Wednesday, July 21, 2010

forty-six

The Well-Dressed Ape: A Natural History of Myself

I picked up The Well-Dressed Ape a little randomly in the library, and don't really regret it. Her writing is a little corny, she's obviously incomplete in a full description of the human body (that would be impossible), and sometimes the research felt either incomplete or repetitive. However, through those flaws, I definitely enjoyed the book. The premise is a field description of the animal homo sapiens. She goes top to bottom, describing brain, senses, posture, reproduction, locomotion, eating, homeostasis, and all kinds of behavior. She uses the homunculus analogy in her description of brain real estate, but the same analogy could be used in her page real estate. Most of her focus is on the senses, sexual behavior, brain usage, etc - I would have loved to be regaled with anecdotes and information about the organs, the bones, the muscles, the circulatory system, etc. Some of these get small mentions, but I wanted more. For someone who's not read a lot of books about human biology/psychology/evolution, the research she goes through won't be repetitive, but I tend to like that sort of book. Her approach on a familiar topic is unique enough that I stayed interested even through parts I found boring. Definitely recommended.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

forty-five

Cold Beer and Crocodiles: A Bicycle Journey into Australia (Adventure Press)

I bought Cold Beer and Crocodiles a few years ago and it sat on my shelf collecting dust, ever since.

This happens to me quite often. My eyes are bigger than my ... eyes? Something like that. Anyhow, a large reason I'm trying to read 100 books this year is to get through a bunch of these investments that have been sitting on my shelf, collecting dust, getting outdated. I'm still using the library and bookstore on a weekly basis, but I hope to drop the number of unread books on my shelves by about 50 at the end of December.

Anyhow, this was fun. Journalist quits his job, buys a bike, rides around the coast of Australia, end of book. In between, he meets a lot of people, gets injured and sunburned, and sees a lot of the country. It's not, contrary to the subtitle, a journey INTO Australia - he stays on the outside. But most of the people live on the outside, so it works. I thought he managed to make it less of a diary and more of a book, and I appreciated the little historical blurbs he included in his narrative. Because I picked this up in preparation for an upcoming trip to Australia, I wanted a bit more history, but I'm guessing he didn't write the book for me. His vast amount of time in the desert was illuminating - the Australia that people mainly experience is on the coast between Melbourne and Cairns. There's a lot of land in the rest of the country, and it's really, really hot! His snapshots of people he spends time with were also fun and educational. I should probably read a historical book about Sydney before my plane leaves, I suppose.


Regardless of my motives, I thought the book was entertaining, informative, and servicably written. It wasn't amazing though, and unless you've got a keen interest in Australia, I wouldn't highly recommend it. Also, I can't think of an interaction with a crocodile, though he did have lots of beer - apparently Aussie beer hydrates you after 100 miles on a bike.