Choice Outstanding Academic Titles 2022: Zoology

Enjoy five selections from the Choice Reviews 2022 Outstanding Academic Titles list. This week we highlight, in no particular order, Outstanding Academic Titles from the past year about Zoology.

1. The Parrot in the mirror: how evolving to be like birds made us human
Martinho-Truswell, Antone. Oxford, 2022

Martinho-Truswell (St. Paul’s College, Sydney, Australia) offers a readable general account of evolution emphasizing evidence of convergences between birds and humans. “Parrots are our evolutionary mirror,” he argues (p. 2), and humans can be seen as “birds without feathers” (p. 7). Humans have evolved many bird-like traits not shared with their primate ancestors. This reader found the argument overdrawn until realizing her own research grant applications often emphasize that “birds, like humans, rely primarily on visual and acoustic communication rather than olfaction.” Some chapter highlights: primate and avian evolution (1); relative longevity of humans and parrots compared to other mammals of their size (3); the pejorative term bird brain ignores the huge computing power crammed into a tiny space (4); lifelong strategies of child-rearing vary among birds (4); learning to sing a species-appropriate song mirrors human language development (5); and birds can learn to sound human, dance, and in some famous cases use speech (6). Hence, looking at parrots is analogous, as suggested, to looking in a mirror. View on Amazon

2. Animals’ best friends: putting compassion to work for animals in captivity and in the wild
King, Barbara J. Chicago, 2021

This latest book by King (emer., College of William and Mary) is as timely as it is informative. Although neither drawn to animals as pets nor a vegetarian, this reader found that King approaches her topic—considering animals as pets, in the wild, in zoos, on people’s plates, and in research labs—in a way that speaks respectfully to all readers, regardless of how they may feel about nonhuman animals or vegetarianism. In previous work (How Animals Grieve, CH, Oct’13, 51-0889) King may have played somewhat on readers’ emotions. This text clarifies that King’s compassion for animals includes humans first and foremost. Though this position is pervasive throughout the book, it is most clearly evident in her restatement of “reducetarian aims.” As a writer, King manages to maintain a degree of optimism, even when reporting on dire circumstances, leaving readers with a clear path to building compassionate action. This book offers much to think deeply about with regard to people’s pervasive relationships with animals, which exist on many levels. King offers a path to deciding what readers might want to change about this kinship and how. View on Amazon

3. Chimpanzee memoirs: stories of studying and saving our closest living relatives
ed. by Stephen Ross and Lydia Hopper Columbia, 2022

The chapters of this timely book, focused on conservation and written by scientists with thousands of hours of experience with chimpanzees, aim to inspire actions needed to secure the survival of humankind’s closest relative. Authors include many famous for lifelong studies of chimpanzees, and some are also range-country scholars whose familiarity with the human cultures surrounding chimpanzees provides unique and realistic perspectives on conservation issues. These deeply personal stories, recounting authors’ initial interest as stimulated by books, zoo visits, and exciting documentaries, record each contributor’s awakening to the natural world and to the special role the chimpanzees in it play. Compelling and evocative portraits document chimpanzee individuals who connected with scientists in ways that marked turning points in the scientists’ understanding of chimpanzees and enriched the scientists’ lives. The volume offers advice for those who aspire to study nonhumans, and the various chapters reflect the patience, persistence, and sense of wonder that a life spent with chimpanzees requires and naturally entails. For “the rest of us,” each story provides a vivid account of what deeply knowing another species is like. View on Amazon

4. Loon lessons: uncommon encounters with the great northern diver
Paruk, James D. Minnesota, 2021

Loon Lessons is a charmingly written, engaging survey of the anatomy, evolution, ecology, breeding behavior, vocalizations, migration, wintering behavior, and conservation of the common loon (Gavia immer). Paruk (St. Joseph’s College), a recognized expert and researcher on all aspects of common loon biology, has spent three decades devoted to the study of this species. His loon research has taken him to destinations throughout the loon’s broad North American range, and he skillfully and succinctly does justice to his subject here. This book is both informative and entertaining, in all ways “a good read.” Many view common loons as iconic symbols of isolated northern lakes, where their remarkable and varied yodels are heard throughout the breeding season. They are, however, much more interesting than their voices considered in isolation. The common loon lives its life in flight or on water, either freshwater lakes (for breeding) or saltwater bays and open coastal ocean (wintering). The bird cannot take flight from land and comes ashore at lake edges only to nest.
View on Amazon

5The Cambridge handbook of animal cognition
ed. by Allison Kaufman, Josep Call, and James C. Kaufman Cambridge, 2021

As expected of works in the publisher’s “Handbook” series, this volume is large in size and scope. Presented in six parts—communication/language, memory/recall, social cognition, social learning and teaching, numeracy and quantitative thinking, and finally innovation and problem-solving (the largest section)—the text covers a broad range of cognitive abilities. Each part begins with a wide-ranging, thorough overview chapter; these are so good that they could stand alone as literature reviews. Papers in each part offer specialized coverage, down to a family or perhaps even a species, as in the articles on hummingbird memory, raven social cognition, and orangutan innovation, for example. Given the subject matter, it is not surprising that half the accounts are of mammals; of these, half concern primates. That said, it is pleasing to see four accounts of previously unrecognized cognitive abilities of fishes but disconcerting to find that invertebrates are all but ignored—readers will find only two papers on ants. Available new discoveries on cephalopod problem-solving and bee social cognition suggest that the invertebrates need to be better covered. View on Amazon

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