Biology

Jonathan Silvertown’s The Long and the Short of It

November 8, 2013
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Jonathan Silvertown’s The Long and the Short of It

Jonathan Silvertown’s The Long and the Short of It: The Science of Life Span and Aging explores the study of longevity from the perspective of natural history and considers the cases for aging, heredity, and decay via stories about the senescence of potatoes, water fleas, dragonflies, men, women, bacteria, poets, and kings. Along the way, Silvertown addresses key concerns, such as: What causes again, and what determines the length of an individual life? If the lifespan of our species is increasing so dramatically, why haven’t we evolved to become immortal? The below excerpt introduces the foundation of his argument (here, both literal and figurative), beginning with a rumination on the Great Pavement of Westminster Abbey:

***

Sooner or later, everyone ponders their mortality. It is the privilege of youth to be oblivious to death, but the fate of old age to contemplate oblivion. Each person searches for answers in his or her own way, but eventually all ask the same questions: How long might I live, and why must I die? What rhyme or reason is there in aging or mortality? Long before science offered reasons, art . . .

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The Idea of Nature, the Nature of Ideas

July 17, 2013
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The Idea of Nature, the Nature of Ideas

Guest blogger: Ryo Yamaguchi

It is hard to imagine the world—or ourselves for that matter —without DNA, but for most of our intellectual history we knew nothing about those slender molecules. The modern microscope was invented near the beginning of the seventeenth century, with Friedrich Miescher isolating DNA in the late nineteenth, and between those times theories regarding biological formation and reproduction were explored by Enlightenment thinkers and scientists such as John Locke, Anton van Leeuwenhoek, Carl Linnaeus, and Comte de Buffon. We overlook it now as common knowledge, but biological reproduction was something these people had to think through, to explain without DNA, and the debates between concepts such as God, mechanics, fermentation, homunculi—and how they could inform life’s larger lineages, of the differences between species, of a natural history as a whole—abounded.

Enter Immanuel Kant. Many of us do not think of Kant as a biologist, but he was deeply interested in natural history throughout his career, an interest that Jennifer Mensch takes up in Kant’s Organicism, published last month. Situating Kant among the above thinkers, she shows not only that Kant had theories of his own on the . . .

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Introducing UCP’s Summer Shorts

June 18, 2013
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Introducing UCP’s Summer Shorts

“Still longer than a tweet and still shorter than A River Runs Through It—”

SUMMER CHICAGO SHORTS

Publication Date: June 18, 2013

The University of Chicago Press is pleased to announce the launch of our summer series of Chicago Shorts—distinguished selections, including never-before-published material, off-the-radar reads culled from the University of Chicago Press’s commanding archive, and the best of our newest books, all priced for impulse buying and presented exclusively in DRM-free e-book format.

Aimed at the general reader and running the gamut from the latest in contemporary scholarship to can’t-miss chapters from classic publications, Chicago Shorts continues to turn the page on the twenty-first-century reading experience.

With summer upon us, we’ve selected a group of shorts that offer all the pleasures you look for in that season: they’re light, funny, and engaging; they stoke our dreams of faraway places and outdoor adventures; and like summer itself—they leave you wanting more.

Among the Summer Shorts, you’ll find:

Ain’t Love Grand! From Earthworms to Elephant Seals by Marty Crump God: The Autobiography by Franco Ferrucci (trans. by Raymond Rosenthal) Spiral Jetta Summer: Swimming in the Great Salt Lake by Erin Hogan It’s Alive! The . . .

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The Book of Barely Imagined Beings

May 17, 2013
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The Book of Barely Imagined Beings

A recent review from the New Yorker—and more about the book here.

“The wings of the pterosaur take us to the Wright Brothers, the pinhole eyes of the nautilus to the invention of the daguerreotype. In fact, the linkage is pointed: it’s not nature’s story or ours but both together. Divorcing human achievements from their relations in natural life means that Homo sapiens, too, is only ‘barely imagined.’”

. . .

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How Animals Grieve (for Howard Stern)

May 3, 2013
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How Animals Grieve (for Howard Stern)

Barbara J. King is having quite a week—at least in terms of traversing brave new (pop-cultural) frontiers for the scholarly pursuits of animal intelligence and emotion. First came an excerpt from King’s latest book How Animals Grieve in a recent edition of the New York Post—noteworthy enough; so noteworthy, in fact, that it led to a mention of the book and King’s work on an episode of Howard Stern’s syndicated SIRIUS radio show (Stern, who along with his wife, is an animal rights advocate, experienced the traumatic loss of his English bulldog Bianca just a year ago; he even gave the book a plug via his Twitter feed). As if all this weren’t enough to render a tear in academic publishing’s space-time continuum, King herself made an appearance on Stern’s show, evidencing some of the ideas surrounding animal mourning that her book draws upon.

In How Animals Grieve, King considers a recent shift in anthropological attention to our companion species, which recognizes our long-chided tendency to anthropomorphize animal emotions might instead hold grains of truth. She tells of elephants surrounding their matriarch as she weakens and dies, and, in the following days, attending to her corpse as if holding a vigil. . . .

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Earth Day

April 22, 2013
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Earth Day

As Adam Rome’s new history of Earth Day–recently reviewed in the New Yorker–reminds us: Earth Day has been around for a long, long time now. And while progress certainly has been made, from the big (the establishment of the EPA) to the small (the fact that when Don Draper casually chucks a beer can into the park in Mad Men, it feels as old-timey as anything in the whole series), the overall project–of conservation, preservation, and restoration–is never done.

Given the strength of our list in science and conservation, it’s no surprise that we’re big Earth Day fans over here–we’d be fans of Earth Year, Earth Millennium, or even Universe Eternity if it could be worked. But you start with what you know, so here we are for Earth Day, with a reminder about some of our best recent conservation photography books, perfect for inspiring and educating people about the importance of biodiversity and conservation.

The best way to appreciate David Liitschwager’s A World in One Cubic Foot is to check out the slideshow at National Geographic‘s site. There you’ll see Liittschwager’s breathtaking portraits of the stunning variety (and quantity) of living things that passed through a single cubic . . .

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Introducing Chicago Shorts

February 1, 2013
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Introducing Chicago Shorts

“Longer than a tweet and shorter than A River Runs Through It—”

INTRODUCING CHICAGO SHORTS

 The University of Chicago Press is pleased to announce the launch of Chicago Shorts—distinguished selections, including never-before-published material, off-the-radar reads culled from the University of Chicago Press’s commanding archive, and the best of our newest books, all priced for impulse buying and presented exclusively in DRM-free e-book format.

Aimed at the general reader and running the gamut from the latest in contemporary scholarship to can’t-miss chapters from classic publications, Chicago Shorts turn the page on the twenty-first-century reading experience.

Among the inaugural batch of nine Shorts, you’ll find:

What Every Novelist Needs to Know about Narrators by Wayne C. Booth Ebert’s Bests by Roger Ebert Nixon and the Silver Screen by Mark Feeney A Little History of Photography Criticism; or, Why Do Photography Critics Hate Photography? by Susie Linfield Custer’s Last Stand: The Unfinished Manuscript by Norman Maclean Shylock on Trial: The Appellate Briefs by Richard Posner and Charles Fried Erika and Klaus Mann in New York: Escape from the Magic Mountain by Andrea Weiss Bill Veeck’s Crosstown Classic by Bill Veeck with Ed Linn Rabbits with Horns and Other Astounding . . .

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Marc Bekoff on the sentience of animals

May 9, 2012
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Marc Bekoff on the sentience of animals

Marc Bekoff, professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, is an internationally acknowledged expert on animal behavior and cognition. In 2009, the University of Chicago Press published Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals, a book he coauthored with Jessica Pierce, which uses cutting-edge developments in psychology, biology, and cognitive science to demonstrate  the broad repertoire of moral behaviors and nuanced emotions exhibited by animals.

Recently, Bekoff was a guest on ABC News with Diane Sawyer, where he contributed to a feature about service veterans reuniting with their companion animals. The juxtaposition of Bekoff’s commentary, which was fed into the segment via video chat, with the documentary footage of dogs greeting their returning owners in backyards, airports, and living rooms, illustrated another angle of Bekoff’s research: animals are sentient, social beings, capable of developing deep bonds—the experience of which clearly transcends even technological mediation.

Bekoff recently commented on Pierce’s forthcoming book The Last Walk: Reflections on Our Pets at the End of Their Lives, which combines wrenching personal narratives and scientific research to consider a wide range of questions about animal aging, end-of-life care, and death. “Decisions about how to treat an animal . . .

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Catching up with Carl Zimmer, or, Are your pets really friends?

February 22, 2012
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Catching up with Carl Zimmer, or, Are your pets really friends?

From Promotions Director Levi Stahl:

We don’t have a staff member whose sole job is to keep up with what scientist, journalist, blogger, radio personality, and Press author Carl Zimmer is up to, but I’m beginning to suspect we should. This week, Carl’s been all over the place: first, on The Loom, his Discover magazine blog, he announced the launch of Download the Universe, a new collaborative venture from fifteen scientists and writers to cover science e-books. Carl explains:

We are fifteen writers and scientists who want to explore this new form. On a regular basis, we’ll be delivering new reviews of ebooks about technology, medicine, natural history, neuroscience, astronomy, and anything else that fits under the comfortably large rubric of science. We also define ebooks generously—everything from a plain-vanilla pdf on an author’s web site to a Kindle Single to an elaborate iPad app.

And since that apparently wasn’t enough to keep Carl busy, he also had the cover story in this week’s issue of Time: The Surprising Science of Animal Friendships.

Which is all the excuse we need to post cute photos of our cats!

So are these cats, all snuggled up together, really friends? To find . . .

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The economics of fairness, or pass the lutefisk

July 12, 2011
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The economics of fairness, or pass the lutefisk

Natalie Angier is a science journalist—and an outspoken athiest—with a thirst for. . . . fairness? At least that’s the case in her recent piece for the New York Times, in which she explores the wealth gap that’s helped spur our worst economic crisis since the Great Depression in light of research on human nature and the evolution of human social organization. Interesting to point out that another NYT study bills the average top executive’s salary at ten million dollars and rising twelve percent per year.

And just who’s fair?

Angier spells it out for us:

Darwinian-minded analysts argue that Homo sapiens have an innate distaste for hierarchical extremes, the legacy of our long nomadic prehistory as tightly knit bands living by veldt-ready team-building rules: the belief in fairness and reciprocity, a capacity for empathy and impulse control, and a willingness to work cooperatively in ways that even our smartest primate kin cannot match.

In The Fair Society: The Science of Human Nature and the Pursuit of Social Justice, Peter Corning draws on evidence similar to what Angier cites in her article: the evolutionary record, along with the latest findings from the behavioral and biological sciences. The result? A . . .

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