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Biologists and laypeople alike have repeatedly claimed victory over life. A thousand years ago we thought we knew almost everything; a hundred years ago, too. But even today, Rob Dunn argues, discoveries we can't yet imagine still await. In a series of vivid portraits of single-minded scientists, Dunn traces the history of human discovery, from the establishment of classification in the eighteenth century to today's attempts to find life in space. The narrative telescopes from a scientist's attempt to find one single thing (a rare ant-emulating beetle species) to another scientist's attempt to find everything in a small patch of jungle in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. With poetry and humor, Dunn reminds readers how tough and exhilarating it is to study the natural world, and why it matters.
The secret history of our most vital organ--the human heartThe Man Who Touched His Own Heart tells the raucous, gory, mesmerizing story of the heart, from the first "explorers" who dug up cadavers and plumbed their hearts' chambers, through the first heart surgeries-which had to be completed in three minutes before death arrived-to heart transplants and the latest medical efforts to prolong our hearts' lives, almost defying nature in the process.Thought of as the seat of our soul, then as a mysteriously animated object, the heart is still more a mystery than it is understood. Why do most animals only get one billion beats? (And how did modern humans get to over two billion-effectively letting us live out two lives?) Why are sufferers of gingivitis more likely to have heart attacks? Why do we often undergo expensive procedures when cheaper ones are just as effective? What do Da Vinci, Mary Shelley, and contemporary Egyptian archaeologists have in common? And what does it really feel like to touch your own heart, or to have someone else's beating inside your chest? Rob Dunn's fascinating history of our hearts brings us deep inside the science, history, and stories of the four chambers we depend on most.
A biologist shows the influence of wild species on our well-being and the world and how nature still clings to us-and always will. We evolved in a wilderness of parasites, mutualists, and pathogens, but we no longer see ourselves as being part of nature and the broader community of life. In the name of progress and clean living, we scrub much of nature off our bodies and try to remove whole kinds of life-parasites, bacteria, mutualists, and predators-to allow ourselves to live free of wild danger. Nature, in this new world, is the landscape outside, a kind of living painting that is pleasant to contemplate but nice to have escaped. The truth, though, according to biologist Rob Dunn, is that while "clean living" has benefited us in some ways, it has also made us sicker in others. We are trapped in bodies that evolved to deal with the dependable presence of hundreds of other species. As Dunn reveals, our modern disconnect from the web of life has resulted in unprecedented effects that immunologists, evolutionary biologists, psychologists, and other scientists are only beginning to understand. Diabetes, autism, allergies, many anxiety disorders, autoimmune diseases, and even tooth, jaw, and vision problems are increasingly plaguing bodies that have been removed from the ecological context in which they existed for millennia. In this eye-opening, thoroughly researched, and well-reasoned book, Dunn considers the crossroads at which we find ourselves. Through the stories of visionaries, Dunn argues that we can create a richer nature, one in which we choose to surround ourselves with species that benefit us, not just those that, despite us, survive.