Year-end gift ideas, books about Earth and life science and evolution

As promised in my last blog, I am returning with a few suggestions of recent science books that are suitable for gift-giving. I haven’t read these in detail, but they are published by reputable publishers and written by credible authors. This is the first of several postings, organized by subject area.

In this case, we have a half-dozen titles about our planet and the life it supports.

We begin with a coffee table book, coverUnnatural Selection by Katrina van Grouw. On the cover is the avian skeletal version of the famous ape-to-human evolution drawing. The publisher describes it as “A lavishly illustrated look at how evolution plays out in selective breeding–the ongoing transformation of animals at the hand of man. More important, it’s a book about selective breeding on a far, far grander scaleā€•a scale that encompasses all life on Earth. We’d call it evolution.”

Later this month or in early December, I will publish a full review of Peter Ward’s coverLamarck’s Revenge: How Epigenetics Is Revolutionizing Our Understanding of Evolution’s Past and Present. Ward is one of my favorite scientist-authors, who is noted for provocative and challenging books. In this case, he looks at the role epigenetics, the changes in gene expression that life events cause in an organism’s genome, impacts and often accelerates evolution. You can find my earlier reviews of six of Ward’s titles by clicking here and scrolling down the alphabetical list of authors.

Evolution takes place in the context of a particular ecological and geological/geographical environment, and I offer a pair of books that that discuss each of those factors.

The geographical book is coverUnruly Waters: How Rains, Rivers, Coasts, and Seas Have Shaped Asia’s History by McArthur “Genius Grant” awardee and historian Sunil Amrath. Environmental readers will appreciate this title’s insights into how humans influence ecological sytems, including their own. As the publisher notes, “Today, Asian nations are racing to construct hundreds of dams in the Himalayas, with dire environmental impacts; hundreds of millions crowd into coastal cities threatened by cyclones and storm surges. In an age of climate change, Unruly Waters is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand Asia’s past and its future.”

In coverNever Home Alone: From Microbes to Millipedes, Camel Crickets, and Honeybees, the Natural History of Where We Live, Rob Dunn, a professor of applied ecology at North Carolina State University and the Natural history Museum of Denmark, “introduces us to the nearly 200,000 species living with us in our own homes, from the Egyptian meal moths in our cupboards and camel crickets in our basements to the lactobacillus lounging on our kitchen counters,” notes the publisher, warning further that “You are not alone. Yet, as we obsess over sterilizing our homes and separating our spaces from nature, we are unwittingly cultivating an entirely new playground for evolution. These changes are reshaping the organisms that live with us–prompting some to become more dangerous, while undermining those species that benefit our bodies or help us keep more threatening organisms at bay.”

We close with two books relating to food. The first is deliberately controversial, coverUnsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat by Marion Nestle. Its humorous counterpart by Paul Dawson and Brian Sheldon asks, coverDid You Just Eat That?: Two Scientists Explore Double-Dipping, the Five-Second Rule, and other Food Myths in the Lab.

Bon Appetit and happy reading!

Blogger and reviewer Fred Bortz is the author of numerous science books for young readers.

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