Month: December 2017

Book review – Dinosaur Art 2: The Cutting Edge of Paleoart

In 2012, Titan Books published Dinosaur Art: The World’s Greatest Paleoart, showcasing the artwork of 10 famous palaeoartists. That book is still on my wishlist. Five years later they have followed this up with Dinosaur Art 2. The title may not be terribly imaginative, but, by Jove, the artwork is! The child in me got all giddy at the chance to review this book.

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Book review – Shark Attacks: Myths, Misunderstandings and Human Fear

If there is one group of animals that Steven Spielberg has not done a favour, it must be sharks. Already feared as a dangerous predator in an environment where humans are not in their element the 1975 movie Jaws drove this fear to stratospheric heights and painted a portrait of these fish as ruthless man-eating monsters. Browse any selection of books on sharks, and you’re likely to see photos of a breaching great white, jaws agape. Many people are not happy with this Jaws effect (see for example Lindsay Abrams’s post on Salon or Marc Lapadula’s piece on Screenprism), and this lingering fear even affects policymakers (see Christopher Neff’s article in the Australian Journal of Political Science). Tobey Curtis provides an interesting counter note to this sentiment on The Fisheries Blog, also pointing out how – ironically – Peter Benchley, author of the book on which Spielberg based his movie, was actually an advocate for shark conservation (see his book Shark Trouble). As a side-note, shark attacks have happened for as long as human have entered the sea, though have long been poorly documented – Richard Fernicola’s Twelve Days of Terror: Inside the Shocking 1916 New Jersey Shark Attacks is a bit of an exception.

This, by way of a short introduction, brings us to the current book: Chapman’s Shark Attacks. The problem with shark attacks is that they are a bit like plane crashes: low-probability, high-impact events. You’re not likely to experience either, but when you do, the results can be disastrous. And thus we fear both flying and sharks.

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Book review – Creatures Born of Mud and Slime: The Wonder and Complexity of Spontaneous Generation

Spontaneous generation, the idea that life can arise out of non-living matter, is both alive and dead today. Current science accepts the idea that at some point in the distant past, complex self-replicating molecules arose, which formed the starting point of billions of years of unicellular life. But there is an obsolete side to this theory. For millennia, philosophers and scientists believed that all sorts of creatures could arise spontaneously from the mud and slime this book refers to. In the late 1850s, The French microbiologist Louis Pasteur performed experiments that definitively put the nail in the coffin for this idea.

Quite a few books have been written about the later discussions around this theory and its eventual demise (contemporary examples are John Farley’s The Spontaneous Generation Controversy from Descartes to Oparin or James Strick’s Sparks of Life: Darwinism and the Victorian Debates over Spontaneous Generation). Based on a three-part lecture series, this purposefully short book, which is not intended as a complete history, gives a whistle-stop tour of spontaneous generation from Antiquity to 1769. Are you ready?

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Book review – Patrons of Paleontology: How Government Support Shaped a Science

The Life of the Past series of Indiana University Press has got to be one of my favourite book series on palaeontology. Coming to think of it, it is probably also the only book series written for a wide audience on palaeontology that I can think of (cue the comments that will prove me wrong…). Jane P. Davidson has previously written A History of Paleontology Illustration in this series (Indiana UP, I like how you harked back to the cover design of that book with this book). With the current book, she takes a look at the financial supporters of this discipline, and how their support has shaped the science. Sounds like a fairly esoteric topic, yet my interest was piqued.

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Book review – The Big Conservation Lie: The Untold Story of Wildlife Conservation in Kenya

This book is a searing critique of the wildlife conservation movement, specifically in Kenya. To be clear, this is not a book serving some shady agenda that seeks to deny the need for conservation. Instead, the two authors, a Kenyan journalist and a carnivore ecologist, are very critical of the way in which white, rich westerners dominate this field, to the exclusion of native voices and needs.

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