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BOOK REVIEW

The Architecture and Design of Man and Woman, Origins, Ultimate Robot and more...

David Schneider, Roger Harris, Amos Esty

From The Architecture and Design of Man and WomanClick to Enlarge Image

Drawing equally from Rembrandt and Fantastic Voyage, The Architecture and Design of Man and Woman (Doubleday, $50) is a remarkable atlas of human anatomical structure. As in his 2002 book, From Conception to Birth, artist Alexander Tsiaras combines modern medical imaging techniques with graphics software to render realistic portraits of the body's interior.

Beautifully produced, with literate, engaging text by Barry Werth, Tsiaras's book would be equally at home in an anatomy lab, an engineering library or an art museum. His work recalls Andreas Vesalius's 1543 anatomy textbook, whose diagrammed woodcuts transformed both medical art and the popular imagination. But Tsiaras's images depict living, active subjects in almost photorealistic detail. "For the first time we see the body interior not as like something," Werth writes, "but very nearly as it is."

The book tours more than a dozen major anatomical systems—nervous, skeletal, endocrine, immunological—exploring their structure, function and complex interdependence. A recurring feature, "Mirrored in Nature," points up the similarities between diverse natural structures, such as blood vessels and leaf veins. Even the simplest anatomical images, like the finger (above right), offer startling new perspectives on the familiar. The reader gets an eye-opening look at a hidden universe.—G.R.

"Where did we come from?" is a simple question that rarely gets a full answer. Ultimately, to explain our own existence we must first account for everything else: life, planets, stars, galaxies and the universe itself. Our species is only the last link in a very long chain.

From OriginsClick to Enlarge Image

In Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution (Norton, $27.95), Neil deGrasse Tyson and Donald Goldsmith set out to tell the whole story, spinning a lively history of the universe from the Big Bang to the present. With a light touch they explain the arcane, the counterintuitive and the barely conceivable, from the early birth of the natural forces and atomic nuclei to the coalescing of galaxies (such as Andromeda, right) and the mysterious origins of solar systems.

This is also the story of some immensely clever human beings. Trapped on a speck of dust amid a hundred billion galaxies, cosmologists have used careful observation and inference to pin down the evolution of a universe whose strangeness we are only beginning to appreciate. In the end, the authors make a compelling case for continuing these cosmic inquiries. "We are not simply in the universe," they write, "we are a part of it."—G.R.

From Ultimate RobotClick to Enlarge Image

Just glancing at the cover of Robert Malone's Ultimate Robot (Dorling Kindersley, $30), you would think this book is for youngsters, especially if you are familiar with DK's many attractive books for kids. In fact, this visual encyclopedia is aimed more at adults, those broadly curious about robots, both in life and in art. Although the book touches on some very practical machines—such as the robots now used in industry, for planetary exploration and even for vacuuming the living room—the bulk of it pertains to automatons conceived only for our amusement. Some of these creations are toys, including such sophisticated machines as Sony's AIBO dogs (above left), which learn to recognize their owners and can communicate with them using lights, sound and gestures. Others are purely fictional, such as Robby the Robot, who appeared in the 1956 movie classic Forbidden Planet, which Malone points out was inspired by The Tempest. Readers with an interest in roboculture will be delighted to see that this mechanical Caliban got more or less equal billing with Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis and Leslie Nielsen (above right).—D.A.S.

From The Encyclopedia of AnimalsClick to Enlarge Image

Compiled by an international team of zoological experts, The Encyclopedia of Animals: A Complete Visual Guide (University of California Press, $39.95) contains more than 2,000 biologically accurate illustrations of featured species. Beautiful hand drawings, such as the one of a crucifix toad (above left), are supplemented with photo insets, such as the one of the iiwi, a Hawaiian honeycreeper (above right). Nearly 60 pages of introductory material on classification, evolution, animal behavior and biology, habitats and adaptations, and loss of biodiversity are followed by color-coded sections on mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fishes and invertebrates. A brief overview is given of each class and order. "Fact File" sidebars on species include such information as size, social unit, reproductive facts, habitat and conservation status; ranges are shown in mini-maps. Other sidebars explain particular biological features.

Vertebrates take up three-quarters of the book, an emphasis that reflects human knowledge and interest, and perhaps the intended audience—high school or college libraries and teachers who want to inspire learning about animals. Omissions in a book of this scope are inevitable and necessary; the focus is on animals in nature. Specialist readers may be frustrated by not seeing their favorite organism. Nevertheless, anyone who leafs through the pages of this general reference will delight in the marvelous diversity of our living world.—R.H.

Long hours, strenuous labor and an ever-present stench are just a few of the perks of life as a lobsterman. After two years of such work, Trevor Corson understandably opted for a career change, but he has returned often to the site of his apprenticeship, Little Cranberry Island, Maine, to write about the lobster industry. His new book, The Secret Life of Lobsters: How Fishermen and Scientists Are Unlocking the Mysteries of Our Favorite Crustacean (HarperCollins, $24.95), uncovers the fascinating behavior of lobsters, the tight-knit culture of lobstering communities and the remarkable dedication of the scientists who study Homarus americanus.

Corson switches back and forth adeptly from zoological discussions of lobsters to stories about those who trap the tastiest of crustaceans. One particularly effective chapter describes the elaborate lobster mating process while also recounting the meeting and eventual marriage of a couple whose relationship began when they worked together on a lobster boat. The tale of how the two human protagonists courted is a good one, but it pales in comparison to the soap-opera-like love lives of lobsters.

Corson's work also provides a valuable case study of the complexity of resource management. Government scientists who declare lobsters "overfished" have often ignored the evidence collected by lobstermen, who themselves have long tried to ensure the sustainability of lobster catches. Complicating these problems have been disputes over the factors that lead to swings in lobster populations.

As Corson shows, much remains to be learned about these unusual creatures. His book, however, is an immensely enjoyable way to find out what we already do know.—A.E.

 

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