Author: Olivia Judson
Details: (c) 2002 Olivia Judson; Pub Metropolitan Books 2002; ISBN 0-8050-6331-5
Verdict: Dr Tatiana's sex advice to all creation is a really impressive popular science book.
Reasons for reading it: I'd been vaguely curious about the concept, though I was afraid it would be gimmicky. Then I happened to find it cheap enough to tempt my curiosity. It's more of a dipping book than a read straight through from start to finish book, so I've been reading it in odd moments when for whatever reason I can't concentrate enough to get involved in a novel.
How it came into my hands: A cool book stall in Central Park.
I've already enthused about Dr Tatiana to hatam_soferet and rysmiel, so my apologies to them for repeating myself. Anyway, it's really well done. There are lots of ways it could fail, most seriously by being overly anthropomorphic or patronizing, and it's neither of those. It also manages to miss being just a collection of anecdotes about weird animal behaviour in the manner of a bad nature documentary. Though it is undeniably fun to read and does work on the level of pointing out lots of cool random stuff too! Instead it has a very coherent point about evolutionary biology, which it makes without falling into being preachy or didactic.
It probably wouldn't be a good idea to read Dr Tatiana without being familiar with the ideas expounded in The selfish gene, which is a pity because it's a vastly better book. However, it makes a truly excellent illustration of how evolution by natural selection works once you have the basic concepts. It does all the little detail things right: despite its informal style, everything is properly referenced (I'd say it's worth buying for the bibliography alone!) and it presents things in terms of arguments from evidence rather than unquestionable facts, but without ever falling into scientific jargon.
Because it avoids a too-formal tone, it probably wouldn't be taken seriously in debate. But en passant it does provide rock solid arguments against many of the stupid views of biology currently prevalent, including the straw man versions of evolution that are argued against by silly creationists. Overall it's everything a popular science book should be, and highly recommended if you're at all interested in this kind of thing.
linley is here. Yay. I may not have all that much online time until Sunday evening, though.