A top-notch book of natural science that busts myths as it entertains.



A cheerful and knowledgeable popular science review of female animals.

For decades, writes British science writer Cooke, “studies of intrasexual competition focused on male competition for mates, and the combative potential of females was largely ignored by science. The resulting data gap on females then masqueraded as knowledge. It’s assumed females aren’t competitive, and theories are based upon that understanding—when the truth is we just haven’t been paying attention.” The author emphasizes that it was only at the end of the 20th century that women began to enter biology in large numbers. Many turned their attention to female animals, heretofore considered too boring to bother to study, and discovered that “true till-death-do-us-part sexual monogamy…proved to be extremely rare, found in less than 7 percent of known species.” A skilled journalist, Cooke has traveled the world to interview experts, most of them women, who have performed groundbreaking research and are unafraid to confront skeptical male colleagues. Despite deploring his Victorian sensibilities, Cooke remains a Darwin enthusiast, but she maintains that his later (and lesser known) theory of sexual selection deserves equal status with natural selection. Readers will receive a superb education in the evolution and mechanics of animal sex as well as countless colorful anecdotes describing bizarre reproductive behavior. Readers will find the familiar account of female spiders eating males as they try to mate, but there is much more to discover in Cooke’s fascinating pages: Almost all birds are monogamous, but it’s a social monogamy; 90% of female birds sneak away from the nest to copulate with multiple males, so a single clutch of eggs can have many fathers. Permanently attached to a rock, a barnacle possesses the longest penis for its size in the animal kingdom, but this is purely functional, enabling it to search for neighboring females. If there are no females within reach, as a last resort, the hermaphroditic creature fertilizes itself.

A top-notch book of natural science that busts myths as it entertains.

Pub Date: June 14, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5416-7489-9

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Basic Books

Review Posted Online: April 27, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2022

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A straightforward, carefully detailed presentation of how ``fruit comes from flowers,'' from winter's snow-covered buds through pollination and growth to ripening and harvest. Like the text, the illustrations are admirably clear and attractive, including the larger-than-life depiction of the parts of the flower at different stages. An excellent contribution to the solidly useful ``Let's-Read-and-Find-Out-Science'' series. (Nonfiction/Picture book. 4-9)

Pub Date: Jan. 30, 1992

ISBN: 0-06-020055-3

Page Count: 32

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1991

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A quirky wonder of a book.



A Peabody Award–winning NPR science reporter chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century scientist and how her quest led to significant revelations about the meaning of order, chaos, and her own existence.

Miller began doing research on David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) to understand how he had managed to carry on after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his work. A taxonomist who is credited with discovering “a full fifth of fish known to man in his day,” Jordan had amassed an unparalleled collection of ichthyological specimens. Gathering up all the fish he could save, Jordan sewed the nameplates that had been on the destroyed jars directly onto the fish. His perseverance intrigued the author, who also discusses the struggles she underwent after her affair with a woman ended a heterosexual relationship. Born into an upstate New York farm family, Jordan attended Cornell and then became an itinerant scholar and field researcher until he landed at Indiana University, where his first ichthyological collection was destroyed by lightning. In between this catastrophe and others involving family members’ deaths, he reconstructed his collection. Later, he was appointed as the founding president of Stanford, where he evolved into a Machiavellian figure who trampled on colleagues and sang the praises of eugenics. Miller concludes that Jordan displayed the characteristics of someone who relied on “positive illusions” to rebound from disaster and that his stand on eugenics came from a belief in “a divine hierarchy from bacteria to humans that point[ed]…toward better.” Considering recent research that negates biological hierarchies, the author then suggests that Jordan’s beloved taxonomic category—fish—does not exist. Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence.

A quirky wonder of a book.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6027-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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