale of what happens when species and natural resources are not harvested sustainably.
An awe-inspiring journey through the eons and across the globe, in search of visible traces of evolution in the living creatures which have survived from earlier times and whose stories speak to us of seminal events in the history of life.
The history of life on Earth is far older – and far odder – than many of us realise. In ‘Survivors’, acclaimed author Richard Fortey traces this history not through fossil records, but in the living stories of organisms that have survived nearly unchanged for hundreds of millions of years and whose existence today affords us tantalising glimpses of landscapes long vanished.
For evolution has not obliterated its tracks. Scattered across the globe, strange and marvellous plants and animals have survived virtually unchanged since life first began. They range from humble algal mats dating back almost two billion years to hardy musk oxen, which linger as the last vestiges of Ice Age fauna.
Following in Fortey’s questing footsteps, ‘Survivors’ takes us on a fascinating journey to these ancient worlds. On a moonlit beach in Delaware where the horseshoe crab shuffles its way through a violent romance, we catch a glimpse of life 450 million years ago, shortly after it diversified on the ocean floor. Along a stretch of Australian coastline, we bear witness to the sights and sounds that would have greeted a Precambrian dawn. Finally, in the dense rainforests of New Zealand where the secretive velvet worm burrows into the rotting timber of the jungle floor, we marvel at a living fossil which has survived unchanged since before the dissolution of the Gondwana supercontinent.
Written with Fortey’s customary sparkle and gusto, this wonderfully engrossing exploration of the world’s oldest flora and fauna brilliantly combines the best science writing about the origins of life with an explorer’s sense of adventure and a poet’s wonder at the natural world. Utterly compelling, eye-opening and awe-inspiring, this is a book for anyone with an interest in evolution, in nature, in the remarkable scope of geological time and our own modest interaction with it – in short, in life itself.
Anna Pavord takes us on a thrilling adventure into botanical history, travelling from Athens in the third century BC, through Constantinople, Venice, the medical school at Salerno to the universities of Pisa and Padua. The journey, traced here for the first time, involves the culture of Islam, the first expeditions to the Indies and the first settlers in the New World.
Gradually, over a long period in Europe, plants assumed identities and acquired names. Artists painted the first pictures of them. Plants acquired the two-part names that show how they are related to other plants. But who began all this work, and how was it done?
Sumptuously illustrated in full colour, The Naming of Names gives a compelling insight into a world full of intrigue and intensely competitive egos.
The introduction provides a brief history into the discovery of these illustrious birds, from how they were originally perceived and idolized by the natives of New Guinea, to the arrival of Europeans, who were immediately captivated by their bright, vibrant colors. The chapters are ordered according to the sequence in which the birds representing the various genera made their appearance in Europe (thereby highlighting the books educational aspect). Within its pages, readers will catch a glimpse of these birds through vivid, highly-detailed painting, as well as learn more about each individual bird and genus-comparisons and contrasts between the males and females, as well as between the different genus's.
A tour through art and history, with a good deal of ornithology thrown in, Drawn From Paradise is not only a must-have for ornithologists and bird-watchers, but also a beautiful collectible for students, artists, and aesthetes. Its central idea is to showcase the breathtaking beauty of these birds and the enormous interest that still surrounds them even today.
In Feathers, biologist Thor Hanson details a sweeping natural history, as feathers have been used to fly, protect, attract, and adorn through time and place. Applying the research of paleontologists, ornithologists, biologists, engineers, and even art historians, Hanson asks: What are feathers? How did they evolve? What do they mean to us?
Engineers call feathers the most efficient insulating material ever discovered, and they are at the root of biology's most enduring debate. They silence the flight of owls and keep penguins dry below the ice. They have decorated queens, jesters, and priests. And they have inked documents from the Constitution to the novels of Jane Austen.
Feathers is a captivating and beautiful exploration of this most enchanting object.