Tag Archives: adult non-fiction

Venomous by Christie Wilcox

How Earth's Deadliest Creatures Mastered BiochemistryIt’s amazing what tiny little creatures such as the blue-ringed octopus or a little caterpillar in the rainforest can do to you (paralyze you completely and induce hemorrhaging, respectively), without even your realization that you’ve been bitten or pricked! Where Wilcox really shines in Venomous, though, is when she goes beyond show-and-tell and explains what goes on when you graze the back of that caterpillar with its bristly spine: contrary to what might be expected, this little caterpillar actually causes all the coagulants in your blood to become otherwise engaged so that they’re nowhere to be found while the rest of your blood is running rampant. Hence the hemorrhaging.

Venomous is engaging and serves as a great introduction into the world of venom and the creatures that produce them. Wilcox takes you through a variety of different types of venom, organized more or less by chapter, telling you what they do to their (unfortunate/maybe-brought-it-upon-themselves) victims, connecting their incredible abilities to theories as to why certain creatures should have developed the venoms that they did. In fact, Wilcox goes further and delves – relatively lightly, nothing to be afraid of even if you’re not scientifically minded – into the science of what different venoms do. What you get, in effect, is something along the lines of this: what creature generates what sort of venom, which does what to which animal by targeting which areas, likely influenced by which evolutionary pressures. Wilcox breaks it down so that you understand what’s going on – which neurotransmitters are involved? what areas of the body does it affect and why? why might these creatures have evolved as they did? – as you make your way through the rest of the book, keeping all the information intact by making connections throughout.

Continue reading

Fields of Blood

Religion and the History of ViolenceKaren Armstrong does a good job of summarizing the history of the development of religion & state succinctly in each chapter, linking each of the histories to each other in terms of patterns in government. What really struck me throughout was how effectively autocratic governments have fared throughout the ages – well, they would, not having to go through all the other layers of government in order to get things done, but still! In addition to this, the seeming inability to remove religion from society completely was quite interesting to see: the nation took the place of traditional belief systems, and instead of fighting for those beliefs, people would fight for the sake of their nation. It almost seems like the issue isn’t so much religion in its inspiration of violent devotion so much as humans at large, to be honest. Continue reading

At the Existentialist Café

Freedom, Being & Apricot CocktailsSarah Bakewell promises freedom, being and apricot cocktails at this here café, but I think what we get is actually – and I kid you not – a love story. Which is not to say that love stories and freedom, being, and apricot cocktails are mutually exclusive – least of all that last one, I’m sure!

I’m going to argue my case. It’s a love story firstly between Bakewell and the existentialist philosophers (and philosophy), but also, through the process of becoming witness to that story, between the reader and – I suppose it’s a pick and choose, but I truly do think he’s the protagonist here – Jean-Paul Sartre. Don’t get me wrong, now. Bakewell does an extremely good job picking apart existentialism and following it through the ages, from its inchoate stages through its evolution in Sartre and other customers of this existentialist café over time. She details their relationships with each other as they become friends, break with each other, try again, and break it off for good. There is a good mix of 1)historical context, which I appreciated a lot and helps give depth to the characters, allowing you to understand what may have served as possible motivators, 2)character development, and 3)the understanding that ideas are not static entities, are subject to change, and sometimes defy attempts at definition. Bakewell embraces #3 from the very start, and having read this book cover to cover, I leave satisfied not being able to provide a clean and simple definition of what exactly constitutes existentialism. But let’s talk about #2: character development. Continue reading