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EVERY LIVING THING by Rob Dunn
In a series of vivid portraits of determined--even obsessed--scientists, Every Living Thing: Man's Obsessive Quest to Catalog Life, from Nanobacteria to New Monkeys (Smithsonian Books ; ISBN 9780061430305; on sale 12/02/2008; $26.95) Rob Dunn shows that we are not even close to knowing all life on earth. We are not close to naming it, studying it, not even close to knowing the basic kinds of organisms.
How much is left to know? If history is a lesson, there is more left to know than we have yet discovered. And yet, biologists and lay people alike have repeatedly through history claimed victory over life. A thousand years ago we thought we knew almost everything; a hundred years ago too. But even today we are unable to see what is beyond our immediate radar. Discoveries we can’t yet imagine still await. Dunn traces the history of human discovery from the establishment of classification in the 18th century to today’s attempts to first find, and then describe life in space. The narrative telescopes from a scientist’s attempt to find one single thing (a rare ant-emulating beetle species) to a scientist’s attempt to find everything (all the insects living in a section of the Smoky Mountains).
EVERY LIVING THING is the engaging story of humanity’s unending quest to discover every living thing in our natural world--from the unimaginably small in the most inhospitable of places on earth to the unimaginably far away in ancient seabeds on Mars.
EVERY LIVING THING includes a preface by E.O. Wilson who, like the discoverers to precede him, thinks we may soon find all the species on Earth. On the other hand, as Dunn shows, Linnaeus thought something similar three hundred years ago. We always seem to believe the boundaries of life are just around the corner. So far we have always been wrong.
"If you have any interest in life beyond your own, you should read this book. Even biologists are still discovering the incredible richness of the living world. Between the covers of EVERY LIVING THING you'll learn both about life's amazing diversity and that process of their discovery. Savor this fascinating volume and then help to preserve life's wonders." --Paul R. Ehrlich, author of The Dominant Animal: Human Evolution and the Environment
“As I was reading Rob Dunn's Every Living Thing, a red spider mite crawled across the page. Knowing of my wife's concern for her house plants, I raised my thumb to squash it. But because of the book I was reading, I couldn't do it. This wonderful, beautifully written and necessary book will enhance your love of "every living thing," your knowledge of the people who search out and catalog the diversity of life-- and, yes, your understanding of what it means to be gloriously, curiously alive.” --Chet Raymo, author of The Path: A One-mile Walk Through the Universe
"Weaving personal, often hilarious stories with fascinating accounts of breakthroughs in biology, Rob Dunn gives us a mesmerizing travelogue of the quest to document and understand life on our planet. I loved this book. In fact, I read it twice." -- Piotr Naskrecki, author of The Smaller Majority, Director of the Invertebrate Diversity Initiative of Conservation International, and Research Associate, the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University
"Science writer Dunn (ecology, North Carolina State Univ.) and his wife were collecting insect and plant species in Bolivia and learning the names from natives when he became interested in the search for new species. His book, a series of portraits of obsessive scientists who have looked at the world in new ways, reveals that we are not even close to identifying every new organism on Earth. Dunn traces the history of scientific discovery, from Linnaeus’s desire to name everything and Leeuwenhoek’s extensive study of microscopic animals to the biologists who tried to organize all-species inventories around the world, Lynn Margulis’s ideas of symbiogenesis, and Carl Woese’s discovery of the new domain, Archaea. Dunn also writes about scientists who are pushing at the edges of what seem to be the extremes of life: the discovery of life around very hot deep sea vents and the search for life on other planets. Dunn’s enthusiasm for his subjects comes through in this well-written book. Recommended for public and university libraries."—Margaret Henderson, Tompkins-McCaw Health Sciences Lib., Virginia Commonwealth Univ., Richmond (in Library Journal)
In Genesis, the first task God gives man is to name the living things of the Earth. To this day, the desire to discover and categorize the creatures of our world continues—and the creatures we discover have only become more and more remarkable. In Every Living Thing: Man's Obsessive Quest to Catalog Life, from Nanobacteria to New Monkeys, biologist Rob Dunn traces the beginnings of modern biology back to two men: Leeuwenhoek, who peered through his self-made microscope and learned that life could be smaller than anyone had imagined, and Linnaeus, who believed it was his destiny to name all creatures. From these two explorers grew a search that has discovered lifeforms not in the thousands (as Linnaeus predicted), but in the millions. Life that exists in teeming multitudes of insect species suspended in the trees above the jungle floor. Life that spreads across that jungle floor, a single acre holding a thousand times more diversity than the entirety of Linnaeus' native Sweden. Life that lives in superheated poisonous vents at the deepest depths of the oceans and perhaps even life that thrives in the airless, radiation-soaked distances of space. Every Living Thing is a journey into the marvelous, miraculous and unimaginable realm of life. It is also a journey into the equally marvelous minds of the men and women who seek to discover, name and understand everything within that realm. Dunn looks into their stories, revealing brilliance mixed with wildness, obsession with vision, perseverance with stubbornness, all wrapped up in the desire to know. From forests heights to the sea floor, from the confines of a petri dish to the vastness of the stars, the reader travels through the domain of life, with Dunn serving as a biologist's Virgil. Writing with heart and light touches of humor, Dunn steers the lay reader through the heady, improbable reaches of biology without getting lost in Latin names or technical theory. Engaging, compelling and as thoroughly fascinating as life itself, Every Living Thing is a masterful view into the world of biological science—and one that will leave the reader looking at life with wonder.--Howard Shirley (BookPage Nonfiction)
Below are some recent (mostly 2008) discoveries that expend our understanding of the dimensions of life. Some are big. Some are small. They all count.
And then under the, not all discoveries are good news category...
If you have other recent discoveries you think deserve mentioning, email me at Rob_Dunn "at" gmail.com with the title "discovery.