Origins is a history of life, the universe, and everything. (Sort of). It’s an odd book, in that it begins in an expected fashion: Tyson and Goldsmith look first to the origin of matter, delving into the first seconds of the Big Bang and exploring the world of particle physics. We move next to the origin of cosmological order, of galaxies, our solar system, and life on Earth. From here things derail, as the authors move into the possibilities of life elsewhere in our solar system and beyond, ending with a chapter on SETI and the like. This section on extraterrestrial life is surprisingly long, almost as much as the cosmology that opens the book. It’s unquestionably easier to read & parse than the section on quarks and quasars, but felt like a prolonged distraction.
Bugs. Even our common name for insects bears witness for our acrimonious relationship with them – they’re something to be squished, squashed, eradicated, gotten rid of. They’re irritants, pests, etc. And yet….they constitute a majority of animal life on Earth, as far as sheer biomass goes, and our global ecosystem is wholly dependent on them. In Buzz Sting Bite: Why We Need Insects, Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson first reviews the basics of bug biology – what distinguishes them from other creepy-crawlers like arachnids – and how they’re built – before reviewing their place in Earth’s complicated ballet, and human civilization.Bugs are a diverse enough group that chances are there are those you’re fond of, even if you dislike most of the rest. Ladybugs and butterflies enjoy a wide popularity, for instance, whereas mosquitos are universally despised. They all have their place, though – if only to feed the birds! Although some gardeners may believe that the optimum number of insects in their garden is Absolutely None, the truth is more complicated – and it should be considered before turning one’s food plots into a chemical biohazard. Insects are not stock villains: they prey on one another, for instance, and form symbiotic relationships with many ‘higher’ animals. Tree sloths, for instance, harbor moths in their fur that create a substance the sloths rely on for nutritional value This is why sloths risk their lives and ‘waste’ their time climbing down to poop, instead of letting the ol’ feces fly airplane style.In addition to the rather important role of holding up the entire food web, civilization relies on insects directly for many invaluable products. Silk, for instance, is produced by silkworms and honey by bees; the study of insect parts has also informed human technology. Quite entertaining, wholly interesting, and definitely oriented toward a popular/mass audience.