Book Review

Weanée Kimblewood



Michael J. Benton (Ed.):
The Seventy Great Mysteries of the Natural World: Unlocking the Secrets of Our Planet.

Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Thames & Hudson (October 20, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0500251436
ISBN-13: 978-0500251430
Price: 52.60 EUR

Seventy Great Mysteries for Lays - Easy to Digest

Acanthostega, a dull-looking tretrapod, once paddled with eight digits on each chubby hand through Upper Devonian waters to prepare for a successful career on the mainland. Tulerpeton, one of the first true tetrapods, tramped six-digited through sticky swampland. Their recent colleague, Brachionichthys, routinely uses his highly modified pectoral fins to stroll around today’s sea floor, while Anne Boleyn, the second wife of King Henry VIII., allegedly had six fingers on her right hand (very likely a nasty myth).

Well, in order to respond to the question “Are five fingers essential?” in a mere three pages, the author had to pull out all the stops. He succeeded.

The remaining 301 pages of The Seventy Great Mysteries of the Natural World are also an amusing read (at least most are). The chapters’ authors (over 60 experts in their relative topics) make a good job of it, the book’s layout is clear, the figures are impressive and the words are plain. Pretty much every question on life, the universe and everything is posed in this weigthy tome (and answered in most cases, too). Take as examples “How did the Earth form?” (by discs of dust and gas), “Why did the dinosaurs die out?”(because they were poorly adapted to climate variations), “How do new species form?”(by hybrid speciation and lineage splitting), “How do dogs see the world?” (like red-green colour blind humans) and “How deep can life live under ice and rock?” (up to about 6 km).

Are these really great mysteries?

Of course, it is subject to debate whether such questions are really “great mysteries” or rather absorbing issues from the natural sciences that have already been solved. Aside from its lurid subtitle, Unlocking the Secrets of Our Planet, this book is a specialised resource for literate people of 14 years and above – no more, no less.

In spite of the book’s overall good impression, some of the chapter headings are blithering nonsense. Take chapter 9 as an example, with the title “Why do mammals rule the world?” – an absurd question that might as well be called “Why do bacteria/insects/cockroaches/stupid-small-bugs-with-long-tentacles rule the world?”.

In addition, some chapters pose grandiose questions that aren’t satisfactorily answered (“Were the dinosaurs warm-blooded?”; “Why are insects so diverse?”; “What will Earth’s climate be like in the future?”).

A second negative point is that many illustrations are mere eye-catchers without any additional value. Many a diagram contain terms and refer to processes that aren’t explained in the accompanying text, making them a waste of space.

All things considered, The Seventy Great Mysteries of the Natural World is a visually stunning, heavy (1.7 kg), well-bound hardcover book whose contents lay readers will find easy to digest.





Letzte Änderungen: 16.07.2013




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