Superlative: The Biology of Extremes

The outliers:  biggest, smallest, deadliest, smartest, strongest, oldest, fastest.  A sort of Guinness Book of Records for grown-up nerds, huh?  Same fascination factor, for sure, but with purpose and science to boot.  What can we learn from these extremes of nature?  How did they come to be?  What are the challenges to their survival?  How can they benefit us?

For example, in “Why Almost Everything We Know About Giraffes Is Wrong”, we learn that prevailing theories say giraffes developed their unique bodies and long necks in order to graze from tree tops.  But did they?  They seem to bend down to eat from grasses and shrubs as much, if not more, than in trees.  So why those long necks with those pretty little heads at the top?

And there’s “Why Elephant Cells Are Like Empathetic Zombies”.  Elephants grow so rapidly that cells tend to mutate, and so it seems that elephants would develop cancers at an astounding rate – but they don’t.  In elephants, mutating cells appear to “develop a conscience” and die.  Now wouldn’t it be great if our pre-cancerous cells offed themselves?  Yeah, that’s the ticket, and we’d have elephants to thank, so back off, poachers!

I’ve only sampled Matthew LaPlante’s good book, but I’ll be back, and it’s perfect for enjoying this way if you like.  Of course, for many, it’ll be like potato chips.  Hard to stop with one or two.  Whatever your style, munchies or the full buffet, the line starts here.

Be the biggest, smartest, fastest reader to buy this book from your local indie bookstore.

Full Disclosure:  A review copy of this book was provided to me by BenBella Books via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  I would like to thank the publisher, the author and NetGalley for providing me this opportunity.  All opinions expressed herein are my own.

Erika Swyler’s Light from Other Stars

Entropy.  Accelerating/decelerating half-life.  De-organizing systems.   I understand nothing.  Science, technology, Earth is mid-Apocalypse, and a failing space ship carries four pioneers to an unnamed planet.  My mind goes “Yadda, yadda, yadda.”  And yet.  And yet….   You must begin in a tiny Florida town, Easter, on the day Challenger explodes.  In a small college lab, an experimental machine named Crucible activates; and time begins to move forward, backward, to slow.  Water freezes, ponds boil and frogs scream, viscous liquid drips from power lines.  Then, in Easter, time stops.

But, you see, this book, this story, does not focus on science and technology, or on an imaginary world.  Rather, it is built around its characters, human beings speaking and thinking as we might, and what treasures they are.  At its core there is Nedda, a prodigiously gifted eleven year old, her mother, a brilliant chemist who bakes experimental cakes and her father, the prof who created Crucible.  No matter that I don’t understand entropy.  What matters is that I will never forget this story and these people.  One of my two best reads so far this year.  Shines as brightly as the light from any star in any galaxy real or imagined.  Hitting bookstores on May 7 (Bloomsbury USA).

Full Disclosure: A review copy of this book was provided to me by Bloomsbury USA / Bloomsbury Publishing via NetGalley. I would like to thank the publisher and the author for providing me this opportunity. All opinions expressed herein are my own.