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Civilization and the Limpet

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Written during a long sea voyage from England through the Mediterranean, Civilization and the Limpet unveils many fascinating phenomena of undersea life. Wells captures with exquisite detail how limpets, like bees, navigate by the stars; how the brainless sea urchin makes a myriad of critical survival decisions every day; how “deserted islands” teem with an incredible abundance of animal life; and why deep-diving whales never get the bends. Elegant and finely crafted, Civilization and the Limpet will enlighten, ...

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Cambridge, MA, U.S.A. 1998 Hardcover First Edition New in New dust jacket 0738200174. New book, unmarked and unread.

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Overview

Written during a long sea voyage from England through the Mediterranean, Civilization and the Limpet unveils many fascinating phenomena of undersea life. Wells captures with exquisite detail how limpets, like bees, navigate by the stars; how the brainless sea urchin makes a myriad of critical survival decisions every day; how “deserted islands” teem with an incredible abundance of animal life; and why deep-diving whales never get the bends. Elegant and finely crafted, Civilization and the Limpet will enlighten, amuse, and awe anyone interested in the natural world.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Readers seeking enlightenment on sea creatures need look no farther. In 25 breezy, sometimes whimsical essays, Wells (You and Me and the Animal World) provides an entertaining introduction to marine biology, from sea urchins, limpets and tubeworms to mackerel, dolphins and basking sharks. He explains buoyancy, navigation, luminescence, hermaphroditism and warm-bloodedness in certain fish. A yachtsman, Wells describes the buildup of marine organisms on boat hulls (fouling) as "an imitation of a moderately sheltered coastline." His specialty is the cephalopods (octopus, squid, cuttlefish, nautilus), and he offers advice on catching an octopus and recounts his adventures collecting nautilus in New Guinea. Finally, he defends a career in biology as one that is never boring--a claim borne out by his winsome book. (Oct.)
Library Journal
This volume of gracefully interwoven essays presents the elements of biology to the lay reader via examples from the marine world. Wells, a zoologist at Cambridge University and an avid yachtsman, conveys his observations of sea urchins, starfish, limpets, dolphins, octopuses, and nautiluses and relates them to reproductive biology, animal behavior, animal navigation, metabolism, floating and buoyancy, and evolution. Begun as separate articles while Wells was sailing from Southampton, England to France, the chapters intersperse personal anecdotes and accounts of Wells's scientific background and experiences with the facts of marine biology. Like Carl Sagan in Billions and Billions (LJ 5/15/97), Wells argues that knowledge of science is just as important as that of art, music, or politics. A suitable addition to popular science collections.--Judith Barnett, Pell Marine Science Lib., Univ. of R.I., Kingston
Booknews
In 25 non-technical essays conceived during an ocean voyage from England to the Mediterranean, Wells (marine biology, Cambridge U.) reflects on the diversity and tenacity of life in the sea. Besides the seemingly unintelligent limpet always returning to the exact same spot, he describes sea urchins making survival decisions, so called deserted islands teeming with animal life, and whales diving deep and surface without getting the bends. He includes an index but no bibliography. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Kirkus Reviews
Wells (Zoology/Cambridge Univ.) knows how to write odd, charming, limpid natural history essays, as demonstrated in these vest-pocket introductions to some of the more peculiar denizens of the marine kingdom. Many of the creatures Wells examines hereþlimpet, chambered nautilus, lugworm, blue-ringed octopusþare unfamiliar, but they are by no means freaks. They are fixtures in his world, the vastness known as marine biology. Just as Wells finds them absorbing ("knowledge of plants and animals makes the fine grain of my surroundings more entertaining"), readers will come to give these living things (even the hideous sea cucumber) at least a grudging admiration, thanks to Wells's enthusiasm. Certainly, broader applications than entertainment often apply, for without a smattering of plant and animal biology, how are we ever going to "rumble the manifest nonsense sometimes fed to us by politicians, the odder greens, and the lunatic fringes of the animal rights movement. At best we might even hope to understand what we are doing to our own environment." This can mean determining how the brainless sea urchin coordinates the movement of several hundred legs or how the strategic advantage of bisexuality helps snails cope with the otherwise dead end of self-fertilization. He ponders the role of toxicity: Why are some animals poisonous beyond comprehension, and why are so many of them in Australia? In the commonsensical, opinionated tone that marks the collection (though Wells is never afraid to say "I dunno"), he unravels the hot-bloodedness of cold-blooded creatures, and the cold bloodedness of the hot-bloodeds. And, as bewitching as Winslow Homer, Wells knows how to paint hischosen place, as he goes along under sail at night in a sea of bioluminescence. These peeks at the wondrous parade of nature will open your eyes wide with surprise and delight and provide not a little ammunition to rumble those who would defile the beauty of the earth.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780738200170
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 10/6/1998
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 209
  • Product dimensions: 5.71 (w) x 8.59 (h) x 0.95 (d)

Table of Contents

Preface
Sea Urchins 1
Civilization and the Limpet 9
On Being Both Sexes 18
How Old Is a Fish? 28
Hot Fish 35
Dangerous Animals 44
Animals on Islands 51
Diverse Divers 59
The Life of the Lugworm 67
Basking Sharks, Economics, and Politics 74
Buoyancy 81
Drinking Seawater 89
Things That Go Flash in the Night 94
Dolphins 102
Food from the Sea, Vegetarianism, and the Rights of Animals 110
Success 121
Measuring the Cost of Behavior 126
Foul Organisms 132
Crawling up Walls and Walking on Water 141
Mackerel, Scomber scombrus: An Exemplary Fish 148
God's V.A.T. 155
About Octopuses 160
Life with a Living Fossil 171
The Dilemma of the Jet Set 188
Does Science Have to Be Useful? 195
Index 201
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