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Science Books

December 15, 2005

Our Inner Ape
Frans De Waal (2005)
ISBN: 1573223123

Famed biologist Frans de Waal, PhD, sheds yet more light onto the world of chimpanzees, and reveals much about ourselves as a species in the process. Our Inner Ape continues on from de Waal's previous award winning book, The Ape and the Sushi Master, which explored the social intelligence of primates such as chimpanzees, bonobos, capuchins, and macaques. Few researchers have penetrated the social world of primates the way that de Waal has, and few if any could be credited with as many pioneering discoveries on primate behavior. De Waal was the first to discover the capacity for reconciliation in chimpanzees, and is the founder of the field of conflict resolution research in animals. De Waal's research, spanning close to twenty years, shows that apes resolve conflicts, cooperate, and console one another, which makes them almost perfect subjects for making human comparisons. Almost perfect, because humans neither solely exhibit the behaviors of the chimpanzee or bonobo, but rather show aspects of both. Despite our apparent differences, the need to belong to a social group is a commonality that we share with other primates. De Waal shows that our ability to differentiate the characteristics of other individuals and groups within our own species reveals both the dark and good-natured sides of society. The ability to detect when others may do us harm has no doubt aided our survival, but it can also lead to mistrust and prejudice based on nothing more than superficial differences and a fear of the unknown. This book arrives during a period of heightened tensions between the different cultures of the world, differences instigated by the not too dissimilar power struggles of the chimpanzee. De Waal's book does offer some hope, however, as he claims that cooperation, like violence and prejudice, can also be learnt. A thoroughly informative and often surprising book that should be read by anyone interested in what makes society tick.

On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen
Harold McGee (2005)
ISBN: 0684800012

There isn't exactly a shortage of cookbooks out there, but there are few that frame cooking as a science. This is somewhat odd when you consider that cooking food is probably the oldest form of chemistry known to humans. Unfortunately, this long history and familiarity with cooking does not guarantee that your cooking experiments will always be a success. To celebrate the classic On Food and Cooking's 20th anniversary, Harold McGee, a science writer from the California Institute of Technology, has whipped-up a new and improved edition for professionals and would-be chefs everywhere. In fact, it's almost a complete rewrite and expansion of the original, together with an extra 100 new illustrations. At over 900 pages long, On Food and Cooking looks back over the history of cooking and conceptualizes it within a scientific and technological framework. Some of the fascinating and helpful topics include what substances give particular foods their aroma and flavor, along with the health benefits and detriments of many types of food. Other scientific investigations include how food interacts with our bodies and why some food and drink affect the body in a peculiar and often enjoyable way. McGee overlooks nothing, from cooking methods to utensils; this comprehensive book covers it all. Sections include intriguing insights into traditional versus modern food production methods, and how you can make sure that you select the best produce for your own gastronomic adventures in the kitchen. On Food and Cooking is an invaluable tome of information for the general science history reader, aspiring chef or (well) seasoned professional.

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