Wimpenny, a zoologist, first learned about animals through reading Aesop’s fables as a child. But what did she learn: facts or fictions? Wondering how the ancient tales stack up against the modern science, she assesses the fabulist’s presentations of creatures from crows, wolves, and foxes, to dogs, lions, and grasshoppers. She finds his record mixed, with his depictions of lone wolves, for instance, missing the complex social nature of the packs, while his appreciation for the wiliness of foxes accurately conveys the adaptability that has allowed these cat-like creatures to thrive. Her lively and often surprising book (male lions are good fighters but poor hunters and can lie inert for 20 hours a day) is also a fascinating look at Man the Experimenter, detailing the work that has given us insight into animal behavior. And where popular, but misguided notions still prevail—that ants plan ahead (a skill more likely with corvids), or that donkeys are dumb brutes fit only to be beasts of burden (they are much more complex and interesting than they get credit for)—she lays out centuries of cultural history, tracing our fascinating and essential relationships with our fellow creatures.
NPR science reporter and podcaster Lulu Miller grew up with a scientist father who believed that, in the cosmic scheme of things, human lives were meaningless. Wrestling with this idea, she became fascinated with scientist David Starr Jordan, who in the late 19th and early 20th centuries catalogued more fish species than any other researcher and then withstood professional catastrophes that destroyed years of his work. Probing Jordan’s resilience amid professional tragedy led Miller to a more worrisome discovery: later in life, Jordan became a rabid eugenicist whose racist beliefs exposed a darker side of scientific research. Miller tackles the contradictions of Jordan’s career as she examines the evolution of her own life--and the years she has spent reckoning with how to find meaning and purpose in an inherently chaotic world.
Seeking to understand why people voluntarily engage in physically painful activities, Cowart, a science journalist, explores a wide spectrum of experiences, from Medieval self-flagellists to modern ultramarathoners and contestants in hot pepper-eating contests. Merging science with her own sharp and compassionate insight, and writing with vibrant prose, Cowart accompanies the reader on a journey of desire, bliss, brokenness, and grace. (Note, this book explores material some readers may find uncomfortable.)