Amazon Expeditions: My Quest
for the Ice-Age Equator
In 1964, Paul Colinvaux began his
life’s work — trying to understand the
ice-age climate of the Amazon through
mud cores and the pollen found within.
Having sharpened his drill in the Arctic,
the ecologist looked south to “terra
incognita.” When he began his effort,
no ice-age deposit or site in the Amazon
had been identified.
Then in 1969, ornithologist Jurgen Haffer
proposed a hypothesis
to explain the Amazon’s vast biodiversity.
During the last ice age
(which peaked about
21,000 years ago), he
suggested, most of the forest became
arid grassland. In pockets of surviving
greenery, speciation occurred. The new
species repopulated the forest when it
returned, contributing to its diversity.
Despite a lack of evidence, the ref-
Mortal Coil: A Short History
of Living Longer
David Boyd Haycock
As Jonathan Swift once said,
everyone wants to live forever,
but no one wants to be old.
Despite that snag, the question has
lingered: Must we die so soon?
Some people have lived to be mighty
old, and Haycock does them justice in
this well-researched ramble through the
pursuit of long life. Thomas Hobbes’
observation that life in the old days was
“nasty, brutish and short” wasn’t entirely
true. Europeans have shown an obsession with living longer, even publishing
texts in the 1700s that mention people
who lived a particularly long time. Among
them: a French fellow who lived to see
121, a Dane who reached 145 and a
Hungarian peasant who survived to 185.
But documentation is fuzzy.
As living forever slipped from the
grasp of philosophers and into the
domain of medicine, early scientists
uge hypothesis gained appeal. Colinvaux’s
mission took on new meaning. He had
the tools to unravel an idea that was
quickly becoming a paradigm, and his
field data suggested ecological consistency rather than change. “Might not one
of the secrets of the Amazon lie here in
this history of tolerance and stability?”
Colinvaux asked himself.
Colinvaux carries readers along on
his adventure to uncover the Amazon’s
ice-age mysteries — chronicling events,
endeavors and emotions every step of
the way. The strength of his story comes
in his ability to highlight science as a process. He has many false starts, and he
encounters barrier after barrier.
Even after Colinvaux collects the data
he needs to prove his case, his tale does
not immediately transition to one of triumph. The refuge hypothesis does not lie
down. “Resulting bruises to the soul can
be soothed by the Band-Aid of thought
that says, ‘We were pioneers,’” he concludes, pushing onward. — Elizabeth Quill
Yale Univ. Press, 2008, 308 p., $32.50.
talked about delaying the inevitable.
But none did much about it until Louis
Pasteur, Edward Jenner and Robert Koch
came along and joined the battle against
disease. Nowadays, the notion of living
super-long through good nutrition and
disease avoidance is back in vogue.
Genetics and advanced cell biology whet the appetite further. At first it
seemed cells could live on and on. But it’s
now clear that they can
replicate only so many
times before expiring.
Still, biotechnology pursues eternal life. “Fear
of old age and death
will always drive at least
some research in this
subject,” Haycock says.
Meanwhile, the facts speak for themselves: The verifiably oldest person, the
Frenchwoman Jeanne Calment, died in
1997 at age 122, and no one is close to
breaking her record. — Nathan Seppa
Yale Univ. Press, 2008, 320 p., $30.
What the Business of
Biotech Taught Me
Gordon Binder and
The former CEO of Amgen narrates the
company’s rise from start-up to biotech
Harvard Business School Press, 2008, 288 p., $29.95.
Nim Chimpsky: The
Chimp Who Would Be
The story of a chimp being
raised by humans — and
washing the dishes (p. 130).
Bantam Books, 2008, 369 p., $23.
Up River: Man-Made
Sites of Interest on
the Hudson from the
Battery to Troy
Center for Land Use Interpretation,
American Regional Landscape Series
Take a tour through aerial photographs of
the Hudson’s shore, starting at the tip of
Blast Books, 2008, 174 p., $19.95.
On Speed: The Many
Lives of Amphetamine
The rise, fall and resurgence of the original “
New York Univ. Press, 2008, 352 p., $29.95 (cloth).
We Dare You!
Vicki Cobb and Kathy Darling
Make an egg stand on end,
suspend a Ping-Pong ball
with a hair dryer and do
other fun science demos at home.
Skyhorse Publishing, 2008, 321 p., $19.95.
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