Saturday, June 18, 2005

Le Scholar Oblige (Another Book Meme)

I was tagged by Phila at Bouphonia with another book meme! I was tagged quite awhile ago, in fact, and I apologize for being such a slowpoke to respond, but you'll soon read more about why it took me so long. Anyway, in honor of Phila's choice, I chose a variation on Phila's blog entry title for as my own title.

Number of books I own

I currently own about 2500 books. My book population was cut in half when I moved from Seattle to NYC, and I have purchased few books (maybe 50) since I arrived here, almost three years ago.

Last book I bought

Books, that should say "books". I am currently waiting (endlessly waiting) for my copy of the latest Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince by JK Rowling and while I wait, I suffered a moment of desperation so I purchased some books for the first time in over one year (being broke on your ass is a terrible fate for a bibliophile).

I purchased two evolution/dinosaur books;

Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo by Sean Carroll

Terrible Lizard: The First Dinosaur Hunters and the Birth of a New Science by Deborah Cadbury

two epidemiological books;

The Fever Trail: In Search of the Cure for Malaria by Mark Honigsbaum, and

Federal Bodysnatchers and the New Guinea Virus: Tales of Parasites, People, and Politics by Robert Desowitz

and two works of subversion that I do not yet own;

a photoreproduction of Darwin's The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex

and Margarget Mead's Coming of Age in Samoa (I barely resisted adding her Growing up in New Guinea to the pile).

I purchased these books at the Natural History Museum at a substantial discount. Incidentally, I was most pleased to notice that the Natural History Museum bookstore is crammed full of copies of evolution books, including several more that I plan to purchase as soon as I have the money; SJ Gould's Wonderful Life and his monstrously huge tome, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory. I wonder if the Smithsonian bookstore has such a wide variety of evolution books available?

Last book I read

Since I have four hours to read in air-conditioned comfort on four days per week, I have made good use of this time. I just finished zooming through Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy again. This is the first time I've read the "trilogy" in approximately one decade (I say "trilogy" with quotes because I actually started by reading The Hobbit). I liked these books more this time than I did the last time I read them (and I liked them a LOT the last time I read them). I wish I had reread them more often!

I am currently reading Endless Forms Most Beautiful. This book describes how some genes act as "on/off" switches that control the expression of many other genes and goes on to discuss how changes in the function of these "controller genes" provides so much of the evolutionary variety in form and function that we see, while using so few genes. This was old news to me (a molecular biologist and former cancer researcher), but I wonder how many non-scientists understand what Carroll is talking about?

I am also wading through the very dry and needlessly dense tome, Shakespeare, Einstein, and the Bottom Line: The Marketing of Higher Education by David Kirp, a book that discusses how American education is being destroyed (or helped, if you can believe that) by the new educational philosophy of modeling universities after corporations. It's too bad that most universities are being modeled after Enron or Tyco, but you'll read more about my opinions on this matter soon enough.

Five books that mean a lot to me

I find this question nearly impossible to answer and in fact, I have been "stuck" trying to answer this one question for almost two weeks! There are so many books out there that I love that I simply cannot easily choose "just five" that mean something to me (I guess that I have approximately 300 meaningful books that I can list). But here are five that I finally managed to think of this past week or so;

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. It is difficult for me to choose just one Steinbeck work to be most impressed with, but this is one of his that truly affected me longest (the other was Of Mice and Men) and, because I first read this when I was approximately 13 or 14 years old, it gave me my sense of justice, decency and perseverence that my parental units could never provide and yes, it did hone my cynicism to a certain degree as well.

The Malay Archipelago, the Land of the Orang-Utan and the Bird of Paradise; A Narrative of Travel, With Studies of Man and Nature by Alfred Russell Wallace. I also read this when I was approximately 12 or 13 years old, and it absolutely changed my life. It is beautifully, almost poetically, written. I was immediately charmed by the Indonesian islands and her amazing animals and plants, by Wallace's scientific ideas as well as his prose, and I was sympathetic with the natives and their terrible treatment at the hands of the Dutch and British invaders. But more than anything, this book hinted about evolution and biogeography and I believe this was where I gained such an early appreciation for the logical beauty of these concepts. I never again looked at a map the same way after reading this book.

The Call of The Wild by Jack London. Even though this is a book about a dog, I keenly felt Buck's life as if it was my own, primarily because of similar events that occurred in my life and in that of London's fictional hero. I related to Buck's courage and determination because he persevered despite almost unbearable adversity and cruelty, and as a result, Buck comes to know who he truly is. I also really appreciated that, in spite of everything, Buck was able to truly love his last owner, John Thornton. I grieved that his great love resulted in his last, greatest, and most painful transformation. Nevertheless, Buck not only survives but also adapts to his situation beautifully.

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. When I first started to read this book, I thought it was science fiction, especially after I read this; Then a strange blight crept over the area and everything began to change. Some evil spell had settled on the community... Everywhere was a shadow of death. But the book goes on, with astonishing, lyrical prose that I truly wish I could emulate, to describe the consequences of one of humanity's actions; indiscriminate use of DDT (and also other pesticides that were not yet invented in those days) and its effects upon both the environment and people. It also reveals that the intended targets, insect pests, evolve resistance to these chemicals , which leads to an ugly no-win arms-race scenario. Ugly topic, beautiful prose, impeccable logic. Quite a stark contrast, huh? This book revealed the urgency of the terrible and widespread effects of pesticides and other poisons while it also opened my eyes to the profound effects that words can have upon an entire country and its policymakers.

Beak of the Finch by Jonathan Weiner. This is one of the most beautifully written books I've read about evolution. Not only does it describe how evolution occurs, but it tells the story of Rosemary and Peter Grant, two evolutionary biologists who live part time in the Galapagos, and the finches who share their island with them. I loved this book because it so eloquently showed how evolution occurs through the generations due to changes in the environment, and from there, it is easy to deduce how other challenges (especially sexual selection) could also result in huge, rapid evolutionary changes in a short period of time. The author does a good job describing evolution and the historical development of this theory by quoting Darwin. But most beautiful and powerful was the Grants' lifetime of work; small measured differences in beak size of these little finches ultimately make one of the most powerful and accessible descriptions of evolution as it occurs, every day, before our eyes. Weiner apparently agrees because he wrote; The beak of the finch is an icon of evolution the way the Bohr atom is an icon of modern physics, and the study of either one shows us more primal energy and eternal change than our minds are built to take in. Yet like the vista of the atoms, the vista of evolution in action, of evolution in the flesh, has enormous implications for our sense of reality, of what life is, and for our sense of power, of what we can do with life.

Pass it on to five more bloggers

Most of the bloggers whose words I follow have already been tagged with this meme. Probably because I was such a slow-poke about finally answering it, but there you go. But I am going to take a risk that a few of them have not yet been tagged by this and I will tag fellow bird lovers PMBryant and nuthatch, Joseph at Corpus Callosum, Dr. Charles whose words I admire greatly, my funny pal at The Hanging Stranger and because I think at least one of these good people has already been tagged by someone else, I will choose a sixth person to make up for my oversight on the matter; my librarian pal, Joe. I can hardly wait to read what you all have to say! But please don't be as slow about answering as I was, okay?

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© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

2 Peer Reviews:

Blogger P.M.Bryant said...

My first meme! Thanks.

12:44 PM  
Blogger GrrlScientist said...

Really?? I am so surprised. I thought you had been tagged before. Well, I can hardly await to read what you have to say.


9:06 AM  

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