book review

Book review – Hurricane Lizards and Plastic Squid: How the Natural World is Adapting to Climate Change

7-minute read

If you had asked me last week how animals and plants will respond to climate change, I probably would have told you that they are expected to move towards the poles, shifting their home ranges as temperatures rise. This is indeed one possible response, but the challenges and opportunities for organisms are far more diverse and unpredictable. Biologist Thor Hanson has previously written much-praised books on feathers, seeds, and bees. Here, he gives a well-structured and terribly interesting whistle-stop tour of the nascent field of climate change biology and some of the fascinating research that is underway.

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Book review – The Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West

8-minute read

This review is a case of coming late to the party. The Wolf (published in the US as American Wolf) by Texas journalist Nate Blakeslee was published back in 2017, two years before wolf watcher Rick McIntyre’s series of books on famous wolves in Yellowstone National Park was published. I imagine most people will have read Blakeslee’s book first, but for me it was the other way around. Having just reviewed McIntyre’s The Alpha Female Wolf, which tells of the life and death of arguably the park’s most famous wolf, wolf 06, I was left with many questions regarding the hunting of wolves around Yellowstone. Blakeslee’s book turned out to be an excellent companion.

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Book review – The Alpha Female Wolf: The Fierce Legacy of Yellowstone’s 06

7-minute read

The wolves reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in 1995 are some of the best-studied mammals on the planet. Biological technician and park ranger Rick McIntyre has spent over two decades scrutinising their daily lives, venturing into the park every single day. Where his previous books focused on three notable alpha* males, it is ultimately the females that call the shots and make the decisions with lasting consequences. This book is a long overdue recognition of the female wolf and continues this multigenerational saga.

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Book review – How the World Really Works: A Scientist’s Guide to Our Past, Present and Future

8-minute read

The complexity of modern civilization is somewhat of a double-edged sword. It has brought great advances in human health and well-being, yet a full understanding of the sum-total of our knowledge of how the world works is now far beyond any single person. Consequently, getting people to agree on how to tackle complex problems becomes this much harder. In How The World Really Works, energy expert and policy analyst Vaclav Smil provides the big picture of the material and energetic basis undergirding human civilization, and what this means for attempts at addressing climate change. Rich in eye-opening facts and not a little bit opinionated, this is a much-needed reality check that purposefully avoids extreme views of both the techno-optimist and catastrophist kind.

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Book review – Lithium: The Global Race for Battery Dominance and the New Energy Revolution

7-minute read

This is the second of a two-part review on the batteries that are powering electric vehicles (EVs). Where the previously reviewed Volt Rush gave a good general overview of the challenges and opportunities that come with mining the metals needed for batteries, Lithium takes a deeper dive into the one metal common to many different batteries on the market today. An informative book with a pragmatic outlook, it provided much more information on the dominant role of China and the large lithium reserves in South America.

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Year list – The Inquisitive Biologist’s top 5 reads of 2022

3-minute read

2022 was a year in which I went down a few rabbit holes with really big books that took a lot of my time. As such, I read and reviewed 52 books this year. 

What follows is my personal top 5 of the most impactful, most beautiful, and most thought-provoking books I read during 2022.

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Book review – Volt Rush: The Winners and Losers in the Race to Go Green

8-minute read

The problems created by humanity’s dependence on fossil fuels are widely appreciated, and governments and businesses are now pursuing renewable energy and electric vehicles as the solution. Less appreciated is that this new infrastructure will require the mining of vast amounts of metals, creating different problems. In Volt Rush, Financial Times journalist Henry Sanderson gives a well-rounded and thought-provoking exposé of the companies and characters behind the supply chain of foremost the batteries that will power the vehicles of the future. If you think a greener and cleaner world awaits us, Volt Rush makes it clear that this is far from a given.

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Book review – Breathless: The Scientific Race to Defeat a Deadly Virus

9-minute read

Back in March 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic first swept around the world, I reviewed David Quammen’s 2012 book Spillover for background reading. It looked at the risk of zoonosis: the spilling over of an infectious disease from animal into human populations. Quammen warned, and gave voice to many others who similarly warned, that the next big disease outbreak might very well be viral, in particular RNA viruses such as coronaviruses. Other authors quickly wrote books within the first year of the pandemic (I reviewed some of them), but not yet Quammen: “early in 2021 I decided to keep quiet for a while and listen” (p. 282). Finally, in October 2022, his book Breathless provided us with his insights into COVID-19 and the virus SARS-CoV-2.

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Book review – The Guests of Ants: How Myrmecophiles Interact with Their Hosts

6-minute read

It has to be one of the more delightful details of the natural world: the ecosystem of an ant’s nest is home to its own constellation of creatures that specialise in living within or nearby it. Daniel Kronauer’s book Army Ants first drew my attention to these so-called myrmecophiles and their sometimes bizarre adaptations. I was stoked when Harvard University Press announced it would publish a monograph focusing on just this aspect of ant biology, authored by entomology professors Bert Hölldobler (a frequent co-author to E.O. Wilson) and Christina L. Kwapich. The Guests of Ants gives a beautifully illustrated, wide-ranging, and critical literature review of this delightful corner of myrmecology. Will ants make it to my personal top 5 for a third-year running? This book is a very strong contender.

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Book review – Dinosaurs – 10 Things You Should Know: 230 Million Years for People Short on Time

4-minute read

When it comes to popular science books, some of the books I admire most are the smallest ones. It takes great skill to capture the essence of a subject into a short book, steer clear of well-trodden ground, and contribute something novel that will educate and enthuse your reader. Palaeontologist and science communicator Dean Lomax here collects ten short essays on dinosaurs, convincingly showing that good things come in small packages.

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