Archive for the ‘Biology’ Category

The Ancestor’s Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution by Richard Dawkins (Audio Book and E-Book)

October 3, 2008

Amazon.com Review
Just as we trace our personal family trees from parents to grandparents and so on back in time, so in The Ancestor’s Tale Richard Dawkins traces the ancestry of life. As he is at pains to point out, this is very much our human tale, our ancestry. Surprisingly, it is one that many otherwise literate people are largely unaware of. Hopefully Dawkins’s name and well deserved reputation as a best selling writer will introduce them to this wonderful saga.

The Ancestor’s Tale takes us from our immediate human ancestors back through what he calls ‘concestors,’ those shared with the apes, monkeys and other mammals and other vertebrates and beyond to the dim and distant microbial beginnings of life some 4 billion years ago. It is a remarkable story which is still very much in the process of being uncovered. And, of course from a scientist of Dawkins stature and reputation we get an insider’s knowledge of the most up-to-date science and many of those involved in the research. And, as we have come to expect of Dawkins, it is told with a passionate commitment to scientific veracity and a nose for a good story. Dawkins’s knowledge of the vast and wonderful sweep of life’s diversity is admirable. Not only does it encompass the most interesting living representatives of so many groups of organisms but also the important and informative fossil ones, many of which have only been found in recent years.

Dawkins sees his journey with its reverse chronology as ‘cast in the form of an epic pilgrimage from the present to the past [and] all roads lead to the origin of life.’ It is, to my mind, a sensible and perfectly acceptable approach although some might complain about going against the grain of evolution. The great benefit for the general reader is that it begins with the more familiar present and the animals nearest and dearest to us—our immediate human ancestors. And then it delves back into the more remote and less familiar past with its droves of lesser known and extinct fossil forms. The whole pilgrimage is divided into 40 tales, each based around a group of organisms and discusses their role in the overall story. Genetic, morphological and fossil evidence is all taken into account and illustrated with a wealth of photos and drawings of living and fossils forms, evolutionary and distributional charts and maps through time, providing a visual compliment and complement to the text. The design also allows Dawkins to make numerous running comments and characteristic asides. There are also numerous references and a good index.

Audio Book

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E-Book

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The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee by Jared Diamond (E-Book)

October 1, 2008

Winner of the 1992 Science Book Prize, this book jumps off from the well-established fact that we share most of our DNA with the two species of chimp. American zoologist Diamond looks at how our evolutionary heritage has affected the way we behave, from sex to society, from the origins of language to the destruction of the environment. Will the 2 per cent difference between our genes and those of the chimps be enough to save us from destorying the world?

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Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond (Audio Book)

October 1, 2008

From Publishers Weekly
In the Pulitzer-Prize-winning Guns, Germs, and Steel, Diamond chronicled the rise of human civilizations since the Ice Age. This time, he turns over the log and probes the rotted side–the demise of once-productive societies such as the Maya, Easter Islanders and Greenland Norse. He also sounds the alarm on environmental practices undermining modern societies, including China, Russia, Australia and the United States. Narrator Murney has his work cut out for him, even though this audiobook is abridged. The narrative, which spans the globe and the ages, is dense, overwhelmingly so at times. Diamond parses myriad ecological, geographical and biological impacts, from weather patterns to deforestation to sperm count. But Murney rises to the occasion. His engagement never flags, and he strikes all the proper notes of concern and warning. The delivery feels effortless, his tone a blend of newsreel narrator and professor-at-the-lectern. Diamond teaches geography at UCLA, and his prose style, unsurprisingly, contains shades of the lecture hall. In fact, given such abundant and oft-alarming information, listeners may feel the urge to take notes for the final exam. Though grounding materials such as photographs and maps would have made this audiobook easier to follow, their absence is a minor fault in an overall fine production.

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