On the day this article is published, it will be exactly one month until the day of the 2017 North American Solar Eclipse; an event that is expected to cause tens of millions of people to stop what they are doing and turn their eyes (properly protected, it is hoped) skyward to witness one of the most awe-inspiring events able to be seen from Earth by even the most inexperienced – and perhaps even disinterested – astronomical observer. Fortunately, unlike our forbearers, who up until recently (and indeed, some among us still today) who would have noted this blotting out of the Sun with fear, trembling, and supplications to assorted divine powers for its return, we have the benefit of modern science to assure us that ’tis only the passing shadow of the Moon that places us in darkness and that daylight will return in a matter of minutes. Thus we can relax and simply enjoy the experience – that is, of course, if we’re not stuck in traffic frantically trying to reach our respective desired observation points.
The avoidance of being stuck in traffic, as well as ensuring that proper eye protection is ready at hand, that an understanding of how to successfully photograph the event, and knowledge of both what special phenomena to look for as well as why such might occur, are all things that can be accomplished with a little advance preparation. Therefore I would like to offer, for those wanting to get the most out of the experience, a few books and tools that have come to my attention and that I have found worthy of recommendation. Keep reading…
Recent Book Reviews
The scene: England in the middle ages. King Arthur and his faithful servant Patsy have just clip-clopped by two men standing by the road.
Large Man: Who’s that then?
Dead Collector: I dunno. Must be a king.
Large Man: Why?
Dead Collector: He hasn’t got shit all over him.
(Monty Python and the Holy Grail)
Once, not so very long ago, people all around the world lived with dung as a part of their daily lives. If they lived in the countryside, there was a dung pile somewhere nearby. If they lived in a city, the draft animals that provided the engines of transportation dropped it copiously in the streets. Then, of course, there was the little matter of all the human waste that needed to be managed in both these environments; and without central plumbing, that meant various “closets” and pots (often emptied directly into gutters, sometimes out of upper-story windows) in the city and simple latrines (at best) of varying forms in the country side. Keep reading…
As most anyone who reads books on a regular basis will attest, some of the most significant books they’ve ever read were found to be such not only because of what was written upon their respective pages, but also because of when in the life of the individual reader the book was read. I can’t recall from whom I originally heard it, but whenever I think of the writings of F. Scott Fitzgerald, I think of the observation that one must read his novels before one reaches the age of thirty or else much of their potential significance will be lost (as someone who neglected Fitzgerald until his forties, I can attest to this, as I could not find in them what so many others have so strongly asserted is there). Similarly, had I tried to read Darwin’s Origin before my forties, I don’t think I would have found it as profound as I did; my understanding of the significance and power of time – a key element in Darwin’s defense of his ideas – simply wasn’t sufficiently developed until then. Keep reading…
Newly Noted Books
As Johns Hopkins University Press so well and succinctly points out in the description of the their new “Sharks of the Shallows,” “few places on Earth are home to the amazing diversity of shark species that beautify the shallow waters of Florida and the Bahamas.” Consequently, its author Jeffrey C. Carrier no doubt decided that this was the region on which to focus as a new book about the lives and behaviors of some of the planet’s most often mentioned sharks.
Turning on the most recent edition of Steve Mirsky’s Scientific American podcast, I was delighted to discover that the entire episode was devoted to an interview with Susan Ewing and her recently published book from Pegasus Books titled “Resurrecting the Shark; A Scientific Obsession and the Mavericks Who Solved the Mystery of a 270-Million-Year-Old Fossil.”
Whenever someone begins a sentence, “Can I ask you a question about butterflies?” the odds are good, particularly if I’m in North America at the time, that it is going to be a question about Monarchs. And there’s plenty of reasons for this. Even if Monarchs aren’t prominent among your local lepidoptera there is simply something about these vivid black-and-orange butterflies that has captured the popular imagination.
Back in 1971, Dan Jason published “Some Useful Wild Plants; A Foraging Guide to Food and Medicine From Nature,” a book that eventually sold over 30,000 copies and became one of the best known books on foraging for wild plants in Canada and the northern United States.
As the fifth day of July this year marked the 330th anniversary of the publication of Sir Issac Newton’s monumental Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, it seems appropriate that a new book about him should be published only a few days later. However rather than focusing on his mathematical ideas, this one takes his religious ones as its subject.
While some may let pass the 5th of July with little more than a shrug, those in the scientific “know” mark it with reverence as it was the day in 1687 that saw the publication of one of the most – perhaps even the most – important works on time, force, and motion ever written: Sir Isaac Newton’s “Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica” (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy).
My dear Galileo,
Each evening for weeks now I have carried my telescope to the top of a nearby hill and pointed its 70mm objective lens toward the clearly visible bright dot in the sky that I have learned to identify as Jupiter. Bringing it into focus, its 17.5x magnification – more than your early 8x model but less than your eventual 20x one – shows me clearly that what I am seeing is not a star but a planet; a planet with tiny illuminated dots seemingly nearby it.
The Well-equipped Naturalist
For as long as I’ve ventured afield in search of whatever nature might wish to show me, I’ve gone fully vested. That is to say, I’ve worn a field vest. Not that I have anything against day packs or shoulder bags, mind you; I just find that vests (or as my British friends call them, waistcoats) allow me to carry what I need in a way that allows me easy access to all of it while still letting me move about with a feeling of being unencumbered.
While you likely know at least a bit about mammoths and mastodons, those proboscideans from the days of yore, can you say the same when it comes to another family of now extinct tuskers, the gomphotheres? The recently released Palaeocast Episode 77 takes up the natural history of the gomphotheres of South America with the […]
I was particularly pleased to discover that the 2 June 2017 issue of the Times Literary Supplement contained a review by Tom Holland of not just one but two recent books on foxes; Lucy Jones’ Foxes Unearthed: A Story of Love and Loathing in Modern Britain. from Elliott & Thompson, and How to Tame a […]