The Nature Lover’s Gift Guide for 2018

Do you have a birder in your life, but you just don’t know what to get them this holiday season? Or, are you a nature lover trying to figure out what gifts to ask for this year? Princeton Nature is here to help! Presenting some of our latest titles that would make the perfect present this year — whether you wrap it up for a loved one, or gift it to yourself. 

FOR THE EXPLORER IN YOUR LIFE: Galápagos: Life in Motion by Walter Perez and Michael Weisberg

The Galápagos Islands are home to an amazing variety of iconic creatures, from Giant Tortoises, Galápagos Sea Lions, Galápagos Penguins, and Ghost Crabs to Darwin’s finches, the Blue-footed Booby, and Hummingbird Moths. But how precisely do these animals manage to survive on—and in the waters around—their desert-like volcanic islands, where fresh water is always scarce, food is often hard to come by, and finding a good mate is a challenge because animal populations are so small? In this stunning large-format book, Galápagos experts Walter Perez and Michael Weisberg present an unprecedented photographic account of the remarkable survival behaviors of these beautiful and unique animals. With more than 200 detailed, close-up photographs, the book captures Galápagos animals in action as they feed, play, fight, court, mate, build nests, give birth, raise their young, and cooperate and clash with other species.

Complete with a brief text that provides essential context, this book will be cherished by Galápagos visitors and anyone else who wants to see incredible animals on the move.

Read our Q+A with co-author Walter Perez.

FOR THE BEACHGOER IN YOUR LIFE: Gulls Simplified by Pete Dunne and Kevin T. Karlson

This unique photographic field guide to North America’s gulls provides a comparative approach to identification that concentrates on the size, structure, and basic plumage features of gulls—gone are the often-confusing array of plumage details found in traditional guides.

Featuring hundreds of color photos throughout, Gulls Simplified illustrates the variations of gull plumages for a variety of ages, giving readers strong visual reference points for each species. Extensive captions accompany the photos, which include comparative photo arrays, digitized photo arrays for each age group, and numerous images of each species—a wealth of visual information at your fingertips. This one-of-a-kind guide includes detailed species accounts and a distribution map for each gull.

An essential field companion for North American birders, Gulls Simplified reduces the confusion commonly associated with gull identification, offering a more user-friendly way of observing these marvelous birds.

Check out our Bird Fact Friday spotlights of the birds from Gulls Simplified.

FOR THE ART LOVER IN YOUR LIFE: Stripped Bare by David Bainbridge

For more than two thousand years, comparative anatomy—the study of anatomical variation among different animal species—has been used to make arguments in natural philosophy, reinforce religious dogma, and remind us of our own mortality. This stunningly illustrated compendium traces the intertwined intellectual and artistic histories of comparative anatomy from antiquity to today.

Stripped Bare brings together some of the most arresting images ever produced, from the earliest studies of animal form to the technicolor art of computer-generated anatomies. David Bainbridge draws on representative illustrations from different eras to discuss the philosophical, scientific, and artistic milieus from which they emerged. He vividly describes the unique aesthetics of each phase of anatomical endeavor, providing new insights into the exquisite anatomical drawings of Leonardo and Albrecht Dürer in the era before printing, Jean Héroard’s cutting and cataloging of the horse during the age of Louis XIII, the exotic pictorial menageries of the Comte de Buffon in the eighteenth century, anatomical illustrations from Charles Darwin’s voyages, the lavish symmetries of Ernst Haeckel’s prints, and much, much more.

Featuring a wealth of breathtaking color illustrations throughout, Stripped Bare is a panoramic tour of the intricacies of vertebrate life as well as an expansive history of the peculiar and beautiful ways humans have attempted to study and understand the natural world.

Read our Q+A with David Bainbridge

FOR THE GARDENER IN YOUR LIFE: Plants That Kill by Elizabeth A. Dauncey and Sonny Larsson.

This richly illustrated book provides an in-depth natural history of the most poisonous plants on earth, covering everything from the lethal effects of hemlock and deadly nightshade to the uses of such plants in medicine, ritual, and chemical warfare.

Featuring hundreds of color photos and diagrams throughout, Plants That Kill explains how certain plants evolved toxicity to deter herbivores and other threats and sheds light on their physiology and the biochemistry involved in the production of their toxins. It discusses the interactions of poisonous plants with other organisms–particularly humans—and explores the various ways plant toxins can target the normal functioning of bodily systems in mammals, from the effects of wolfsbane on the heart to toxins that cause a skin reaction when combined with the sun’s rays.

A must for experts and armchair botanists alike, Plants That Kill is the essential illustrated compendium to these deadly and intriguing plants.

Check out our Plants That Kill blog series.

FOR THE SCIENTIST IN YOUR LIFE: Unnatural Selection by Katrina van Grouw

Unnatural Selection is a stunningly illustrated book about selective breeding–the ongoing transformation of animals at the hand of man. More important, it’s a book about selective breeding on a far, far grander scale—a scale that encompasses all life on Earth. We’d call it evolution.

A unique fusion of art, science, and history, this book celebrates the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s monumental work The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication, and is intended as a tribute to what Darwin might have achieved had he possessed that elusive missing piece to the evolutionary puzzle—the knowledge of how individual traits are passed from one generation to the next. With the benefit of a century and a half of hindsight, Katrina van Grouw explains evolution by building on the analogy that Darwin himself used—comparing the selective breeding process with natural selection in the wild, and, like Darwin, featuring a multitude of fascinating examples.

Read Katrina van Grouw’s op-ed about her art, as seen in Unnatural Selection.

FOR THE TECH GEEK IN YOUR LIFE: How to Walk on Water and Climb Up Walls by David L. Hu

Insects walk on water, snakes slither, and fish swim. Animals move with astounding grace, speed, and versatility: how do they do it, and what can we learn from them? In How to Walk on Water and Climb up Walls, David Hu takes readers on an accessible, wondrous journey into the world of animal motion. From basement labs at MIT to the rain forests of Panama, Hu shows how animals have adapted and evolved to traverse their environments, taking advantage of physical laws with results that are startling and ingenious. In turn, the latest discoveries about animal mechanics are inspiring scientists to invent robots and devices that move with similar elegance and efficiency.

Hu follows scientists as they investigate a multitude of animal movements, from the undulations of sandfish and the way that dogs shake off water in fractions of a second to the seemingly crash-resistant characteristics of insect flight. Not limiting his exploration to individual organisms, Hu describes the ways animals enact swarm intelligence, such as when army ants cooperate and link their bodies to create bridges that span ravines.

Integrating biology, engineering, physics, and robotics, How to Walk on Water and Climb up Walls demystifies the remarkable mechanics behind animal locomotion.

Check out this video of David L. Hu’s visit to Zoo Atlanta, where he explains animal movement to his children.

AND FOR THE BIRDER IN YOUR LIFE: Birds of Central America by Andrew C. Valley and Dale Dyer

Birds of Central America is the first comprehensive field guide to the avifauna of the entire region, including Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. Handy and compact, the book presents text and illustrations for nearly 1,200 resident and migrant species, and information on all rare vagrants. Two hundred sixty detailed plates on convenient facing-page spreads depict differing ages and sexes for each species, with a special focus on geographic variation. The guide also contains up-to-date range maps and concise notes on distribution, habitat, behavior, and voice. An introduction provides a brief overview of the region’s landscape, climate, and biogeography.

The culmination of more than a decade of research and field experience, Birds of Central America is an indispensable resource for all those interested in the bird life of this part of the world.

Read Dale Dyer’s op-ed about what it means to be a nature illustrator.

 

For more titles, browse our Birds & Natural History catalog.

David Hu on How to Walk on Water and Climb Up Walls (Part 2)

Insects walk on water, snakes slither, and fish swim. Animals move with astounding grace, speed, and versatility: how do they do it, and what can we learn from them? In How to Walk on Water and Climb up Walls, David Hu takes readers on an accessible, wondrous journey into the world of animal motion. From basement labs at MIT to the rain forests of Panama, Hu shows how animals have adapted and evolved to traverse their environments, taking advantage of physical laws with results that are startling and ingenious. In turn, the latest discoveries about animal mechanics are inspiring scientists to invent robots and devices that move with similar elegance and efficiency.

In the second part of our Q+A with David Hu, he describes what we know (and don’t know) about animal motion, and what the future of robots will look like. Check out the first part of our Q+A here.

Don’t we already know everything about animal motion?

From cave paintings to today’s videos of cats on YouTube, the movement of animals has always fascinated people. The thesis of my book is that there is an explosion of new interest and progress in understanding animal motion. Recent technological developments and the teamwork of biologists, computer scientists, physicists, and engineers, are leading to changes in the way animal motion is now studied.

What can we learn from studying animal motion?

Animals have existed for millions of years. As a result, they have evolved a huge diversity, inhabiting nearly every part of the planet, across terrains from desert to forest to sea. This range of environments, combined with their intense competition to eat or be eaten has led to the evolution of ingenious methods of locomotion. Their varying locomotion mechanisms can inspire new ways of propulsion for humans, from robots that walk across the clutter in our homes to tracked vehicles that move across the dusty surface of Mars. But before we robots are improved sufficiently to enter our everyday lives, an understanding how animals movement is of great benefit.

What kind of approach is needed to study animal motion?

We already have many of the tools to understand the movement of animals.  Because animals move through air and water, the same tools that engineers use to design boats and airplanes can be applied to animals. The brains of animals can be studied in a similar way. To react quickly to their surroundings, animals rely on a system of nerves that can act autonomously, similar to the cruise control in your car, and the motion of an autonomous robot. Since animals share things in common with boats, airplanes, and robots—the same tools to study these human-made systems can be used to reverse-engineer systems in nature.

How did you become interested in studying animals and insects?

My PhD was on the physics of insects that walk on water. People who study the motion of fluids have often looked to birds and fish for inspiration. During my PhD, I realized that while we often see insects as annoying, they are the dominant non-microscopic life form on earth, and their small size gives them an even greater versatility to move. After my PhD study on water striders and a postdoctoral study on snakes, I founded my own laboratory for studying animal movement.

What are the applications of your work, whether it’s a shaking wet dog or animals waving their tails?

In the course of my work, I often design and build new devices based on animal movement. My work on water striders led to a collaborator building a palm-sized water-walking robot. My work on cat tongues led to a cat-tongue inspired brush that combs with lower force and is easier to clean. From this book, I hope to show curiosity-based research on animal motion can lead to useful new inventions.

What are the robots of the future going to be like?

Many robots rely on wheels and are tested on linoleum floors. Robots built for such structured environments often do poorly in nature. A grassy field, a moss-covered stream, even a living room littered with children’s toys. These are terrain that is impassible by most robots. To traverse these cluttered areas, robots will likely need multiple legs, or no legs at all, resembling insects or snakes. I bet that robots that successfully traverse outdoor environments will show some resemblance to the animals that make this place their home. This is because the laws of physics provide immutable constraints that have influenced the shape and kind of motion that is most effective on these terrain.

David L. Hu is associate professor of mechanical engineering and biology and adjunct professor of physics at Georgia Institute of Technology. He lives in Atlanta.

David Hu on How to Walk on Water and Climb Up Walls (Part 1)

Insects walk on water, snakes slither, and fish swim. Animals move with astounding grace, speed, and versatility: how do they do it, and what can we learn from them? In How to Walk on Water and Climb up Walls, David Hu takes readers on an accessible, wondrous journey into the world of animal motion. From basement labs at MIT to the rain forests of Panama, Hu shows how animals have adapted and evolved to traverse their environments, taking advantage of physical laws with results that are startling and ingenious. In turn, the latest discoveries about animal mechanics are inspiring scientists to invent robots and devices that move with similar elegance and efficiency.

In the first part of our Q+A with David Hu, he describes what helps this book stand out, and why any reader would be interested in learning more about the secrets of animal movement. 

Why this book now?

The last twenty years have seen an explosion in the number and types of investigators studying animal motion, in large part due to the greater number of tools that can visualize the motion of animals. High speed videography has gone digital. CT-scanners originally for use in hospitals can now see the shapes and insides of animals with better clarity than ever before. These shapes can now be printed using 3-D printing and then subjected to physically tests, for example to show that a shark’s scales can increase its fuel economy.

What is unexpected about this book?

Many concepts from animal motion have no analogy in the built world. For example, most of the things we ride around on are hard, like the stiff frame of a car or bicycle. However, a great number of animals, especially insects, have evolved crushable bodies that enable them to survive impacts with their surroundings. Bees for example are so rushed to obtain pollen that they collide with hundreds of thousands of plant stems and flowers in a lifetime. Their wings have origami-based crush zones. Their hinges are made of a material called resilin, that is more springy than the springiest human-made material, Zectron, the main component in the 25-cent super ball.

What makes you qualified to write this book?

My laboratory has featured in award-winning documentaries by Discovery Channel, and I have been an invited guest on Good Morning America, National Public Radio, and on television and radio broadcast across the world. I love talking about animal motion to the general public, and now it’s my chance to tell the story of my field.

What is your favorite part of writing this book?

What I enjoyed the most about this book was getting to know the scientists whodid the work. The science that they discovered are easily found in their academic papers or in the news. But few people know abouttheir journey on the way to the facts. Often the scientists did not know exactly where they were going. Sometimes, their experiments were not working and they just got plain stuck, and their only option was to quite or follow a hunch. The scientists were often challenged by working with animals, which have a mind of their own. In my book, a scientist who wants to test flying snakes must climb to the top of a tall tower with snakes in burlap sack. He tries to avoid thinking of his fear of heights and snake bites as he climbs the tower. Dealing with situations like this is both hilarious and at times ridiculous, yet these are the things scientists must do to answer their burning questions. By following the thought process and the various things these scientists have had to subject themselves to, I hope to have brought in the feeling of talking to sworld-class scientist as if they are sitting across from you at a bar. My goal is for you to see theirthought process and say, I would have probably done the same thing in their shoes.

Why should I read this book?

If you have ever enjoyed watching animals on Discovery channel, this book will provide a conversational explanation of the things that you see in the show. With the more leisurely format of the book, I have adequate space to explain the physical principles at work. I bet you’ll find the discussion satisfying, and you’ll want to tell others about what you’ve learned.

Is the material suitable for young readers?

There are usually plenty of kids at my talks, and a number of their parents have bought the book. The book doesn’t assume any prior knowledge, and uses everyday language.  It also has 40 black and white and 20 color pictures to illustrate the points. Many of the topics in the book have videos of the associated material online. So the answer is yes, I think young readers will enjoy the book.  

 

David L. Hu is associate professor of mechanical engineering and biology and adjunct professor of physics at Georgia Institute of Technology. He lives in Atlanta.