New animal books explore the historical and sociological significance of animals. Plus, there’s room for some whimsy — as well as a look into seaworthy sex lives:
“Once They Were Hats: In Search of the Mighty Beaver” by Frances Backhouse (ECW Press): Man nearly drove the beaver to extinction, hardly the way to treat a creature that was a huge part of America’s early days. Backhouse gives the little buck-toothed rodent the credit it deserves in an intelligent and interesting look at Castor canadensis.
“The Secret Lives of Animals: 1,001 Tidbits, Oddities &Amazing Facts about North America’s Coolest Animals” by Stacy Tornio and Ken Keffer (Falcon Guides): Geared for kids ages 4-12, Tornio and Keffer’s book is chockablock with things you probably didn’t know. A manatee’s lungs stretch nearly the entire length of its body. There. It will keep the kids — and you — fascinated. Illustrated by Rachel Riordan.
“Heal: The Vital Role of Dogs in the Search for Cancer Cures” by Arlene Weintraub (ECW Press): Science and health writer Weintraub wanted to learn more about a drug that was being tested to combat a cancer that struck both dogs and humans. The more she researched, the more she was fascinated by the role dogs play in cancer research. What she learned makes for interesting reading for anyone interested in science or animals.
“Do Unto Animals: A Friendly Guide to How Animals Live, and How We Can Make Their Lives Better” by Tracey Stewart (Artisan): Stewart looks at the animals in our lives — the ones in our homes, our yards and on farms — from the perspective of an animal advocate, and gives readers not only facts and advice, but also smart and caring ways to improve animals’ existences. The book also features more than 300 beautiful illustrations by Lisel Ashlock.
“Sex in the Sea: Our Intimate Connection with Sex-Changing Fish, Romantic Lobsters, Kinky Squid, and Other Salty Erotica of the Deep” by Marah J. Hardt (St. Martin’s Press, to be published Feb. 9): Oh, the shenanigans that go on down below. From lobsters spraying urine on each other as part of their mating ritual to horseshoe crabs’ orgies to the blue whale’s 12-foot penis, Hardt covers the waterfront.
“The Real Planet of the Apes: A New Story of Human Origins” by David R. Begun (Princeton University Press): Begun, a professor of anthropology at the University of Toronto, bucks prevailing thought in his book, which theorizes that our ancestors left Africa and migrated to Europe for 10 million years. Backed by 30 years of field work and research, Begun’s theory is worth a look.
“American Zoo: A Sociological Safari” by David Grazian (Princeton University Press): Sociologist Grazian took his young son on a cross-country excursion to visit more than two dozen zoos and aquariums. He saw that zoos have been transformed in recent years from sad places with cramped, barren cages to more open, expansive exhibits. But he also noted man’s strange relationship with nature. His book explores the issues.
“Evolution: The Whole Story” by Steve Parker (Firefly): Editor Parker has assembled the work of 20 contributing scientists in “Evolution,” an approachable and interesting 576-page study of life on Earth, now and then. Diagrams, photos, charts and text all add up to a fascinating study.
“Cute Emergency: Bad Day? The Doctor Is In” by Tony Heally (Three Rivers Press): An extension of his popular Cute Emergency Twitter account that shared “aw-inspiring” photos of cute critters, Heally offers 176 pages of dogs, cats and other animals — yaks! pigs! hedgehogs! — that will make the reader smile.