Book 254: I, Mammal by Liam Drew

“I, Mammal: Th Story Of What Makes Us Mammals” by Liam Drew


Finished reading on April 13th, 2020

Rating: 9/10

A few months ago I was looking for a book that would tell me more about lactation and how it evolved in mammals. Main reason for it – breastfeeding my child and pondering how it’s the most natural way to provide nutrition for an infant and yet we as humans also use the products of some other species’ lactation, and how it’s all quite weird.

This book looks at how mammals differ from other kinds of animals- not just in possessing mammary glands- and how one small change in some part of physiology led to a change in another part and ended up producing a plethora of weird and wonderful creatures.

It was an interesting book to read for sure. But as with reading probably just about any book on evolutionary biology – the end is quite poignant. Although mammals have existed in various forms for millions of years, by now humans and their domesticated animals make up most of the biomass in case of mammals…

But let’s get to the more fun bits. It was fascinating to read (and tell my partner) about why scrotums might positioned the way they are and how not every mammal has an even number of mammary glands and how hooded seals nurse their pups for a really short time and lose a lot of weight while pups grow at exceptional rates.

I found it illuminating and it left me yearning to read more evolutionary biology books at popular science level.

I’d highly recommend this to any male or female mammal reading this blog post!

Book 247: The Origin of Our Species by Chris Stringer

PIMG_2677The Origin of Our Species by Chris Stringer

Finished reading on December 17th, 2017

Rating: 10/10

In “The Origin of Our Species” we get an idea of what is known about the evolution of our species, how the ideas about our ancestors have changed and how we even happen to know as much as we do. Stringer goes into quite a lot of detail in introducing the methods for dating fossils, the most important fossil finds and how they relate to us and what kind of story they tell and what we have so far found out by looking at DNA etc.

I found the book fascinating. Although I’ve come across Olduvai Gorge and Lucy etc in a few other books, I feel like this one gave me a better understanding of the timeline and also the timescale without bringing out date by date what happened.

Stringer deals a lot with the topic of where did Homo Sapiens evolve and when did they leave. As far as I remember, I learnt in school that it was Africa, so it was interesting to read about how at around the time when I was born there were still great debates about it. Just goes to show how scientific ideas get adopted in time.

One of the ideas I liked the most that I read about in this book was the cooperative eye hypothesis, which proposes that the reason why the outside layer of our eyeballs – the sclera – is white, has to do with it enabling easier communication and enabling following someone’s gaze and using it for signaling.

The other great topic that runs through the book is how come Homo Sapiens Sapiens is the only human species extant and what were the differences between us and Homo Neanderthalensis. There is the common supposition that our species might have been better adapted to the conditions, but in a lot of cases it’s just not true.

I think I liked this book so much just because it left me in awe at just the fact that at some point human population was quite scarce, and just tens of thousands of years later one animal species has managed to actually leave the planet, while ofcourse statistically the species could have gone extinct as the Neanderthals did.

Here’s an interesting video where Stringer talks about the Neanderthal’s:

Book 202: The Accidental Species by Henry Gee


The Accidental Species: Misunderstandings of Human Evolution by Henry Gee

Finished reading on February 9th, 2016

Rating: 10/10

If you’ve ever marveled about the strange and wonderful creatures that are humans, this book might be of interest to you.
In this book Henry Gee talks about some of the most common things that people believe about evolution of the human species and also separately of evolution and of humans themselves.
It was a great book where you certainly get a better idea of human evolution than you might in a high school level biology (that’s where you’d be taught about evolution, right?) class – not in a textbook style at all but as a narrative.
The book deals with such problems as the small amount of fossil finds of hominins and the in general incomplete fossil record of anything really. You get an idea of how much we still don’t know about how humans came about to evolve in the way they did and end up such strange big-brained bipedal creatures with little hair and no tail who resemble birds in several ways in their social behavior rather than great apes.

I very much enjoyed reading this book – you get a little bit of background on the fossil finds and the main point – that humans are not special compared to any other species of animal or plant in any other way except for the fact that (probably)we happen to represent the species.

The book was fun, very informative and was over way too quickly.

I’d highly recommend reading this book to anyone who feels that they also represent the same unfortunate species.

Book 139: Out of Thin Air by Peter D. Ward


Out of Thin Air by Peter D. Ward

Finished reading on May 7th, 2014

Rating: 10/10

What if one of the main driving forces for evolution has been the changing level of oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere? How could we find out? That is the fascinating way forward in this book.

In the beginning of the book we get acquainted with different respiratory systems – different types of gills and lungs, that will naturally have an important part to play in this book as the author traces changes in the atmosphere’s oxygen content from about 540 million years ago to the present and even a little bit further while looking at how evolution has shaped life to be sustainable under different conditions.

Out of Thin Air comprises of chapters that trace the changes in certain lifeforms with some hypotheses how it might have a connection to atmospheric oxygen content. For example one of Ward’s hypotheses is:

“Reduced levels of oxygen stimulate higher rates of disparity (the diversity of body plans) than do high levels of oxygen” (p.47 Hypothesis 2.1)

The reasoning behind it being that it is easier for animals to survive at high levels of oxygen and they wouldn’t develop any coping mechanisms or ways of using even more oxygen than they already use, but during low levels of oxygen animals have to evolve to adapt to the conditions.

It is certainly a fascinating book (if me rating it 10/10 didn’t give a hint before), as it deals with different lifeforms that have had gills to lungs, from mollusks and fish to dinosaurs and birds.

Very interesting, I’ll be reading it again at some point, it definitely makes one look differently at what might be some of the driving forces of evolution, and maybe even think of how it might end up totally different on a far-away Goldilocks planet….

And the book has dinosaurs, what else can you want?