Tag Archives: Science

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.

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explain this science thing to me

Thing ExplainerI’ve recently learned that Randall Munroe has a new book on the way. It is called Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words and I have to say: I’m looking forward to this one. Munroe has a talent for distilling tricky or complicated concepts into simple, easy-to-understand stick drawings. I have yet to look through the book, but it should be perfect. Perfect for non-science folk like myself – folks who struggle with the harder science stuff but are still curious and want things explained to them. So yes, I WOULD like to learn all about how a helicopter works or what’s the deal with microwaves, but with the simplest terms and images ever.

I hope this book is something like Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything. I was a big fan of Bryson, before A Short History; Bryson’s kind of a travel writer but he’s much more than that. Well, perhaps I have poor idea of travel writing. I’ve always pictured travel writing as someone who’s paid to visit some foreign land and offer some sort of advertisement to entice other tourists to go there too. Bryson seems above that.  He writes about what he is curious about. He wanted to learn about Australia, so he traveled there. he was intrigued by the 3500 km Appalachian Trail – that passes close by his home – so walked some of it. He found himself curious about how little he knew about science, basic stuff like the origin of the universe or facts about the earth’s crust, so he wrote a big short history. It’s east to understand, informative and, like most of Bryson’s work, sometimes very funny.

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US Conductors by Sean Michaels

US ConductorsI’ve just started the 2014 Giller winner US Conductors by Sean Michaels, but I know I will like it. Despite the musical instrument described in the book seems quite odd and ghostly to me at the beginning, it’s a beautiful and haunting story about music, love, spy, and science – if you have a 9-year-old son who loves science and technology, you can actually share some pages with him.

The book is based on the true story of Lev Termen, the Russian scientist, who invented the theremin player, and his “one true love,” Clara Rockmore. In the first half of the book, we learn of Termen’s early days inventing the theremin, and his arrival in the Jazz age New York. In the second half, the novel builds to a crescendo as Termen’s spy games fall apart and returns to Russia, where he is imprisoned in Siberia and later brought to Moscow to eavesdrop on Stalin. Throughout all this, his unrequited love for Clara remains constant and unflagging. Continue reading