ABBEY'S CHOICE MARCH 2014 ----- Since life began on Earth, there have been five major mass extinctions: the Ordovician 450 million years ago; the late Devonian 375 million years ago; the Permian 250 million years ago; the Triassic-Jurassic 200 million years ago; and the Cretaceous 65 million years ago. Here in the Anthropocene (a name still being investigated as appropriate to describe the current epoch), we are perhaps in the midst of the Sixth Extinction that our race is instrumental in causing.
Kolbert is a journalist, rather than a scientist, but her ability to communicate scientific concepts is evident in this accessible and highly researched book. It blends history with cutting edge discoveries; it has a good overview of the development of the ideas of evolution and species dispersal, of the gradual understanding of the length of life on the planet.
Each chapter is arranged around the story of one species emblematic of an idea or problem, including: the Panamanian golden frog and the discovery of the devastating chytrid fungus; the idea of extinction as arrived at through the examination of mastodon fossils; coral and the acidification of the seas; the fragmentation of rainforest as told through a single tree species and the repercussions of climate change; or the desperate plight of American bats and a plague perhaps introduced by travellers visiting a tourist cave system.
In all of these things, human actions are the essential agency of change. It is perhaps hard to use the word ‘enjoyable’ when the subject is so terrifying, but I found this book absorbing and thoughtful, and it makes me want to read more on various subjects Kolbert covers – a sign that the book has engaged and stimulated in equal measure! Lindy
Over the last half a billion years, there have been five mass extinctions of life on earth. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs.
Elizabeth Kolbert combines brilliant field reporting, the history of ideas and the work of geologists, botanists and marine biologists to tell the gripping stories of a dozen species - including the Panamanian golden frog and the Sumatran rhino - some already gone, others at the point of vanishing.
The sixth extinction is likely to be mankind's most lasting legacy and Elizabeth Kolbert's book urgently compels us to rethink the fundamental question of what it means to be human.
Where do ideas come from? How do they get put into action? How can we create social structures that are productive and creative? If the Big Data revolution has a presiding genius, it is MIT's Alex Pentland, whose research has led to the creation of more than 30 companies. Yet according to his research, innovation doesn't come from a few super-bright people; it comes from idea flow, the way ideas are spread. Thanks to the rise of smartphones, GPS devices, and the internet, the flow of ideas can now be tracked. Sociologists no longer need to rely on surveys or abstract models. With stunning accuracy, social physics allows us to predict - and improve - how effective a network is, whether it's a search-and-rescue operation, a business, or a city. Pentland is the perfect guide through the wonders and challenges of an entirely new way to look at life itself.
Our Mathematical Universe is a journey to explore the mysteries uncovered by cosmology and to discover the nature of reality. Our Big Bang, our distant future, parallel worlds, the sub-atomic and intergalactic - none of them are what they seem. But there is a way to understand this immense strangeness - mathematics. Seeking an answer to the fundamental puzzle of why our universe seems so mathematical, Tegmark proposes a radical idea: that our physical world not only is described by mathematics, but that it is mathematics. This may offer answers to our deepest questions: How large is reality? What is everything made of? Why is our universe the way it is?
This story of aviation moves from the early Anglo-French balloon rivalries and the crazy firework flights of Sophie Blanchard to the astonishing long-distance voyages of American entrepreneur John Wise and French photographer Felix Nadar and to the terrifying high-altitude flights of James Glaisher, FRS, who helped establish the science of meteorology and the notion of a fragile planet. Readers will discover the many writers and dreamersfrom Mary Shelley to Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Dickens to Jules Vernewho felt the imaginative impact of flight and allowed it to soar in their work. This is a subtle portrait of human endeavor, recklessness, and vision.
Everything we think, do, and refrain from doing is determined by our brain. It shapes our potential, our limitations, and our characters. In other words, we don't just have brains; we are our brains. This forceful conclusion is at the heart of pre-eminent brain researcher DF Swaab's international bestseller. It reveals how nearly everything about us - from our sexual orientation to our religious proclivities - is present in our neuronal circuits before we are even born. In short, engaging chapters that combine fascinating and often bizarre case studies and historical examples, Swaab explains what is going on in our brains at every stage of life, from the womb to the radical changes that take place during adolescence to what happens when we fall in love or get Alzheimer's. Provocative, opinionated and utterly convincing, We Are Our Brains illuminates this complex organ's role in shaping every aspect of human existence.
Physics in Minutes covers everything you need to know about physics, condensed into 200 key topics. Each idea is explained in clear, accessible language, building from the basics, such as mechanics, waves and particles, to more complex topics, including neutrinos, string theory and dark matter. Based on scientific research proving that the brain best absorbs information visually, illustrations accompany the text to aid quick comprehension and easy recollection. This convenient and compact reference book is ideal for anyone interested in how our world works. Chapters include: Newton's Laws of Motion, Schrodinger's cat, Magnetism, Superconductivity, Fission and fusion, Higgs Boson, Entropy, Dark matter.
A celebration of the extraordinary people who created the modern world, spiced with anecdotes and wit. Trevor Norton, who has been compared to Gerard Durrell and Bill Bryson, weaves an entertaining history with a seductive mix of eureka moments, disasters and dirty tricks. Although inventors were often scientists or engineers, many were not: Samuel Morse (Morse code) was a painter, Lazlow Biro (ballpoint) was a sculptor and hypnotist, and Logie Baird (TV) sold boot polish. The inventor of the automatic telephone switchboard was an undertaker who believed the operator was diverting his calls to rival morticians so he decided to make all telephone operators redundant. Inventors are mavericks indifferent to conventional wisdom so critics were dismissive of even their best ideas: radio had 'no future,' electric light was 'an idiotic idea' and X-rays were 'a hoax.' Even so, the state of New Jersey moved to ban X-ray opera glasses. The head of the General Post Office rejected telephones as unneccesary as there were 'plenty of small boys to run messages.' Some inventions were almost stillborn; the first vacuum cleaner was horse drawn on a cart. The first zip fasteners didn't zip or fasten. It often took a while for great inventions to be exploited. Transistors languished in hearing aids for ten years before they transformed radios. Twenty years after anaesthetics were invented some hosiptals in Britain were still operating without them, and vaccination ('a giant delusion') had to wait almost a century before it was fully accepted. Even the inventor didn't always know the real use of their discovery. Edison designed the phonograph for dictation not to play music. Nobel thought his dynamite would bring about world peace. Norton answers such burning questions as 'How did embroidery save thousands of lives?' and 'Why did it take a World War to get women to wear bras?' Inventomania is a magical place where eccentrics are always in season and their stories are usually unbelievable - but rest assured, nothing has been invented.
The international bestseller that reveals the amazing mind of your favourite friend Is your dog purposefully disobeying you? Probably, and usually behind your back. Should you act like 'top dog' to maintain control? No, you're better off displaying your friendliness - and not just to your dog. Which breed is the cleverest? That's the wrong question to ask. These are just some of the extraordinary insights to be found in The Genius of Dogs - the seminal book on how dogs evolved their unique intelligence by award-winning scientist Dr Brian Hare. He shares more than two decades of startling discoveries about the mysteries of the dog mind and how you can use his groundbreaking work to build a better relationship with your own dog.
Origins of Language: A Slim Guide offers a concise and accessible overview of what is known about the evolution of the human capacity for language. Non-human animals communicate in simple ways: they may be able to form simple concepts, to feel some limited empathy for others, to cooperate to some extent, and to engage in mind-reading. Human language, however, is characterized by its ability to efficiently express a wide range of subtle and complex meanings. After the first simple beginnings, human language underwent an explosion of complexity, leading to the very complicated systems of grammar and pronunciation found in modern languages. Jim Hurford looks at the very varied aspects of this evolution, covering human prehistory; the relation between instinct and learning; biology and culture; trust, altruism, and cooperation; animal thought; human and non-human vocal anatomy; the meanings and forms of the first words; and the growth of complex systems of grammar and pronunciation. Written by an internationally recognized expert in the field, it draws on a number of disciplines besides linguistics, including philosophy, neuroscience, genetics, and animal behaviour, and will appeal to a wide range of readers interested in language origins and evolution.
The study of the Quaternary ice age has revolutionized ideas about Earth system change and the pace of landscape and ecosystem dynamics. The Ice Age: A Very Short Introduction looks at evidence from the continents, the oceans, and the ice core records, and the human stories behind it all. Jamie Woodward examines the remarkable environmental shifts that took place during the Great Ice Age of the Quaternary Period. He explores the evolution of ideas, evaluates the contributions of the leading players in the great debates, and presents some of the ingenious methods that have been used to retrieve information about the recent geological past. In an era of warming climate, the study of the ice age past is now more important than ever. This book examines the wonders of the Quaternary ice age - to show how ice age landscapes and ecosystems were repeatedly and rapidly transformed as plants, animals, and humans reorganized their worlds. ABOUT THE SERIES: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area. These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.
The New York Times bestseller, now available in paperback--an incredible true story of the top-secret World War II town of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and the young women brought there unknowingly to help build the atomic bomb. The best kind of nonfiction: marvelously reported, fluidly written, and a remarkable story...As meticulous and brilliant as it is compulsively readable. --Karen Abbott, author of Sin in the Second City At the height of World War II, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, was home to 75,000 residents, and consumed more electricity than New York City, yet it was shrouded in such secrecy that it did not appear on any map. Thousands of civilians, many of them young women from small towns across the U.S., were recruited to this secret city, enticed by the promise of solid wages and war-ending work. What were they actually doing there? Very few knew. The purpose of this mysterious government project was kept a secret from the outside world and from the majority of the residents themselves. Some wondered why, despite the constant work and round-the-clock activity in this makeshift town, did no tangible product of any kind ever seem to leave its guarded gates? The women who kept this town running would find out at the end of the war, when Oak Ridge's secret was revealed and changed the world forever. Drawing from the voices and experiences of the women who lived and worked in Oak Ridge, The Girls of Atomic City rescues a remarkable, forgotten chapter of World War II from obscurity. Denise Kiernan captures the spirit of the times through these women: their pluck, their desire to contribute, and their enduring courage. A phenomenal story, and Publishers Weekly called it an intimate and revealing glimpse into one of the most important scientific developments in history. Kiernan has amassed a deep reservoir of intimate details of what life was like for women living in the secret city...Rosie, it turns out, did much more than drive rivets. --The Washington Post
The field of statistics is rapidly transforming into a discipline that Hal Varian at Google has called sexy . And with good reason - from batting averages and political polls to game shows and medical research - the real-world application of statistics is growing by leaps and bounds. In Naked Statistics, Charles Wheelan strips away the arcane and technical details to get at the underlying intuition that is key to understanding the power of statistical concepts. Tackling a wide-ranging set of problems, he demonstrates how statistics can be used to look at questions that are important and relevant to us today. With the trademark wit, accessibility and fun that made Naked Economics a bestseller, Wheelan brings another essential discipline to life with a one-in-a-million statistics book that you will read for pleasure.
Reptiles and Amphibians of Australia is a complete guide to Australia's rich and varied herpetofauna, including frogs, crocodiles, turtles, tortoises, lizards and snakes. For each of the 1194 species there is a description of its appearance, distribution and habits. Each species is accompanied by a distribution map and, in most cases, a colour photograph of the living animal. The book includes 130 simple-to-use dichotomous keys that in most cases allow a specimen in hand to be identified.
Like Winchester's Krakatoa, The Year Without Summer reveals a year of dramatic global change long forgotten by history In the tradition of Krakatoa, The World Without Us, and Guns, Germs and Steel comes a sweeping history of the year that became known as 18-hundred-and-froze-to-death. 1816 was a remarkable year--mostly for the fact that there was no summer. As a result of a volcanic eruption in Indonesia, weather patterns were disrupted worldwide for months, allowing for excessive rain, frost, and snowfall through much of the Northeastern U.S. and Europe in the summer of 1816. In the U.S., the extraordinary weather produced food shortages, religious revivals, and extensive migration from New England to the Midwest. In Europe, the cold and wet summer led to famine, food riots, the transformation of stable communities into wandering beggars, and one of the worst typhus epidemics in history. 1816 was the year Frankenstein was written. It was also the year Turner painted his fiery sunsets. All of these things are linked to global climate change--something we are quite aware of now, but that was utterly mysterious to people in the nineteenth century, who concocted all sorts of reasons for such an ungenial season. Making use of a wealth of source material and employing a compelling narrative approach featuring peasants and royalty, politicians, writers, and scientists, The Year Without Summer by William K. Klingaman and Nicholas P. Klingaman examines not only the climate change engendered by this event, but also its effects on politics, the economy, the arts, and social structures.
James Lovelock tells the fascinating story of his life as an independent scientist and how he came to develop his inventions and theories. He has filed more than 50 patents, including one for the electron capture detector that was important in the development of environmental awareness, in connection with both the detection of pesticide residues in the environment and the discovery of the global distribution of CFCs. He also tells us about the work he has done for organizations such as NASA, the Ministry of Defence, The Marine Biological Association, and many companies such as Shell and Hewlett Packard. From his childhood days in east London to a job as a lab assistant - his first crucial steps to becoming a scientist, from chemistry at Manchester University to the Medical Research Council during World War II, his voyage to the Arctic, taking his family to America, returning to England and fighting to save the ozone layer, his quest for gaia, then into the nineties and a stream of awards, including a CBE from the Queen. James Lovelock has led a fulfilling life and has been widely recognized by the international scientific community.
The story of two brilliant nineteenth-century scientists who discovered the electromagnetic field, laying the groundwork for the amazing technological and theoretical breakthroughs of the twentieth century Two of the boldest and most creative scientists of all time were Michael Faraday (1791-1867) and James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879). This is the story of how these two men - separated in age by forty years - discovered the existence of the electromagnetic field and devised a radically new theory which overturned the strictly mechanical view of the world that had prevailed since Newton's time. The authors, veteran science writers with special expertise in physics and engineering, have created a lively narrative that interweaves rich biographical detail from each man's life with clear explanations of their scientific accomplishments. Faraday was an autodidact, who overcame class prejudice and a lack of mathematical training to become renowned for his acute powers of experimental observation, technological skills, and prodigious scientific imagination. James Clerk Maxwell was highly regarded as one of the most brilliant mathematical physicists of the age. He made an enormous number of advances in his own right. But when he translated Faraday's ideas into mathematical language, thus creating field theory, this unified framework of electricity, magnetism and light became the basis for much of later, 20th-century physics. Faraday's and Maxwell's collaborative efforts gave rise to many of the technological innovations we take for granted today - from electric power generation to television, and much more. Told with panache, warmth, and clarity, this captivating story of their greatest work - in which each played an equal part - and their inspiring lives will bring new appreciation to these giants of science.
This best-selling dictionary is the most comprehensive and up-to-date of its kind, containing over 5,250 entries on all aspects of zoology. Complemented with numerous illustrations, it includes terms from the areas of ecology, animal behaviour, evolution, earth history, zoogeography, genetics, and physiology and it provides full taxonomic coverage of arthropods, other invertebrates, fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and mammals. The third edition has been fully revised and updated and includes many new entries, for example, alarm pheromone, Fick's laws, manometer, and synanthrope. It also features new material on behavioural ecology and conservation biology, and expanded coverage of cytology and taxonomy. New to this edition are recommended web links for many entries, which are accessed and kept up to date via the Dictionary of Zoology companion website. Web links provide valuable extra information by directing you to useful online resources and the homepages of relevant organizations. Following the A-Z dictionary are detailed appendices of endangered animals, the universal genetic code, the geologic time scale, and SI units.Wide-ranging, authoritative, and with jargon-free definitions, this dictionary is an indispensable reference tool for students and teachers of zoology, biological sciences and biomedical sciences, and a valuable resource for naturalists and anyone with an interest in animals.
Every time we sneeze, there seems to be a new form of flu: bird flu, swine flu, Spanish flu, Hong Kong flu, H5N1, and most recently, H5N7. While these diseases appear to emerge from thin air, in fact, human activity is driving them. And the problem is not just flu, but a series of rapidly evolving and dangerous modern plagues. According to veterinarian and journalist Mark Walters, we are contributing to, if not overtly causing, some of the scariest epidemics of our time. Through human stories and cutting-edge science, Walters explores the origins of seven diseases: Mad Cow Disease, HIV/AIDS, Salmonella DT104, Lyme Disease, Hantavirus, West Nile, and new strains of flu. He shows that they originate from manipulation of the environment, from emitting carbon and clear-cutting forests to feeding naturally herbivorous cows recycled animal protein. Readers will both learn how today's plagues first developed and discover patterns that could help prevent the diseases of tomorrow.
Ten Thousand Birds provides a thoroughly engaging and authoritative history of modern ornithology, tracing how the study of birds has been shaped by a succession of visionary and often-controversial personalities, and by the unique social and scientific contexts in which these extraordinary individuals worked. This beautifully illustrated book opens in the middle of the nineteenth century when ornithology was a museum-based discipline focused almost exclusively on the anatomy, taxonomy, and classification of dead birds. It describes how in the early 1900s pioneering individuals such as Erwin Stresemann, Ernst Mayr, and Julian Huxley recognized the importance of studying live birds in the field, and how this shift thrust ornithology into the mainstream of the biological sciences. The book tells the stories of eccentrics like Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen, a pathological liar who stole specimens from museums and quite likely murdered his wife, and describes the breathtaking insights and discoveries of ambitious and influential figures such as David Lack, Niko Tinbergen, Robert MacArthur, and others who through their studies of birds transformed entire fields of biology. Ten Thousand Birds brings this history vividly to life through the work and achievements of those who advanced the field. Drawing on a wealth of archival material and in-depth interviews, this fascinating book reveals how research on birds has contributed more to our understanding of animal biology than the study of just about any other group of organisms.
This wide-ranging, jargon-free dictionary contains over 2,300 entries on all aspects of statistics, including terms used in computing, mathematics, and probability. It also includes biographical information on over 200 key figures in the field and coverage of statistical journals and societies. While embracing the whole multi-disciplinary spectrum of this complex subject, information is presented in a clear and practical manner. This edition features recommended web links for many entries, accessible via the Dictionary of Statistics website, which provide valuable extra information. This edition features expanded coverage of applied statistics. Entries are generously illustrated with 130 useful figures and diagrams, and include worked examples where applicable. Appendices include a historical calendar of important statistical events, lists of statistical and mathematical notation, and statistical tables. It is an invaluable dictionary for statistics students and professionals from a wide range of disciplines, including economics, politics, market research, medicine, psychology, pharmaceuticals, and mathematics, and provides a clear introduction to the subject for the general reader.
This self-teaching workbook is designed especially for students who need to go back to algebra basics as preparation for starting a college-level math course. It's also a helpful review for those preparing to take standardized exams that include math testing, such as a math placement exam, the GRE or GMAT. Forgotten Algebra contains 32 work units, starting its review with signed numbers, symbols, and first-degree equations, and progressing to include logarithms and right triangles. Each work unit reviews basics before presenting problems and exercises that include detailed solutions designed to facilitate self-study. The book's systematic presentation of subject matter is easy to follow, and encompasses all the terminology, equations, and information that students of algebra need to master. This new edition has been expanded to include step-by-step solutions for all exercises.