2021 Outstanding Academic Titles: Zoology

Five selections from the Choice Reviews 2021 Outstanding Academic Titles list. This week we highlight Choice 2021 Outstanding Academic Titles about zoology.

Five selections from the Choice Reviews 2021 Outstanding Academic Titles list. This week we highlight Choice 2021 Outstanding Academic Titles about zoology.

Abalone - the remarkable history and uncertain future of California’s iconic shellfish Outstanding Academic Titles  book cover.
1. Abalone: the remarkable history and uncertain future of California’s iconic shellfish
Vileisis, Ann. Oregon State, 2020

This book provides a gracefully written, meticulously documented history (including 37 pages of notes) of California’s celebrated but now endangered abalone, a gastropod whose powerful foot attaches its protective shell to rocks. Author and independent scholar Vileisis (whose earlier Kitchen Literacy, CH, Apr’08, 45-4343, argued the need to recover knowledge about food) begins with the abalone’s origin some 70 million years ago, then reviews its importance in Native American culture through thousands of years. The first nonnative fishers of abalone were the Chinese, who sought abalone as a luxury for nobility in their homeland. Vileisis also describes the mineralogical structure of the shell, a feature that accounts for its strength and remarkable iridescence. Most of the book is devoted to details of the rise and fall of this sought-after shellfish, from the 19th century to the present. The WWII-period hunting of sea otters, abalone’s chief predator, created a boom in abalone consumption. During the 1950s, California magazines featured recipes for abalone stews, chowders, and even abalone “burgers.” However, the development of scuba equipment and human overexploitation, along with disease and ocean warming, have reduced many species to near extinction. View on Amazon.

2. Chimpanzee: lessons from our sister species
Hunt, Kevin D. Cambridge, 2020
Chimpanzee: lessons from our sister species Outstanding Academic Titles  book cover.

Chimpanzees have been systematically studied in nature for more than 60 years, and diverse scholars have gathered reams of chimpanzee data spanning hundreds of years. Of all the primates, the chimpanzee is perhaps easiest for humans to imagine truly knowing. Because chimpanzees are special among mammals as humankind’s closest living relatives, the extent of existing chimpanzee-focused scholarship has made providing a comprehensive account of the species difficult, yet that goal is accomplished in this volume. Topics range from subjective descriptions of chimpanzees to detailed analyses of their osteology, physiology, social dynamics, ecology, and evolution (to name a few). The volume provides a synthesis of classic and current literature, which will help readers learn what experts think now and where their ideas came from. Each chapter is illustrated with black-and-white figures, tables, and maps, and vivid color plates also are included. Chapters are topically focused and accessibly written with sources at each chapter’s end, and headers make finding specific information efficient. View on Amazon.

3. Great adaptations: star-nosed moles, electric eels, and other tales of evolution’s mysteries solved
Catania, Kenneth. Princeton, 2020
Great adaptations: star-nosed moles, electric eels, and other tales of evolution’s mysteries solved	Outstanding Academic Titles book cover.

Catania’s educational formation, travels, mastery of laboratory technologies, relationship with mentors, and unique subjects provide the raw material for a voyage of discovery in this interesting account of a life of scientific nature study that began with a job at the National Zoo. From mapping the sensory cortex of the star-nosed mole’s brain to tactile receptors in its fleshy tentacles, to illustrating the unique behavioral capabilities of the electric eel, tentacled snake, water shrew, and jewel wasp, each species description reveals a compelling story of evolutionary adaptations in anatomy, physiology, and/or behavior. Catania (Vanderbilt Univ.) aptly conveys his wonderment at finding out how an organism interacts with its environment, a project that became his life’s work. Each example is traced from Catania’s first recognition of the problem of how to explain the phenomenon to posing the questions that led to finding answers, a process that has often required elaborate and imaginative experimentation. Most stories relate the investigation of the sensory structures of an animal’s brain in relation to its behavior. These are “not your father’s” everyday nature stories; rather, they focus on the author’s own process of discovery: the “backstory.” View on Amazon.

4. The complex lives of British freshwater fishes
Everard, Mark. CRC Press, 2020
The complex lives of British freshwater fishes Outstanding Academic Titles book cover.

A welcome addition to the available number of books on fish, Everard’s work adopts a non-technical approach to describing the fish of Britain. Straightforward descriptions bring the species into view, along with information on other regions where the same fish are found, the aquatic ecosystems where they flourish, and various conservation efforts that have sought to protect them. Everard specifically avoids jargon and scientific names to the extent possible in the text, offering a glossary of such terms to help interested readers as needed. The text is presented in 14 chapters, each addressing a specific topic to engage the perspective of the true amateur, thus: “What Have Freshwater Fishes Ever Done for Us?” (chapter 3); “Knowing Your Way Round a Fish” (chapter 4); and “Sex Lives of the British Freshwater Fishes” (chapter 7). Chapter 10 charmingly illuminates the mysteries associated with European eels in both science and popular culture. Featuring stunning color photographs contributed by Jack Perks as well as color distribution maps, this book will make a great reference not only for fisheries researchers and professionals, but also for anyone interested in the freshwater habitats of Britain. View on Amazon.

5. Unique: the new science of human individuality
Linden, David J. Basic Books, 2020
Unique: the new science of human individuality Outstanding Academic Titles book cover.

For decades, traditional biological and psychological research has focused on central tendencies in phenotypic traits, with a quest for average, species-typical, or sex-typical physiological and behavioral patterns. From this perspective, inter-individual variation and outliers have long been ignored because they were considered statistical noise of little intrinsic interest. Starting from the fundamental tenet of Darwinian evolution that individual differences are pronounced and relevant to fitness, this book takes the opposite approach. Readers are asked one of the deepest questions in organismal science: how do individuals become unique? Linden (Johns Hopkins Univ.) goes beyond the outdated, misleading, flawed, and sterile “nature-versus-nurture” debate. Instead, he draws on various domains (e.g., gender, sexual orientation, personality, intelligence, race, food selection, and disease) to teach the molecular mechanisms through which heredity, experience, and developmental randomness interact to make each human unique. Linden’s elegant, jargon-free writing style contributes to making the complex processes underlying (epi)genetics, trait heritability, and neuroplasticity simple. Readers will learn about the developmental pathways, environmental constraints, and cultural influences involved in human individuality. On Amazon.

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