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Science Books

December 1, 2005

From So Simple a Beginning: Darwin's Four Great Books (Voyage of the H.M.S. Beagle, The Origin of Species, The Descent of Man, The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals)
Charles Darwin, Edward O. Wilson (Editor) (2005)
ISBN: 0393061345

Charles Darwin has influenced our understanding of life on Earth in fundamental ways, and his vast contribution to the life sciences in one lifetime makes him one of the most prominent and impressive figures in science. His status as one of the greatest scientists ever to have lived is reflected by the respect granted to him by modern scientists coupled with his theory's pervasiveness among non-scientists. While his theory of evolution by natural selection is always open to criticism and modification, surviving all manner of attacks, it continues to inform the biological sciences. Now, thanks to Edward O. Wilson, a Harvard professor for four decades and a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, everyone can bear witness to a lifetime of achievement and discovery that culminated in Darwin's four most eminent works: Voyage of the H.M.S. Beagle (1845), The Origin of Species (1859), The Descent of Man (1871), and The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals (1872). These books reconciled a large and diverse range of evidence in regard to fossil forms and the geographical record, embryology, vestigial organs and taxonomic relationships, and the controversial conclusion that human ancestry is directly linked to the animal kingdom. Wilson's own contribution to these four beautifully presented books couches Darwin's work in contemporary scientific thinking, and in each introduction or afterward provides historical context and current scientific views on specific aspects of Darwin's theory of evolution. The four books are packaged in a slipcase, have a number of fascinating illustrations and a map.

Monkeyluv: And Other Essays on Our Lives as Animals
Robert M. Sapolsky (2005)
ISBN: 0743260155

Adopting his usual disarming and conversational tone in this collection of essays, Robert Sapolsky, Stanford professor of biology and neurology, attempts to explain and make sense of the more idiosyncratic behaviors of the human species. Sapolsky's strength, as with all original thinkers, lies in his ability to synthesize a vast array of knowledge to present the reader with a novel twist on the human condition. Unlike more abstract takes on the science of behavioral biology, Sapolsky goes right to the heart of the matter and addresses the who, what and why of the things we hold most dear. In the first part of the book, Sapolsky considers the physiology of genes. Among other essays in this section, Sapolsky writes on "The 50 Most Beautiful People in the World," and asks how they managed to get there. Other essays include some of Sapolsky's more intriguing ideas that hint at his interdisciplinary inquisitiveness, such as his claim that: "Sometimes, all you need to do is think a thought and you change the functioning of virtually every cell in your body." In a later section, Sapolsky looks at humanity as a whole, and compares the behaviors of different societies. What dictates our preference for certain foods? Why are the dead treated so differently among various societies? One of Sapolsky's conclusions from this and other interesting and entertaining questions is that each of us would be very different people, behaving in very different ways if we had been born elsewhere. This engaging and highly informative book delves into human behavior in such a manner that it often belies the complexity of each exploration. The language Sapolsky uses in each of his essays reveals an active and curious mind at work, making Monkeyluv a very worthwhile read.

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