People Eaters: Skeeters, Parasites and Sharks and more . . .Mosquito: A Natural History of Our Most Persistent and Deadly Foe
(Hyperion, $22.95) leaves its readers with a deep respect for both the blood-sucking insect and its power to shape our world. Authors Andrew Spielman, professor of tropical public health at Harvard, and Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Michael D'Antonio resist the urge to delve too deeply into taxonomical minutiae, choosing, instead, to explore the battle people and mosquitoes have waged over every continent, in every era. Controlling workers' exposure to mosquitoes, including the Aedes aegypti
(shown below), allowed America to build the Panama Canal where, less than 20 years earlier, France had lost thousands of lives and the equivalent of $3 billion attempting the same task. Evidence suggests that mosquitoes prevented Genghis Khan from conquering Russia, killed Alexander the Great and played a pivotal role in both world wars. This is a collection of stories about war, politics, scientific innovation and humanitarian intervention: human history told as the exploits of a killer no larger than a grape seed.
What's eating you? David Zimmer explores the lives of the many diners within our bodies in Parasite Rex: Inside the Bizarre World of Nature's Most Dangerous Creatures (Free Press, $26). Recent theoretical and technical advances have revolutionized our understanding of these diverse organisms. The new ecological view questions how parasites alter their environment to suit their needs. For example, Toxoplasma gondii is a parasite of both cats and their prey (as well as about one-third of the human population), forming cysts in the brain of the host. Infected rats lose their fear of cats, greatly increasing the probability that they will transmit the parasite. Much of evolution, from social behavior to the genetics of sexual reproduction, appears to be driven by an arms race between parasites and their hosts. Zimmer explains why, while drawing portraits of the kind of person who studies the mating behavior of flukes in your liver. Every physician should read this book to understand the pathogen's side of the story. Shown is the insect Xenos peckii (which parasitizes another insect, the paper wasp); males have 100 miniature eyes, the better to find a mate during their few hours of adult life.
Everything you ever wanted to know about shark attacks, but were afraid to experience, can be found in Thomas B. Allen's Shark Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance(Lyons Press, $25). Allen's accounts of shark attacks give one an uncanny feeling of what it must be like to be a meal. There are about 30 fatal attacks every year, and the white shark (below) is responsible for 10 to 20 of them. The book is loaded with other shark-related facts, including the surprising information that these animals are less dangerous than toilets: In 1996, only 18 people in the United States were killed or injured by a shark, whereas 43,687 were injured by a toilet. (Could the toilets be mistaking people for seals?)
By the time you read this paragraph, by Hannah Holmes's calculation, you will have inhaled at least 100,000 motes of dust (some one-third of which may have been contributed by you). We owe our Sun, our Earth and our very existence to dust, and indeed all of this must go to dust again. The latest in a recent crop of books about stuff of all sorts, The Secret Life of Dust (Wiley, $22.95) may be the most fun—and the most likely to make you sneeze.
Are We Hardwired? The Role of Genes in Human Behavior (Oxford, $30) is a good primer in the classic behavior genetics tradition with some excellent coverage of recent experimental data. It is rather more technical than its misleading title would suggest. Although authors William R. Clark and Michael Grunstein promise to talk about "wiring," they actually only discuss genes and molecules, giving short shrift to the huge mass of physiological and neurobiological research above the level of genetic contributions. Despite periodically reminding us that animals with nervous systems are not just bags of chemicals specified by genes, they ignore the "middle levels" of neurobiological development and physiology almost entirely. But it's there that the linear strands of "information" in the genome become enmeshed into a highly complex developing system with its own dynamics, and simple gene-to-behavior correlations lose their explanatory power. Coverage of diverse studies investigating the complex web of factors linking genes to behaviors might be too much to ask from a nice introductory survey of recent genes-to-behavior correlations, but the authors should not have overstated their mission in the title and introductory sections of the book.
Leafing through Galápagos Diary: A Complete Guide to the Archipelago's Birdlife(University of California, $45) feels a bit like snooping in someone's personal notebook. Hermann Heinzel, a professional illustrator, provides text, field notes, sketches and paintings to complement Barnaby Hall's photographs of the remarkable range of birds on the tiny islands. Armchair naturalists, and anyone thinking about a trip to the spot that so intrigued Mr. Darwin, would do well to consider this book, which can also serve as field guide (checklist included). Shown are one of Heinzel's informal sketches of a red-footed booby (above) and one of Hall's photos of a blue-footed booby (below).kThe island of Genovesa is the world's largest "booberie," with about 140,000 pairs of red-footed boobies.
Can scholars find ways to resolve the political, social and philosophical unease created by rapid technological change? In Technology and the Good Life? (Chicago, $65 cloth, $25 paper), philosopher-editors Eric Higgs, Andrew Light and David Strong and 14 other contributors find little clarity as they struggle with the dilemmas arising from the "lack of an explicit and just connection between science and its context" in a world in which "the traditional notions of a coherent and centered life are countered by the postmodern norms of a polymorphous and decentered life." That is to say, we cannot even agree on what a good life is. Meanwhile, in Technical Fouls, Chicago political scholar John Kurt Jacobsen (Westview Press, $21) argues that some of the dilemmas posed in technology-policy debates are false—the product of manufactured, self-serving images of technology. In the face of technological change, he says, people tend to cede authority to specialists and elites, placing technology at the service of power and profit rather than social justice.
Iriting on Water (The MIT Press, $24.95), edited by David Rothenberg and Marta Ulvaeus, is an ode to water composed by a range of admirers—physicists and poets, swimmers and conservationists. For some, water is a childhood memory, a river teeming with salmon, or a sea turtle's home; others see an enigmatic molecule, poorly understood, or hear the thundering rush of devastating floods. To all of the contributors water is a precious resource, which must not be taken for granted. This heartfelt collection of essays, photo‰raphs and poems is the second in a series of Terra Nova books, which aim to cast environmental issues in a cultural and artistic light.
Nanoviewers: Terrence W. Deacon, Noah Eisenkraft, George W. Gilchrist, Rosalind Reid, Rebecca Slotnick, Michael Szpir