Staff Pick

As cities take over the world, what exactly happens to nature? In one of the more hopeful pictures of the Anthropocene, Schilthuizen, an evolutionary biologist, cites humans as one of nature’s best “ecosystem engineers” (ants are another), and gives a global tour of cities as fresh ecological niches for plants and animals whose habitats were once rural. While many species have disappeared in the wake of humans’ relentless destruction of the wild, many are finding ways to take advantage of new opportunities in the man-made environment, and they are evolving nearly as fast as we’re transforming the landscape, a phenomenon known as Human-Induced Rapid Evolutionary Change. HIREC has been observed in a wide range of creatures, from microorganisms to insects to large mammals. The most dramatic and well-documented cases involve birds. Urban varieties sing at higher pitches than their country cousins, to be heard above traffic; they sing earlier, starting before dawn; and they breed months ahead of when they used to, no longer needing to migrate, given the reliable food source of humans’ leftovers. Meanwhile, in Mexico swallows include cigarette butts in their nests, having learned that the nicotine kills mites, and plants worldwide can develop a “seaside biome” to tolerate the concentration of de-icing salt in the soil. Schilthuisen has dozens of fascinating stories of how nature is responding to urban conditions in novel and surprising ways. He also uses the examples to discuss key terms of his trade and to define the differences between genetic evolution and learned behavior. He’s as engaging on the concepts of epigenetics and pre-adaptations as he is on the unprecedented phenomenon of catfish catching pigeons along French waterfronts.

Darwin Comes to Town: How the Urban Jungle Drives Evolution Cover Image
ISBN: 9781250127822
Availability: Special Order—Subject to Availability
Published: Picador - April 3rd, 2018

Staff Pick

The two protagonists of Mann’s deeply researched and passionate study of climate change may not be household names, but they have shaped how we view the planet and humanity’s role here. The “wizard” of his title is Norman Borlaug (1914-2009), one of the key figures of the Green Revolution and the winner of the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize. In his view, people have never faced a problem they couldn’t solve with technology. Starvation, for instance, could be eradicated with the right combination of genetically modified seeds, artificial fertilizer, pesticides, and irrigation. By contrast, William Vogt (1902-1968) believed that humanity is constrained by the natural limits of the planet. Since resources are finite, it’s irrational at best, suicidal at worst, to push for infinite economic development.  A “prophet,” Vogt, like John Muir before him and Bill McKibben after him, foresaw the end if we let our consumption and our population exceed Earth’s “carrying capacity,” a scenario he outlined in his 1948 Road to Survival. Mann gives a thorough profile of both Borlaug and Vogt. He explains the science behind the Green Revolution and outlines the mechanics of photosynthesis and the role of nitrogen in the soil. He reports from around the world on the triumphs and shortcomings of both the Green Revolution and the organic movement. He asks real, and urgent, questions about sustainability, ethics, and economics. Ultimately, neither wizards nor prophets have all the answers. While Mann’s books seems to chart a dichotomy, it’s telling that he used “and” in the title rather than “or.” We need both technological solutions and an environmental ethos. The two aren’t mutually exclusive, despite their contentious history. To save the planet we have to draw on the best ideas of both wizards and prophets.

The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow's World Cover Image
ISBN: 9780307961693
Availability: Special Order—Subject to Availability
Published: Knopf - January 23rd, 2018

Staff Pick
Hawken’s handbook for fighting climate change lists a hundred ways we can improve not only the life of the planet, but the lives of all who live on it. Similarly, the book itself focuses as much on natural beauty as it does on technology. With photos of spotted owl hatchlings and the Kermode bear alongside pictures of the sleek, fuel-efficient Concept S truck and a Tesla powerwall, the book brilliantly illustrates both how we can save the Earth and why it’s so important to. With contributions from a wide range of scientists and writers, including Bill McKibben and Elizabeth Kolbert, this is a truly inspiring project—one we should all get behind.
Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming Cover Image
By Paul Hawken (Editor)
ISBN: 9780143130444
Availability: In Stock—Click for Locations
Published: Penguin Books - April 18th, 2017