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The advantage of owning the galleries is that some cartoons are full page size which is three times the size of the original books. Not all cartoons are full size though just some.
The classic cartoon set in an exam with the bonus question (50 points) "What's the name of that thing that hangs down the back of our throats?" The caption underneath states "Final Page of the Medical Boards," is in this edition.
Another has Noah saying "Now Listen Up. We're Going to do This Alphabetically," the Zebras are thinking "Damn!"
The Classic "Drive George! Drive! This One's Got a Coathanger!" with a lion trying to unlock the car door to eat the woman.
Should you buy it? Of course you should.
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Regardless of the reason for the material finally finding publication, we are the better for it. Part memoir, part fieldwork journal, and part travelogue, A Desert Calling is that rare scientific tome that engages our adventurous spirit through a vivid and lively presentation while at the same time giving us a concrete sense of the animals and their habitats. As the late Stephen Jay Gould expresses it in the Foreword, Mares writes with "a verbal freshness (and a fine sense for a good yarn) that will delight even the most sophisticated urbanite...." (p. xi)
The book is also beautifully edited and presented with handsome page layouts. Chapter beginnings and major paragraph breaks feature photo icons of the small desert rodents that were the focus of much of Mares's work. The text is interspersed with black and white photos of animals and the forbidding desert climes that he and his fellow field biologists encountered on three continents. There are four maps to help us locate these places. Mares includes an appendix giving both the common and scientific names of species mentioned in the text organized geographically. There are 14 pages of suggestions for further reading ordered by chapter.
Mares's travels include the Sonoran and Mojave deserts in the American southwest, the Monte Desert and the Patagonia and Caatinga regions in South America, and the Dasht-i-Kavir in Iran and the Sahara in Egypt. He traveled to Argentina during the years of the Dirty War and was in Iran just before the fall of the Shah and the rise of the Ayatollah Khomeini. He lived through blinding sandstorms and heat so oppressive that he sought relief in pig water and mud laced with pig feces. He endured stings from hoards of vicious insects in landscapes nearly as barren as the moon with shaded Fahrenheit temperatures in the 130's. (p. 181) He encountered bureaucratic obstruction that would try the patience of a saint, poverty that would move even Scrooge to tears, and enough danger to satisfy a jaded CIA agent.
But above all he reports on the animals and how they live. He includes the discovery of a number of new species and genera of mammals, and three major ecological findings, all having to do with convergent evolution. Seeking the animal in the Monte Desert of Argentina that is the analogue of the kangaroo rat of the North American Sonoran Desert he inexplicably finds none. But then by happenstance he becomes aware of an extinct marsupial skeleton collected by famed biologist George Gaylord Simpson that fits the expected convergence to a tee. Indeed the animal had gone extinct only a million years previous which explained why none of the other rodents had yet evolved to fill that niche. (p. 126)
Mares also demonstrates that the jerboa of the Sahara, which is taxonomically nearly identical to the kangaroo rat, a fact well know for many decades, is not the whole story. It turns out that their diets and therefore some parts of their anatomy, including their teeth of course and presumably their digestive systems, are more different than was previously supposed. Mares realized this because he discovered that while kangaroo rats are seed specialists, the convergent jerboas have a more varied diet including plants and even crickets. After some further research, Mares understood that the bipedal adaption of the jerboas and kangaroo rats is an adaptation to allow them to run (hop!) away from predators.
To my mind the most interesting discovery was that the rock hyraxes of Africa have a nearly exact counterpart in the rock cavies of Caatinga in Argentina. As Mares expresses it (p. 202), they "are about as distantly related as mammals can be, [but they] not only look alike, but are similar in almost all aspects of their reproduction, ecology, and behavior." In a splendid example of natural selection at work, Mares points to their unique but similar rock pile environments as strongly shaping their morphology and behavior.
Perhaps what Mares does best that other scientists that work in distant places do not always do so well is to shed light on not only the climate and the species but on the local people, what they are like and how they live. His description of the isolation of some of the people in the Monte and the Chaco ("El Impenetrable" in Spanish, which Mares calls a "land of thorns") in Argentina is almost like reading about lost tribes from ancient times. His encounters with locals sometimes reminded me of something from a wild west movie of my childhood.
Also very interesting was his account of the discovery of a new species, the golden vizcacha rat on pages 257-259. I also liked his touching recollection of coming home for Halloween just in time to join his two boys for trick or treating on page 275.
Bottom line: this engaging and colorful book allows us to experience the hard work, pure drudgery, quiet contentment, and the sometimes thrilling exhalation of field work through the eyes of a working scientist with a gift for exposition.
There are some peculiar beasts out there. The kangaroo rat has a nose exquisitely tuned to find buried seeds, and can filter sixty seeds from sand in a second. There are penguins in the desert in Patagonia. There are a few rodents on different continents who can live on the leaves of the saltbush, leaves that have a protective outer layer of cells full of salt. They have special teeth, or in one case, special dental hairs, that strip away the inedible layer to get to the green below. There are deadly assassin bugs. Mares describes staying in some of the most unpleasant regions of the world, and admits that when he is busy with academia and home, he longs to get to the desert, but it works vice versa, too. He is almost killed by fungus infesting his lungs after climbing through guano deposits in a New Mexico cave. He is nearly crushed by trees falling during a storm on a bat hunt in Costa Rica. Some of the most surprising specimens described here are humans, and Mares has plenty of funny stories.
_A Desert Calling_ is full of light moments, and near-disasters that are pleasant to recall because they are over. However, Mares has a good deal serious to say about the study of desert animals, and in the larger view, about taxonomy in general. "If you do not know the taxonomy and systematics of the organisms you study - if you cannot identify them correctly and understand how they are related - then you cannot study them in any meaningful manner." Research in "bigger" topics such as ecology is only possible when taxonomists have gone to the field beforehand and identified one creature from another and settled their ranges and evolutionary relationships. Mares has found and been responsible for the first scientific descriptions of many mammals, and knows that there are still plenty out there which have yet to be properly catalogued and studied. Over and over, he comes across specimens about which no one has basic answers: Are they diurnal or nocturnal? Do they live in colonies? Do they hibernate? What do they eat? There is an enormous amount of basic science brightly reported here, and an enormous amount that is yet to be done.
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In the introduction to this book Steven Jay Gould laments this problem by saying "In one particularly distressing example... scholars often look down their noses at large format books filled with attractive photographs "coffee table books" in the dismissive jargon." Mr. Gould goes on to say, however "I love this book because it embodies such a fine marriage of these tow m odes of our central vision - palpable photographs of matrials things with a distinctive text of life's history."
I couldn't say it better. Frankly, most books like this aren't very good, this one is perfect for someone with my background: a high school eduction, no chance of ever going back to college, and a overbearing curiosity for all things ancient.
Since starting to collect fossils in the Nebraska road side a year ago, my curiosity of fossils has grown tremendously. Thanks to an effort by a few scientists willling to speak of these things in lay terms, I am able to learn more about the collecting and the science of fossils every day. Books like this are useful to maintain the support scholars need to keep their science alive, and I for one am very happy to see this inexpensive effort from a scientist published and available to the general pubic.
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The only part of the book I originally read was Purcell's Afterword. It is a delightful exposition on her romance with collectors and museums, revealing a thoughtful, philosophical professional with a strong creative sense. After that much reading I was satisfied, and the book took its place on my shelves with Purcell's other works, to be referred to when opportunities of my own appeared.
Having decided to review it, I discovered, to my embarrassment, that the book was actually about something. The text, far from being the filler that often appears in photographic volumes, turned out to be a series of gemlike studies of eight collectors of note, consisting of Peter the Great, Phillip Von Siebold, Willern Von Heurn, Eugen Dubois, Walter Rothschild, Agostino Scilla, Thomas Hawkins and Louis Agassiz . Some of these men are popularly famous and others are known only to other naturalists, but they are all interesting. Their collections, sometimes known only from fragments are breathtaking.
The author of these essays is Stephen Gould, paleontologist and occupant of the Alexander Agassiz Chair of Zoology and Curator at the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology. Despite these rather awe inspiring credentials his style is delightfully accessible as he reveals each collector's life and passion to the reader. If you like paleontology, or natural history, or glances into the strange mind of the collector you will find this a refreshingly pleasant volume, providing an equal share of education and delight.
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This fine book is slightly marred with Gould's tendentious remarks about Wallace in a short preface. If Wallace's reputation suffers it is partly because the Darwinian establishment keeps him in a box, witness this preface with its polite sideswiping. I hope it will increase sales with Gould's name and that readers will skip the preface for the book. Gould was quietly nervous about this aspect of his Darwin obsessiveness.
It is a mystery if ever there was one.
Stand back and consider the remarkable set of facts involved in the duo, starting with Darwin's early paper, Wallace coming from behind, the unnecessary sending of the paper to Darwin (he could have had the credit, the overall constellation of events and the resulting dialectical spread of views, something quite different from one man producing a theory. Does it not strike one as quite odd? To the Darwinian reinventors of Plato's Cave, it won't seem odd at all, they are too far gone.
I hope this is the beginning of a new proper account of biological theory, Wallace to the fore. Darwin's delay, and the missing letters, and the rigging of the Linean Society papers, do not bode well for the always-propped-up reputation of the Great Founder beside the real one, depicted here. Excellent book.
With credentials like these, it is hardly credible that he is as little known today as he is. Certainly his "other man" status viz. Darwin hasn't helped, but neither did he during his own life attempt to draw attention to himself in all these connections. Add to this a perfectly clear and enquiring mind, a bit of naivety, and one of the most uncompromisingly pro-"little guy" understandings of the human condition, and you have a personality who is much overdue for re-examination.
Berry's anthology continues (but does not end) the recent Wallace renaissance. Berry has done a remarkable job of covering the range of Wallace's interests in just one volume, though to do so he has had to provide excerpts rather than whole works (with the exception of two or three of Wallace's most famous essays). He has also gotten the history right, and provided an editorial narrative that is mostly right on target, and pleasantly composed. If you are the kind of person who likes adventures in the realms of logical and sympathetic thinking, you'll love this collection!
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The title is about two seperate essays and they are well written. Understanding nature itself is what Gould is doing here... making a point in his customary brillance. There are short biographies, puzzles and paradoxes, all the time Gould is leading us through his thought prossess and reasoning.
This is a very good collection of essays and well worth the time to read.
Read and enjoy.
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We find Gould in a more contemplative mood within these pages, being reflective and personal as he speaks about the importance within our lives of the connections to our past and ancestral generations. But as Gould would put it, " a theme of supreme importance to evolutionists who study a world in which extinction is the ultimate fate of all and prolonged persistence the only meaningful measure of success."
There are essays on extenction, fishtails and frog calls, the coloration of pigeons, the eyes of mole rats, and an in depth personal essay about his maternal grandfather. This last essay brought some fond memories back to me, as I was growing up... yet time waits for no man.
For variety, range, depth and a refinement in writing style, this tome is one of Gould's best, as you read, Gould hits his stride and leads you toward his conclusions, just like my grandfather taught me to be observent and not take things for granted. But to question, the way things are as they seem, just like Gould does to his readers, bringing information to them and through observation and a brilliant mind making things clear.
This is an eductional book, as well, as you read, Gould makes the reader learn painlessly... a good storyteller of thirty-one essays that are truly fascinating.
Read and enjoy this well thought out collection of essays.
However, this is more than simply a collection of illustrative examples of various organisms. The most fascinating chapter relates the authors' proposal to modify one of the standard classifications of life - the Protoctists, replacing Whittiker's Protists. "The Kingdom Protoctista is defined by exclusion," they state. "Its members are neither animals, plants, fungi nor procaryotes." Their common characteristics are nucleated cells, some kind of flagellum and live in an oxygenated atmosphere [unlike many unicellular forms which cannot tolerate oxygen. Their argument contends that many multicellular forms are more
directly related to these unicellular forms than they are to other multi-celled organisms. The new classification "also solves the problem of blurred boundaries that arises if the unicellular organisms are assigned to the multicellular kingdoms." They list 27 phyla [of 36 total]with diagrams exhibiting a range of bizarre structures and life cycles.
Another noteworthy entry is Trichoplax adhaerens. Remember the name of this creature - "it is the simplest of animals." Composed of but a few thousand cells, it is a dull gray body just visible to the unaided eye. In looking at the photo and diagram of this creature invokes a sense of wonder - this is, after all, a distance relative living in the nearest aquarium with the shad.
This book is a delight to browse following one of the authors' intents. Their second purpose, using this book as a reference, is even more admirably met. Clear photographs coupled with excellent diagrams, including typical environments of the selected specimens, add visual support to a readable text base. Any reader interested in the way life is structured and seeking insights into evolutionary development would do well to consider this book. It's not an academic text, but conveys a wealth of meaningful information.
I know that when I was reading through the section detailing the Animal phylla, I was struck by how many creatures -- entire phyllums -- get along without even rudimentary brains (or digestive systems, respiratory systems, circulatory systems, or even organs, altogether, in some cases). Likewise I was surprised to learn that only two phylla (including our own) ever developed winged flight.
The sections comprising the non-Animal kingdoms were of particular interest to me mainly for the simple reason that they invariably get little attention from most texts. At best, you'll usally find a chapter dealing with micro-organisms as a whole, and a brief chapter on plants. To see how much sheer diverity there is in just the Fungus kingdom is eye-opening.
I will note that the book does assume a basic level of biological literacy and that it sometimes throws jargon at the reader with little warning or explaination but, as a whole, this is a very accessible work and well worth having on one's shelf.