Dinner with Darwin: Food, Drink, and Evolution

University of Chicago Press
Free sample

What do eggs, flour, and milk have in common? They form the basis of waffles, of course, but these staples of breakfast bounty also share an evolutionary function: eggs, seeds (from which we derive flour by grinding), and milk have each evolved to nourish offspring. Indeed, ponder the genesis of your breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and you’ll soon realize that everything we eat and drink has an evolutionary history. In Dinner with Darwin, join Jonathan Silvertown for a multicourse meal of evolutionary gastronomy, a tantalizing tour of human taste that helps us to understand the origins of our diets and the foods that have been central to them for millennia—from spices to spirits.

A delectable concoction of coevolution and cookery, gut microbiomes and microherbs, and both the chicken and its egg, Dinner with Darwin reveals that our shopping lists, recipe cards, and restaurant menus don’t just contain the ingredients for culinary delight. They also tell a fascinating story about natural selection and its influence on our plates—and palates. Digging deeper, Silvertown’s repast includes entrées into GMOs and hybrids, and looks at the science of our sensory interactions with foods and cooking—the sights, aromas, and tastes we experience in our kitchens and dining rooms. As is the wont of any true chef, Silvertown packs his menu with eclectic components, dishing on everything from Charles Darwin’s intestinal maladies to taste bud anatomy and turducken.

Our evolutionary relationship with food and drink stretches from the days of cooking cave dwellers to contemporary crêperies and beyond, and Dinner with Darwin serves up scintillating insight into the entire, awesome span. This feast of soup, science, and human society is one to savor. With a wit as dry as a fine pinot noir and a cache of evolutionary knowledge as vast as the most discerning connoisseur’s wine cellar, Silvertown whets our appetites—and leaves us hungry for more.
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About the author

Jonathan Silvertown is professor of evolutionary ecology in the Institute of Evolutionary Biology at the University of Edinburgh. He is the author of numerous books on ecology and evolution, including, most recently, The Long and the Short of It: The Science of Life Span and Aging, also published by the University of Chicago Press.
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Publisher
University of Chicago Press
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Published on
Sep 5, 2017
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Pages
320
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ISBN
9780226489230
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Language
English
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Genres
Cooking / General
Science / General
Science / Life Sciences / Evolution
Science / Natural History
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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Jonathan Silvertown
Everything that lives will die. That’s the fundamental fact of life. But not everyone dies at the same age: people vary wildly in their patterns of aging and their life spans—and that variation is nothing compared to what’s found in other animal and plant species. A giant fungus found in Michigan has been alive since the Ice Age, while a dragonfly lives but four months, a mayfly half an hour. What accounts for these variations—and what can we learn from them that might help us understand, or better manage, our own aging?
With The Long and the Short of It, biologist and writer Jonathan Silvertown offers readers a witty and fascinating tour through the scientific study of longevity and aging. Dividing his daunting subject by theme—death, life span, aging, heredity, evolution, and more—Silvertown draws on the latest scientific developments to paint a picture of what we know about how life span, senescence, and death vary within and across species. At every turn, he addresses fascinating questions that have far-reaching implications: What causes aging, and what determines the length of an individual life? What changes have caused the average human life span to increase so dramatically—fifteen minutes per hour—in the past two centuries? If evolution favors those who leave the most descendants, why haven’t we evolved to be immortal? The answers to these puzzles and more emerge from close examination of the whole natural history of life span and aging, from fruit flies, nematodes, redwoods, and much more. The Long and the Short of It pairs a perpetually fascinating topic with a wholly engaging writer, and the result is a supremely accessible book that will reward curious readers of all ages.
Jonathan Silvertown
The story of seeds, in a nutshell, is a tale of evolution. From the tiny sesame that we sprinkle on our bagels to the forty-five-pound double coconut borne by the coco de mer tree, seeds are a perpetual reminder of the complexity and diversity of life on earth. With An Orchard Invisible, Jonathan Silvertown presents the oft-ignored seed with the natural history it deserves, one nearly as varied and surprising as the earth’s flora itself.

Beginning with the evolution of the first seed plant from fernlike ancestors more than 360 million years ago, Silvertown carries his tale through epochs and around the globe. In a clear and engaging style, he delves into the science of seeds: How and why do some lie dormant for years on end? How did seeds evolve? The wide variety of uses that humans have developed for seeds of all sorts also receives a fascinating look, studded with examples, including foods, oils, perfumes, and pharmaceuticals. An able guide with an eye for the unusual, Silvertown is happy to take readers on unexpected—but always interesting—tangents, from Lyme disease to human color vision to the Salem witch trials. But he never lets us forget that the driving force behind the story of seeds—its theme, even—is evolution, with its irrepressible habit of stumbling upon new solutions to the challenges of life.

"I have great faith in a seed," Thoreau wrote. "Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders." Written with a scientist’s knowledge and a gardener’s delight, An Orchard Invisible offers those wonders in a package that will be irresistible to science buffs and green thumbs alike.

Jonathan Silvertown
At the heart of evolution lies a bewildering paradox. Natural selection favors above all the individual that leaves the most offspring—a superorganism of sorts that Jonathan Silvertown here calls the "Darwinian demon." But if such a demon existed, this highly successful organism would populate the entire world with its own kind, beating out other species and eventually extinguishing biodiversity as we know it. Why then, if evolution favors this demon, is the world filled with so many different life forms? What keeps this Darwinian demon in check? If humankind is now the greatest threat to biodiversity on the planet, have we become the Darwinian demon?

Demons in Eden considers these questions using the latest scientific discoveries from the plant world. Readers join Silvertown as he explores the astonishing diversity of plant life in regions as spectacular as the verdant climes of Japan, the lush grounds of the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, the shallow wetlands and teeming freshwaters of Florida, the tropical rainforests of southeast Mexico, and the Canary Islands archipelago, whose evolutionary novelties—and exotic plant life—have earned it the sobriquet "the Galapagos of botany." Along the way, Silvertown looks closely at the evolution of plant diversity in these locales and explains why such variety persists in light of ecological patterns and evolutionary processes. In novel and useful ways, he also investigates the current state of plant diversity on the planet to show the ever-challenging threats posed by invasive species and humans.

Bringing the secret life of plants into more colorful and vivid focus than ever before, Demons in Eden is an empathic and impassioned exploration of modern plant ecology that unlocks evolutionary mysteries of the natural world.
Elizabeth Kolbert
ONE OF THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW'S 10 BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR

A major book about the future of the world, blending intellectual and natural history and field reporting into a powerful account of the mass extinction unfolding before our eyes
Over the last half a billion years, there have been five mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. This time around, the cataclysm is us. In The Sixth Extinction, two-time winner of the National Magazine Award and New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert draws on the work of scores of researchers in half a dozen disciplines, accompanying many of them into the field: geologists who study deep ocean cores, botanists who follow the tree line as it climbs up the Andes, marine biologists who dive off the Great Barrier Reef. She introduces us to a dozen species, some already gone, others facing extinction, including the Panamian golden frog, staghorn coral, the great auk, and the Sumatran rhino. Through these stories, Kolbert provides a moving account of the disappearances occurring all around us and traces the evolution of extinction as concept, from its first articulation by Georges Cuvier in revolutionary Paris up through the present day. The sixth extinction is likely to be mankind's most lasting legacy; as Kolbert observes, it compels us to rethink the fundamental question of what it means to be human.

Jonathan Silvertown
The story of seeds, in a nutshell, is a tale of evolution. From the tiny sesame that we sprinkle on our bagels to the forty-five-pound double coconut borne by the coco de mer tree, seeds are a perpetual reminder of the complexity and diversity of life on earth. With An Orchard Invisible, Jonathan Silvertown presents the oft-ignored seed with the natural history it deserves, one nearly as varied and surprising as the earth’s flora itself.

Beginning with the evolution of the first seed plant from fernlike ancestors more than 360 million years ago, Silvertown carries his tale through epochs and around the globe. In a clear and engaging style, he delves into the science of seeds: How and why do some lie dormant for years on end? How did seeds evolve? The wide variety of uses that humans have developed for seeds of all sorts also receives a fascinating look, studded with examples, including foods, oils, perfumes, and pharmaceuticals. An able guide with an eye for the unusual, Silvertown is happy to take readers on unexpected—but always interesting—tangents, from Lyme disease to human color vision to the Salem witch trials. But he never lets us forget that the driving force behind the story of seeds—its theme, even—is evolution, with its irrepressible habit of stumbling upon new solutions to the challenges of life.

"I have great faith in a seed," Thoreau wrote. "Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders." Written with a scientist’s knowledge and a gardener’s delight, An Orchard Invisible offers those wonders in a package that will be irresistible to science buffs and green thumbs alike.

Jonathan Silvertown
Everything that lives will die. That’s the fundamental fact of life. But not everyone dies at the same age: people vary wildly in their patterns of aging and their life spans—and that variation is nothing compared to what’s found in other animal and plant species. A giant fungus found in Michigan has been alive since the Ice Age, while a dragonfly lives but four months, a mayfly half an hour. What accounts for these variations—and what can we learn from them that might help us understand, or better manage, our own aging?
With The Long and the Short of It, biologist and writer Jonathan Silvertown offers readers a witty and fascinating tour through the scientific study of longevity and aging. Dividing his daunting subject by theme—death, life span, aging, heredity, evolution, and more—Silvertown draws on the latest scientific developments to paint a picture of what we know about how life span, senescence, and death vary within and across species. At every turn, he addresses fascinating questions that have far-reaching implications: What causes aging, and what determines the length of an individual life? What changes have caused the average human life span to increase so dramatically—fifteen minutes per hour—in the past two centuries? If evolution favors those who leave the most descendants, why haven’t we evolved to be immortal? The answers to these puzzles and more emerge from close examination of the whole natural history of life span and aging, from fruit flies, nematodes, redwoods, and much more. The Long and the Short of It pairs a perpetually fascinating topic with a wholly engaging writer, and the result is a supremely accessible book that will reward curious readers of all ages.
強納森.席佛頓(Jonathan Silvertown)
◆亞馬遜讀者四顆半星好評推薦 ◆《種子哪裡來?》作者最新力作 為什麼在過去兩百年裡,人類的壽命增加速度逐漸接近每小時十五分鐘? 如果演化偏好那些留下最多後代的個體,為什麼我們沒有演化成長生不死呢? 所有的生命都難逃一死,但死亡的年紀未必相同,例如果蠅孵化後只能活幾個小時,某種巨型蕈類卻從冰河時期存活至今,我們該怎麼解釋這些差異?古今中外,眾人爭相尋找長生不老的解方,但究竟是什麼主宰了我們的壽命,我們又為什麼會變老? 生態學家席佛頓抽絲剝繭,從死亡、壽命、老化、遺傳、天擇、機制等數個面向切入,透過幽默的口吻,解釋植物看起來永生不死的特異之處、搖滾樂手往往只能活到二十七歲的原因;並搖著充滿詩意的筆桿,探討分子層面中,基因、自由基與老化、死亡的關係等。 書中滿載科學家對不同物種衰老及死亡差異的最新理解,以及各種研究的來龍去脈。跟隨席佛頓的步伐進入書中,那些模糊未解的壽命疑問都將逐漸清晰! 中研院生物多樣性研究中心研究員兼執行長 邵廣昭 名詞審訂 【專家學者共同推薦】 ◎王俊能(臺灣大學生命科學系及生態學與演化生物學研究所副教授) ◎李家維(清華大學生命科學系教授) ◎胡哲明(臺灣大學生態學與演化生物學研究所副教授) ◎彭鏡毅(中央研究院生物多樣性研究博物館主任) ◎蔣鎮宇(成功大學生命科學系教授) 「本書用簡單的譬喻,恰如其分幽雅的詩詞,來報導當代對生命老化現象的最新科學研究結果。令人讀後對生硬難懂的科學知識不再產生距離,學習到生物學家如何藉著觀察各種生物的生存策略,了解老化的基因發育機制與意義。」 ——王俊能(臺灣大學生命科學系及生態學與演化生物學研究所副教授) 「『生』與『死』不僅是生命的終極型態,也是哲學家和生物學家在探索生命奧祕時討論最多,也最為困惑難解、眾說紛紜的大哉問。作者以形形色色的生物為例,用精闢而優美的文字帶領讀者思考壽命長短的意義,以及生命本質的問題。」 ——胡哲明(臺灣大學生態學與演化生物學研究所副教授) 「人類的生與死是亙古之謎,不只許多神話傳誦,多數的宗教也在追求永生,生物學隨著遺傳學的快速發展,展開了對生死之謎的解析,作者強納森.席佛頓,英國的演化生物學者,以他的生花之筆,對生物的生與死的故事娓娓道來,許多生物不死,一如水螅與珊瑚,還有無性繁衍的植物,廣島核爆之後第一個回來的植物是銀杏,想一窺人類的老化與生死之謎嗎? 那就邀請您打開書頁,一起展開探究之旅。」 ——蔣鎮宇(成功大學生命科學系教授) 「席佛頓以優美又不失幽默的筆觸,描述當代最重要的一個問題。他利用最新的老化研究成果,結合個人對於人類情況極有同理心的觀察,讓一般讀者也能了解壽命科學,亦為專業人士提供精闢見解。是一本人人都能愉快閱讀,獲得豐富知識的書。」 ——瑞克萊夫(《自然的經濟》作者) 出版社 貓頭鷹(城邦)
Jonathan Silvertown
At the heart of evolution lies a bewildering paradox. Natural selection favors above all the individual that leaves the most offspring—a superorganism of sorts that Jonathan Silvertown here calls the "Darwinian demon." But if such a demon existed, this highly successful organism would populate the entire world with its own kind, beating out other species and eventually extinguishing biodiversity as we know it. Why then, if evolution favors this demon, is the world filled with so many different life forms? What keeps this Darwinian demon in check? If humankind is now the greatest threat to biodiversity on the planet, have we become the Darwinian demon?

Demons in Eden considers these questions using the latest scientific discoveries from the plant world. Readers join Silvertown as he explores the astonishing diversity of plant life in regions as spectacular as the verdant climes of Japan, the lush grounds of the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, the shallow wetlands and teeming freshwaters of Florida, the tropical rainforests of southeast Mexico, and the Canary Islands archipelago, whose evolutionary novelties—and exotic plant life—have earned it the sobriquet "the Galapagos of botany." Along the way, Silvertown looks closely at the evolution of plant diversity in these locales and explains why such variety persists in light of ecological patterns and evolutionary processes. In novel and useful ways, he also investigates the current state of plant diversity on the planet to show the ever-challenging threats posed by invasive species and humans.

Bringing the secret life of plants into more colorful and vivid focus than ever before, Demons in Eden is an empathic and impassioned exploration of modern plant ecology that unlocks evolutionary mysteries of the natural world.
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