Skip to main content

Do we need Pandas? – Ken Thompson **

Before starting a book I usually have a quick flick through to get a general feel for it and to see what is ahead. When I first picked up this introduction to biodiversity and conservation, I got the impression it was going to be a little dry and academic. In hindsight, I’m not at all sure why I thought this, as it turned out to be nothing of the sort. It is, in fact, very accessible and engaging.
The book addresses the basic questions you are likely to have when starting to think about biodiversity and conservation of species. Author Ken Thompson covers what we know about what biodiversity consists of, what explains the patterns of diversity around the world, what functions biodiversity carries out for us and the planet as a whole, and why species are currently threatened. What comes across most, however, and it’s a point I recall being made a few times in the book, is just how little we know about many of the world’s species (let alone the ones we haven’t even identified yet) and ecosystems.
Thompson’s answer to the question posed in the book’s title is, as you might expect, no, or at least, probably not – ultimately, we are unlikely to be affected if we lose certain individual species (even though we can all agree that any loss of life’s diversity would be a shame). But in any case, Thompson explains, this isn’t the sort of question we should be asking. This is because singling out any individual species for protection does not solve the more general, underlying problem of the destruction of natural habitat around the world. For the most part, conservation efforts should concentrate on simply ensuring that earth’s ecosystems are broadly well equipped to support diversity – important factors here would be things like fertility of land, size of forests and wetland, and soil pH. If we focus on these aspects, it is argued, the problem of loss of species will resolve itself.
It is not clear from the book whether this is a minority view among conservationists – and there are other occasions where I would have liked to have been informed whether what was being said reflected more or less the current consensus (if there is a consensus on any of the issues). But here, Thompson’s clear and methodical writing in any case makes his argument convincing. It is the same elsewhere in the book – the author’s ideas are always very well organised, and there is always research and specific examples behind what is being discussed.
There is a lot to recommend this title, then. After reading this, you’ll be in a good position to explore the issues further, and it may challenge the way you think about conservation.
Paperback:  
Review by Matt Chorley

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Einstein's Greatest Mistake - David Bodanis ****

Books on Einstein and his work are not exactly thin on the ground. There's even been more than one book before with a title centring on Einstein's mistake or mistakes. So to make a new title worthwhile it has do something different - and David Bodanis certainly achieves this with Einstein's Greatest Mistake. If I'm honest, the book isn't the greatest on the science or the history - but what it does superbly is tell a story. The question we have to answer is why that justifies considering this to be a good book.
I would compare Einstein's Greatest Mistake with the movie Lincoln -  it is, in effect, a biopic in book form with all the glory and flaws that can bring. Compared with a good biography, a biopic will distort the truth and emphasise parts of the story that aren't significant because they make for a good screen scene. But I would much rather someone watched the movie than never found out anything about Lincoln - and similarly I'd much rather someon…

Four Way Interview - Tom Cabot

Tom Cabot is a London-based book editor and designer with a background in experimental psychology, natural science and graphic design. He founded the London-based packaging company, Ketchup, and has produced and illustrated many books for the British Film Institute, Penguin and the Royal Institute of British Architects. Tom has held a lifelong passion to explain science graphically and inclusively ... ever since being blown away by Ray and Charles Eames’ Powers of Ten at an early age. His first book is Eureka, an infographic guide to science.

Why infographics?
For me infographics provided a way to present heavy-lifting science in an alluring and playful, but ultimately illuminating, way. And I love visualising data and making it as attractive as the ideas are.  The novelty of the presentation hopefully gets the reader to look afresh. I love the idea of luring in readers who might normally be put off by drier, more monotone science – people who left science behind at 16. I wanted the boo…

A Tale of Seven Scientists - Eric Scerri ***

Scientists sometimes tell us we're in a post-philosophy world. For example, Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow in The Grand Design bluntly say that that philosophy is 'dead' - no longer required, as science can do its job far better. However, other scientists recognise the benefits of philosophy, particularly when it is applied to their own discipline. One such is Eric Scerri, probably the world's greatest expert on the periodic table, who in this challenging book sets out to modify the philosophical models of scientific progress.

I ought to say straight away that A Tale of Seven Scientists sits somewhere on the cusp between popular science and a heavy duty academic title. For reasons that will become clear, I could only give it three stars if rating it as popular science, but it deserves more if we don't worry too much about it being widely accessible.

One minor problem with accessibility is that I've never read a book that took so long to get started. First t…