Posts Tagged ‘review’

REVIEWS FROM THE REV: “O: The Intimate History of the Orgasm” by Jonathan Margolis

Sunday, February 13th, 2011

From the author’s agency’s website:

“Jonathan Margolis writes for the Guardian, the Financial Times magazine and Time.

He was the co-author, with Jane Walmsley, of Hothouse People: Can We Create Super Human Beings? (Pan 1987) and A Brief History of Tomorrow (Bloomsbury 2000), which analysed the successes and failures of futurologists. He has also written a number of showbiz biographies including Uri Geller: Magician or Mystic? (Orion 1998).

Jonathan’s most recent books are O: The Intimate History of the Orgasm (Century 2004) and Mob Log: Scenes from my Mobile (Artnik 2005), a follow up to his Sunday Times column, Random.

He lives in London with the author Sue Margolis and their family.”

Author Jonathan Margolis

REVIEW: As I walked into the library (ready to prowl the shelves for my next book) one thing was clear: I wanted to read about sex.  I had gorged on American History and Evolution, and needed to refresh my palette with something a bit more fun, a bit more salacious.  Lucky for me, Jonathan Margolis book “O: The Intimate History of the Orgasm” was ready and willing to service my needs.

This is a fun book, in a lot of ways.  Although it contains a lot of history (wasn’t that was I was trying to avoid?) at least it’s serious history about a subject that is pretty damn entertaining to read about.  And the author has a dry and earthy with that makes him a great tour guide through our often confused relationship with the human orgasm.

Like all good history books about humans, it begins with what we infer about pre-history from the evidence we have, and then takes on the various theories that have held sway through different periods and cultures in recorded history.  But Margolis is not satisfied with the seemingly universal attitudes toward human sexuality that have been put forward by historians (based upon medical texts, sermons and writing of specific periods. such as the notorious “Victorian” age): he digs a little deeper and acknowledges the reality that whatever the pronouncements from pulpit or physician’s office, people have been figuring out their own orgasms for a long, long time.

In the end, Margolis takes an interesting turn as he tries to predict which of our own current ideas about the orgasm will be looked upon as narrow and foolish by future students of human sexuality (as he points out the mythologies that have held sway even in our lifetime, such as the exhaled expectation of the “mutual” orgasm).

The reality is that we live in a time of some pretty good information about sex, all things considered, even as old ideas and myths persist in our consciousness (for instance, this book came out after the famous “G” spot was shown, at last, to also belong in the category of “myth”).

This is the kind of book that is highly informative, terribly entertaining, and also edifying, as it is always good to find out what everybody else is really doing…or not doing.

I’ll take a moment to ask (rhetorically) why no one at the publishing house seems to have taken a moment to read through this book for typographical errors, as they are legion.  But never mind that, let’s talk about sex!

t.n.s.r. bob

REVIEWS FROM THE REV: “Days of Destiny: Crossroads in American History”, James M. McPherson, Alan Brinkley, General Editors.

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

“America’s Greatest Historians Examine Thirty-One Uncelebrated Days That Changed the Course of History”

When I’m not reading about science, I bend toward history.  Generally, that means early human history (really early).  But with the political temperature rising, it seems, over the last few years, I have also been working on my knowledge of American history.  Boy, is there a lot I didn’t know.  Of course, who knows how much of what I was taught in public school has simply been lost along the way.  Still, with so many agitated Americans holding up copies of The Constitution, and our present “global” awareness that brings new corners of the world to our attention every day, it seems a good time to re-acquaint ourselves with our own country.

This is a good book for such a quest, and a nice “next step” from “America’s Beginnings” that I reviewed two weeks ago (on this blog).  As in that book, this one takes single events from our development as a nation and invites an historian to go into detail on that event.  The collection is diverse, covering developments in government, science, entertainment and culture.  What we might lose in terms of a single narrative history we gain in the luxury of depth.

Each of us will find, I’m certain, certain chapters more engaging than others, but each of them seemed worthy of reading.

I won’t go into detail about the 31 events described in this book, but I will tell you the general impression it gave me.  Our “American” character has been with us from the beginning in a stew of heedless profiteering and social conscience.  In this teeming mix individuals and movements have arisen that have altered the trajectory of our progress, often for the good, but not always.

Consider the 14th Amendment to the Constitution that was steadily gutted of it’s intended meaning and power for a generation after it was enacted, only to be gradually restored by another generation and then, in more recent history, made the basis for enshrining in law our changing sense of fairness regarding the rights of women, minorities and today the rights of gays to serve openly in the U.S. Military.

Just like the theories of science, the United States is not a fixed idea or a settled matter, and is ever evolving and adapting to changing technologies, conditions, political trends and social movements.  This is good to understand in the midst of so many who think they have an idea of a point in our past that we must “return to”.  As “Days of Destiny” makes abundantly clear, there is no going back in history.  There is only the present where we the living play our roles in the future destiny of our country.

It’s a good read, with something for everyone.  I feel much better for knowing more about the history of the women’s rights movements, the real movers and shakers of Roosevelt’s “New Deal”, the “Great Awakening” and twenty-eight other “Days of Destiny”.

t.n.s.r. bob

From the Publisher’s website:
“America’s greatest historians examine thirty-one uncelebrated days that changed the course of history There are moments in American history when something old ends and something new begins. These are the days of destiny. We asked some of the most respected (and best-selling) historians of our time to choose specific days on which American history turned. Their responses make up the month’s worth of essays included in this volume. Some chose wars and battles, politics and presidents; others found answers in less well-known areas of historical study: the Great Awakening of the 1740s, the Indian Wars of the 1870s, the plight of working women at the turn of the twentieth century, the countercultural efflorescence of the late 1960s. In Days of Destiny: Crossroads in American History, the Society of American Historians brings you thirty-one engaging narratives, each illuminating with crisp prose and unparalleled scholarship an event that profoundly shaped the nation and world in which we live in. From King Philip’s 1675 parley with white colonial officials to the 1973 research conference at which the biotechnology revolution was announced, these vignettes will transport you to places and introduce you to people who have made a continuing difference in the history of America.”

REVIEWS FROM THE REV: “The Top 10 Myths About Evolution” by Cameron M. Smith and Charles Sullivan.

Sunday, January 23rd, 2011

Biographical material from the publisher’s website:

“Cameron M. Smith, Ph.D. (Portland, OR) is an adjunct faculty associate at Portland State University’s department of anthropology and a popular science writer who has published articles in Scientific American MIND, Archaeology, Playboy, Spaceflight, Skeptical Inquirer, The Writer, and other publications.

Charles Sullivan (Portland, OR) has graduate degrees in philosophy and English and is an adjunct faculty member in Portland Community College’s writing department. He has published articles with Cameron M. Smith in Playboy, Skeptical Inquirer, and The Writer.”

How could I pass up such an appealing little book that offered such a concise summation of the most common mis-perceptions about evolution?  Well, I couldn’t.  Didn’t even try.  And although I found myself thinking that I’ve read better writing on the subject (and better dissections of what the Theory of Evolution is really all about), this book soon grew on me.  My affection for it is based — at least in part — upon the authors’ unflinching approach to their mission: stripping bare the hobby-horse chargers that are often sent in to battle the flesh and blood steeds of science.

Mythology is endemic and persistent among us humans, this much is clear.  But as this book takes on the most popular myths regarding evolution, one by one, one of the things that is revealed is just how far back in history some of these myths go.  One would easily conclude (were he or she to take humans to be consistently rational creatures) that once the scientific evidence began to mount that religion’s long hold on historical and scientific veracity was built upon nothing but made-up stories, people would drop the mythology and accept the evidence.  We all know this is not what has occurred.  In fact, resistance to science is alive and well (and some days seems to be increasing) in our own time.

Now the authors make it clear that science and evolution have nothing to say on the matter of the existence of god or any supernatural force.  However, because so many of the attacks on reason, science and the Theory of Evolution are based in religious belief, one can’t defend science without disturbing religion.  And so it goes here, especially in the final chapters that deal with the 8th, 9th and 10th myths (“Creationism Disproves Evolution”, “Intelligent Design is Science” and “Evolution is Immoral”).

On the whole, I can recommend this short book as a good primer on what evolution actually does and does not say about life on Earth.  And to tempt you a bit more, let me list the remaining 7 myths not mentioned so far: 1: Survival of the Fittest; 2: It’s Just a Theory; 3: The Ladder of Progress; 4: The Missing Link; 5: Evolution is Random; 6: People Come from Monkeys; 7: Nature’s Perfect Balance.

Happy reading!

t.n.s.r. bob

REVIEWS FROM THE REV: “40 Days and 40 Nights: Darwin, Intelligent Design, God, Oxycontin and Other Oddities on Trial in Pennsylvania” by Matthew Chapman.

Sunday, January 16th, 2011

Matthew Chapman is an author, film director and screenwriter.  He is also the great-great grandson of Charles Darwin (yes, THAT Charles Darwin).  Chapman decided to travel to Dover, Pennsylvania to cover the famous Dover vs. Kitzmiller trial in which a Bush-appointed Federal Judge put a very large nail in the coffin of the Intelligent Design movement’s attempt to get Creationism into the science classroom (in this case, a 9th-grade biology class in Dover High School).

This book is a tremendous read about a great story, and the author spends the time it takes to introduce us to a rather large cast of characters while giving us a fast-moving day-to-day sense of the very long trial (that did, in fact, last 40 days and 40 nights!).

Though not for a moment taken in by the “Creationism in a Lab Coat” of Intelligent Design, Chapman develops a genuine affection for the varied lot of primates involved in the case.  There is something about his position as an observer (he was shooting a documentary as well) that gives him a certain freedom to comment and describe that a journalist or lawyer would not have.

His observations are piquant, witty and warm, and never mean.  He’s just the kind of person we might hope would judge any of us were he sitting in a jury box (which he does through most of the trial, since this is where most of the press sat in this non-jury process).

The Americans who populate this trial are people we all know and can relate to.  And though it offers a chilling glimpse into the kind of religion-fueled belligerent ignorance that drives a certain portion of our population, it also reveals the steady sense of fairness that people from a wide range of religious and social background can (and do) draw upon to reach consensus.

The final chapter is a sort of call to action against the forces that ignored both science and law in their attempt to bring religion into the science classroom and which are ever at work and show no signs of letting up.

This book is part procedural thriller, part popular science and part comedy.  But primarily it is the highly-engaging story of the people of a small town in Pennsylvania that became the center of a nation’s interest for 40 very long days and nights, after which a Republican Baptist Federal Judge — in the best traditions of American fairness — ruled against a school board that was trying to pull a fast one in a public high school.

t.n.s.r. bob

REVIEWS FROM THE REV: “America’s Beginnings: The Dramatic Events that Shaped a Nation’s Character” by Tony Williams, by t.n.s.r. bob

Sunday, January 9th, 2011

“America’s Beginnings: The Dramatic Events that Shaped a Nation’s Character” by Tony Williams in association with Colonial Williamsburg.  (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. 2010).

From the dust jacket: “Tony Williams is the author of Hurricane of Independence: The Untold Story of the Deadly Storm and the Deciding Moment of the American Revolution and The Pox and the Covenant: Franklin, Mather, and the Epidemic that Changed America’s Destiny.  He resides in Williamsburg, Virginia”

Since I never know when I might be invited to another TEA Party confab, I try not to pass up any chance to deepen (or refresh) my knowledge of American history.  So when I saw America’s Beginnings on the “new arrivals” shelf at the library, I gave it a try.

This is a book that accomplishes it’s stated aim to give a brief account of “…fifty of the most important and dramatic events from the colonial and Revolutionary period”.  You’ll find all of the familiar events, plus a few that aren’t so familiar (the “Indian Uprising of 1622″ or the “Boston Smallpox Epidemic of 1721″ anyone?).

Who knew that the Boston smallpox outbreak witnessed the first attempt at inoculation supported by, of all people, Puritan Minister Cotton Mather (a member of the Royal Society)?  Or that famous patriot John Adams successfully defended the Redcoats who were tried for the Boston massacre (how many TEA Party types would call him a patriot for doing something like that today, I wonder)?

Each event is covered in just a few pages, sketched out in broad terms with some entertaining glimpses into the personalities involved.  All in all, I think it’s a good and useful book (and it includes a bibliography in the back for further reading about those events that might grab your interest).

My only criticisms are the surprising number of typographic errors in the text (something I’ve been noticing in several books of late) and a sense that some of the sharper edges of some of the divisions in Revolutionary America have been sanded down a bit.

Having said that, the cumulative effect of reading this book is a nice sense of understanding the character of colonial and revolutionary “Americans”.  There are some genuinely heroic people in our past, to be sure, but I am still struck with a certain amazement that we ever managed to reach enough of a consensus to form an actual nation made up of so many rugged individualists.

These men (mostly) were studying the past and looking into an uncertain future as they seized upon an historic opportunity to build a new nation in the way they thought best.  That they seem to have labored consistently from a devotion to the greater good is deeply moving.

Though I suspect this book is sort of a grown-up version of the American History textbook of our public school youth, it’s a nice reminder of what it took to create America.  I recommend it if you have any interest in an easy survey of early American history!

t.n.s.r. bob

REVIEWS FROM THE REV: “Kluge: The Haphazard Construction of the Human Mind” by Gary Marcus, by t.n.s.r. bob

Sunday, December 26th, 2010

FROM THE AUTHOR’S WEBSITE: “Gary Marcus author of the The Birth of the Mind (Basic Books, 2004, translated into 6 languages) and editor of The Norton Psychology Reader, is an award-winning Professor of Psychology at New York University, where he is director of the NYU Center for Child Language. His research, published in leading journals such as Science, Nature, Cognition, and Psychological Science, focuses on the evolution and development of the human mind.

Marcus also enjoys writing for the general public, in venues ranging from The New York Times to The Huffington Post. His newest book, Kluge: The Haphazard Construction of the Human Mind, will be published in Spring 2008.”

In an article in The Economist last year, a writer made the observation that when it comes  to economics, most economists — though generally accepting of Darwinian evolution — seem to draw a line at the neck, treating the human mind as a super-rational exception to the evolutionary rule expressed early in Gary Marcus’ book:

“Nature is prone to making kluges because it doesn’t “care” whether its products are perfect or elegant.  If something works, it spreads.  If it doesn’t work, it dies out.  Genes that lead to successful outcomes tend to propagate; genes that produce creatures that can’t cut it tend to fade away; all else is metaphor.  Adequacy, not beauty, is the name of the game”.

“Kluge” is slang for “A clumsy or inelegant solution to a problem”, and the reality that an evolutionary kluge is what we have for a brain is the thesis of this book.

I’ll say at the outset that I’m sympathetic to this idea, as I’ve long understood that everything about life on this planet (including us humans) represents the best that nature could do with the materials at hand and not (as those holding to a special creation mindset would argue) an example of “perfection” in any reasonable form of that notion.  And although there were a few times where I thought the author heavy-handed in the hammering home of this notion, I can find no fault with his arguments supported by plentiful examples relevant research.

My presupposition that we humans are rational creatures has been shaken of late, and this book has helped me to understand the “why” of  that confusion.  Our reasoning, rational brain is but the latest (and weakest) addition to the ancient apparatus in our skulls:

“The hindbrain, the oldest of the three (dating from at least half a billion years ago), controls respiration, balance, alertness, and other functions that are as critical to a dinosaur as to a human.  The midbrain, layered on soon afterward, coordinates visual and auditory reflexes and controls functions such as eye movements.  The forebrain, the final division to come online, governs things such as language and decision-making, but in ways that often depend on older systems.  As any neuroscientist textbook will tell you, language relies heavily on Broca’s area, a walnut-sized region of the left forebrain, but it too relies on older systems, such as the cerebellum, and ancestral memory systems that are not particularly well suited to the job.  Over the course of evolution our brain has become a bit like a palimpsest, and ancient manuscript with layers of text written over it many times, old bits still hiding behind the new.”

One great aspect of this book is the form it gives to patterns of thought and perception that we all experience.  This is helpful in two ways: the first being a greater appreciation for — and sympathetic acceptance of — our natural human (idiosyncratic) ways of cognition, and secondly; offering ways of working around the natural limitations such an evolved animal brain brings with it.

In technical terms, the book is well written and nicely organized, making it a pleasure to read.  And the scientific information is packed more densely than a Christmas fruitcake.  A particularly refreshing (and mildly surprising) aspect of the book is how directly the author takes on the “creationist” view, over and over again.  But then, writing for an American audience (where a majority of the population holds that God was involved in our making one way or another) why wouldn’t any author on such a subject deal directly with those beliefs.

I recommend this book highly, with thanks to the scientific researcher who pulled it off her shelf for me to read.

t.n.s.r. bob

REVIEWS FROM THE REV: “The Well Dressed Ape” by Hannah Holmes

Sunday, December 12th, 2010

From the publisher’s website: “Hannah Holmes is the author of The Well-Dressed Ape, Suburban Safari and The Secret Life of Dust. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Los Angeles Times Magazine, Discover, Outside, and many other publications. She was a frequent contributor on science and nature subjects for the Discovery Channel Online. She lives with her husband and dog in Portland, Maine”.

Hannah Holmes has done an interesting thing here: she has taken the seemingly simple concept of using the language of an anthropologist to describe herself as an animal and done it to great effect.  It’s the kind of thing you read and think “Surely someone else has done this before?”.  And maybe they have.  But Holmes has achieved something unique, I believe.

By using herself as a very specific reference point for each excursion into our animal and evolutionary aspects, the information (which ends up being a comprehensive survey of everything we currently know about animal behavior, DNA, anthropology, sociology and evolution) which she imparts is instantly relatable and readily absorbed.  She manages to use herself in fairly personal, intimate ways without making the book about her.  Nice trick that.

I would have to say this is a great book for giving people an entertaining and relatively painless (unless the idea that you’re an animal is completely new to you) immersion in the reality of just what kind of animals we humans really are.

I have two criticisms that fizzled.

One:  I noticed a lack of footnotes in the text.  This bothered me a little bit, and I thought “Well, it’s a popular text, not a science book per se, so I’ll have to take the facts she references at face value”.  But the book proved to have a “Selected References” section at the end, so all is well in the world.

Two: Though I felt ever wary of the book foundering in personal narrative, it never went off the rails, and I found myself marking a LOT of passages in this book.  (Which for me means new ideas or new facts that I found worthy of remembering).  That impressed me.  What also impressed me is that this is a book by a journalist who — though her tone may be that of an arm-chair traveler — has clearly been a lot of interesting places and done a lot of interesting things first hand.

A very enjoyable and informative book.  Can’t ask for better than that!

t.n.s.r. bob


Sunday, November 28th, 2010

After getting tipped off to a number of great talks by great minds on the TED website, I figured I should make sure others were aware of this collection of short lectures by a wide variety of informed folk.  Naturally, my interests lean heavily toward evolution, but I expect I’ll spend some time searching other topics in the near future.

For now I want to recommend three great videos that were recommended to me recently (descriptive paragraphs are from the TED website):

1)  Helen Fisher tells us why we love + cheat.

“Anthropologist Helen Fisher takes on a tricky topic — love –- and explains its evolution, its biochemical foundations and its social importance. She closes with a warning about the potential disaster inherent in antidepressant abuse.”

2) Heribert Watzke: The brain in your gut

“Did you know you have functioning neurons in your intestines — about a hundred million of them? Food scientist Heribert Watzke tells us about the “hidden brain” in our gut and the surprising things it makes us feel.”

3) Michael Shermer on strange beliefs

“Why do people see the Virgin Mary on a cheese sandwich or hear demonic lyrics in “Stairway to Heaven”? Using video and music, skeptic Michael Shermer shows how we convince ourselves to believe — and overlook the facts.”

Be sure to let me know of any great finds you make.

t.n.s.r. bob

REVIEWS FROM THE REV: “Supernormal Stimuli: How Primal Urges Overran Their Evolutionary Purpose” by Deirdre Barrett

Saturday, November 20th, 2010

“Supernormal Stimuli: How Primal Urges Overran Their Evolutionary Purpose” by Deirdre Barrett (W.W. Norton & Company 2010)

I was due for some reading on evolutionary psychology, and happened across this book at the library.  I was thrilled to find it was published in 2010 (I try to find the latest books when it comes to rapidly expanding scientific fields).

The introductory chapter about took my breath away — it was the most dense grouping of scientific thought I think I’d ever run across in so few pages (with several ideas and statements that I knew I would want to explore further).  If the entire book was going to be like this, I was going to die of over-stimulation!

Perhaps fortunately, the author (Deirdre Barrett, assistant clinical professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School) set a more normal pace as she went back a bit in history to introduce two deeply interesting characters that laid a lot of the groundwork (and the one who coined the term) for the concept of “Supernormal Stimuli”.

“Supernormal Stimuli” describes how our natural instincts can be tricked and triggered into overdrive by stimuli that display grotesquely exaggerated traits of the normal stimuli that we have evolved to instinctively respond to.  Among the many examples first observed in the (non-human) animal kingdom, the clearest example might be that of a small spotted bird egg that sits in a nest next to a huge man-made plaster egg painted with black polka dots.  The parental bird’s natural instincts are hijacked by this “supernormal stimuli” such that the bird is drawn to the giant plaster egg while ignoring the genuine egg (or eggs) and will thereafter spend all its time trying to hatch the plaster one.

The author then follows this pattern of animal instinct gone awry into our modern human age and uses it to explain why we fight wars, are getting obese on plentiful junk food and why television (and other modern distractions) can’t help but arrest our animal attention.  (She also talks about why the most interesting technologies are the ones that grab our attention, and not the most useful ones).

From the breathless beginning, the book gradually shifts gears into a social critique I was not expecting (and which I am still, frankly, digesting).  But the science is solid, as are the conclusions, and I gathered more than a handful of truly useful terms and concepts from this book.  The writing is good, and the book is well-organized and an easy (and relatively short) read, even though the contents will get your head spinning.

If you want a good understanding of what the ramifications of evolutionary theory are on the psychology of human behavior, this is a great book.

Reading such a pointed critique of so much of what makes up our modern life left me with a feeling of a sort of moral imperative to change everything in my routine that was not consonant with my ancestors’ life on the ancient savannah.  I found that very interesting: the way in which I naturally adopted an almost religiously orthodox intellectual posture with my newly-found scientific data.  I think that’s because the data was so much about behavior and choices that are generally held to be in the realm of morality.  But then, this is a book by an evolutionary psychologist.

As Niko Tinbergen (one of the two heroes of the book’s second chapter) is quoted as saying in a lecture in 1946: “The emphasis by Christianity on our responsibility for our behavior has had the consequence that the differences between man and animal are perceived as too prominent”.

Like I said:  a lot to digest in this book (and so much more than I can even allude to in a review).  I hope you’ll read it and let me know what you think.

t.n.s.r. bob

REVIEWS FROM THE REV: “A Primate’s Memoir. A Neuroscientist’s Unconventional Life Among the Baboons” by Robert Sapolsky. Reviewed by t.n.s.r. bob.

Sunday, November 14th, 2010

“A Primate’s Memoir.  A Neuroscientist’s Unconventional Life Among the Baboons” by Robert Sapolsky.  (Scribner, March 2002)

(From the publisher’s website: “Robert M. Sapolsky is the author of several works of nonfiction, including A Primate’s Memoir, The Trouble with Testosterone, and Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers. He is a professor of biology and neurology at Stanford University and the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation genius grant. He lives in San Francisco”).

How great to have anthropologists as friends, especially when one of them hands me a book like Robert Sapolsky’s A Primate’s Memoir.

This is a unique book in several ways, one of which is that it is a book written by a field research scientist, yet the science that was his everyday job is almost an afterthought to the attention the primate author is paying to all the Life happening around him as he studies a troop of baboons in Kenya.  At it’s core it is a coming of age tale of a city boy whose fascination with Gorillas becomes the catalyst for the journey into his own growth into adulthood.  Drawing parallels between his arrival in Kenya and the arrival of new young male baboons to the troop, we get to know the author even as we come to know his beloved troop and see the place of both in the rich, profligate natural — and endlessly corrupt human — environment in which man and baboon coexist.

There are tales in this book that are fascinating, wildly entertaining, bone-chilling and heart-breaking, all of them told with a fearless clarity of insight and openness of heart.

This book is clearly the distillation of many, many years and seasons of study and has the perspective that reflection from a distance supplies.  But at the same time, the stories have a visceral immediacy amplified by the evident power these experiences still exert over the author, who is not afraid to show himself as the fool when the fool he felt he was.

Normally I would offer an excerpt from this book, but I’d rather not spoil even one story for a prospective reader.

I enjoyed this book immensely.  It is almost like getting three books in one: 1) A man’s adventurous coming of age story; 2) A series of reflections on human behavior as it is obliquely illuminated by baboon behavior, and; 3) A portrait of a time in the history of Africa, Africans and African wildlife that is already passed into memory.  The beauty of the book is that is gives us all three without shortchanging any storyline.  And this book fully satisfied my three criteria, which are: content, writing quality and scientific information.  I plan to read more by this author.

t.n.s.r. bob