Two books have recently come across my desk by scientists that we work with frequently and that we count as great champions of Boreal forest conservation. Both books are enjoyable reads about fascinating subjects and worth finding to add to your own library.
Many bird people know the name Gordon Orians for his thorough and groundbreaking research on behavioral ecology of Red-winged Blackbirds and other birds. But Gordon’s research career has spanned many other topics including some really interesting perspectives on why we humans are scared of some things and find contentment and joy in other things.
Published by University of Chicago Press in 2014, his book “Snakes, Sunrises, and Shakespeare – How Evolution Shapes Our Loves and Fears” explores the deep roots of human behavioral evolution that influence our daily lives even if we don’t think about why. The book has been getting some great press for good reason as it brings to the fore explanations for our emotions and behavioral reactions to music, landscapes, smells, and tastes. With chapter titles like “Whistling for Honey” and “The First Sniff,” you know that you are in for an adventure when you start reading!
Wildlife ecologist Jim Schaefer is best known for his work on large mammals, particularly Woodland Caribou. But Jim, like Gordon, has research interests that span a broad array of concepts and issues in ecology and conservation. Jim has also recognized the importance of communicating about science, not just to his peers and his students, but to the public—the people that we live with, in our neighborhoods and communities. To further the goal of increasing public understanding of science issues and concepts Jim has been publishing essays and columns for years in the Peterborough Examiner, Toronto Star, Edmonton Journal and other publications. His book “Two Houses of Oikos - Essays from the Environmental Age” published by Moon Willow Press in 2015 has collected more than 30 of his favorite of these essays into a delightful collection (an article covering the book in the Peterborough Examiner can be viewed here).
Covering topics as diverse as caribou conservation to the application of the law of probabilities to the question of gambling with pieces running the gamut from bite-sized appetizers to full meaty entrees, the book is fun and eye-opening to read. One of my many favorites is “The Measure of Things” within which Jim has us imagine ourselves as an ant measuring the length of the Newfoundland coast and then transforms us into a giant doing the same. It turns out that the essay gives practical meaning to the scientific issue of scale—a concept that many people would normally find yawn-worthy but one that Jim makes easy to understand and meaningful. Jim is generously donating all author royalties from the book to the Symons Trust for Canadian Studies, established in honor of Thomas H. B. Symons, the founding President of Trent University (where Jim is a professor), to support and enhance the study of Canada.