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Shark (And Relatives) Week @ the Library: Part I

Today, we are pleased and proud to feature Ashur’s stellar blog post in honor of Shark Week!  We hope you enjoy!

In honor of the Discovery’s Shark Week and National Geographic’s SharkFest, this series of blog posts is dedicated to the flat sharks of oceans: skates, rays, guitarfish, chimaera. It’s not that we don’t love sharks, it’s just that their flatter siblings deserve more attention than they usually get.

A chain catshark http://www.elasmodiver.com Credit: Andy Murch

Regardless of how you feel about Shark Week, it’s become somewhat of an annual popular cultural institution in the United States since its advent in the late 1980s.

Well, what about them? First off, let’s start with what is and isn’t a shark. The Shark Trust gives us an excellent visual taxonomy of sharks and their relatives – please note that is does not include dolphins, which are often assumed to be related to sharks. I may post about dolphins in the future, but suffice to say that they’re marine mammals, not even fish, which sharks are most certainly fish.

A zebra shark, which is both a fish and a shark, gets a belly rub in New Caledonia. Credit: Aquarium des Lagons and their YT channel.

In particular, scroll down along the chart (Kingdom -> Phylum -> Class) until you get to ORDER, which is who we’ll be talking about today.

In particular, this multi-part entry will cover members of Rajiformes (rays & skates) and Pristiophoriformes (sawfish), close kin of sharks. Throughout this entry I’ll be using the term “batoid”, taken from the superorder term Batoidea  which encompasses rays, skates, mantas, torpedo fish and sawfish, among others.

Acquired via: https://twitter.com/rabihalameddine/   Still not a shark, still not a fish. The puffer fish is a fish, though.
1) What’s a batoid?  For that matter, what’s an elasmobranch?
batoid is a ray (e.g. manta ray) or a skate.  Batoids are members of superorder Batoidea, which is under subclass ElasmobranchiiElasmobranchii in turn is one of two subclasses under class Chondrichthyes, which contains cartilaginous fish, as opposed to bony fish (for the record, most fish are bony).  The other member of this class is Holocephali, the chimaera, aka the rabbitfish, ghost shark, ratfish, etc.  While chimaera are awesome, even fewer people care about them/know they exist than batoids and they merit their own entry in the future.  
A chimaera. Told you they were cute.  http://palaeo.gly.bris.ac.uk/palaeofiles/fossilgroups/chondrichthyes/modernforms/modernforms.html
Elasmobranchii contains the sharks and the batoids, thus making an elasmobranch any member of subclass Elasmobranchii.  Yes, this will be on the test.
2) So…what exactly are skates and rays, then?
To be stately it crudely, they’re flat-bodied sharks.  TIME FOR VISUAL AIDS!
Smooth skate © Andy Murch http://www.elasmodiver.com/SmoothSkate.htm
A cownose ray, my most beloved of batoids!  Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). http://research.myfwc.com/gallery/image_details.asp?id=26194
As for the $1,000,000 question, “What’s the difference between skates and rays?”, let’s break it down bulleted list style:
-Rays bear live young.  Live birth by a manta in captivity (Japan in 2007) revealed that young manta rays come out rolled up like batoid burritos, with their wings folded. Unfortunately, this one appeared to fall victim to an abusive father after five days.

Hello little skatelet! An egg case full of skate. http://people.whitman.edu/~yancey/
-Skates lay eggs.  These eggs (egg cases, really) are awesome and are colloquially known as mermaid’s purses.  If you live near a coastline you may have been lucky enough to have found one on a beach.  Some species of shark (such as dogfish) also produce this type of egg case.  Here is a handy egg case ID chart for UK readers wondering what they’ve found on the beach.
-Rays have thin, whiplike tails; the tails of skates tend to be fleshier.  
-Rays tend to be much larger than skates.  You don’t see stuff like manta rays or the stingrays that get hauled out of the Mekong River in the skate family.
Photo credit: Zeb Hogan
-Skates don’t have the infamous tail barbs that some species of ray use for defense.  Instead, skates rely on thorns on the surface of their bodies.  Check out the image of the “smooth” skate again.  I can personally vouch that petting cownose rays is fun but I would not like to try it with a skate.

-Additionally, there are differences in dentition:  rays do the “crushing” plate form of dentition, skates have horrid little teeth.

As is so often the case, the ReefQuest Centre for Shark Research has written up a nicer, cleaner and infinitely more professional explanation than I just provided. I will also take this opportunity just to promote their site in general, given I end up on quite regularly: elasmo-research.org, my poppets!

3) Just skates and rays?  So what’s a sawfish? 

…okay, I wasn’t being completely honest with you.  In addition to skates and rays, by far the most numerous members of the group, there are sawfish and guitarfish. There are further subdivisions of guitarfish into “guitarfish” and “wedgefish” but a) these terms don’t seem to be used consistently and b) I don’t care to delve into it, given colloquial fish names are tricky business on a good day. Suffice to say that both guitarfish and wedgefish are funky batoids that look like permutations on the theme of “shark-ray”. 

Sawfish are probably the most well-known due to their fabulous rostrums, aka “saws”:

PISCINE ALGEBRA: SAWFISH = SAW + FISH
SAWFISH FACTS:
  • The spikes on the rostrum are not teeth but denticles. Denticles are a type of modified tooth, which while close to teeth, are not teeth. Bear in mind that the famous skin of sharks and sawfish are also covered in dermal denticles.  If a sawfish loses a denticle, it does not grow back.  However, that doesn’t make them not-pokey.
  • The rostrum houses electroreceptors which allow the sawfish to detect the movement and even heartbeats of buried prey.
  • In turn, rostrums (rostra?) are good tools for digging up said buried prey.  Think of them as nature’s electroreceptive denticle-lined shovels.  In a pinch, the sawfish can use them for slashing, too!
  • Like many large elasmobranchs, sawfish are endangered.

Unfortunately, like so many creatures with interesting organs, humans have been hacking them off and selling them as elixirs, charms, markers of prestige, curios, medicine, etc. forever.  In my quest for information on sawfish, I found an image of a sawfish that had had its rostrum cut off, been released and the wound had healed, effectively leaving the sawfish to live without one of its sensory organs.  I’m pretty sure you can fill in the blanks on the implications of that.  Additionally, their large oil-filled livers, bile, fins and skin are of commercial interest.

It goes without saying that this is cruel and somewhat akin to shark finning, another practice that fills me with joy and mirth.

Child with a pile of sawfish rostrums in Key West.  Not sure where the rest of the sawfish are. http://www.boldwater.com/article_sawfish_ebay.shtml
Moving on to guitarfish, they’re likely more famous than they probably have any right to be, thanks to the program Ace of Cakes.  Specifically, the crew was asked to make a cake for the third birthday of Sweet Pea, a shark ray (aka a bowmouth guitarfish aka a mud skate [?!]) who resides at the Newport Aquarium in Kentuckyin the shape of Sweet Pea herself.  Here is the original:
That’s a lie, this is Scooter, Sweet Pea’s tankmate.  http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/16951419/ns/technology_and_science-science/
…and here’s Sweet Pea’s birthday cake! http://www.charmcitycakes.com
For the curious, I believe the specific Ace of Cakes episode featuring Sweet Pea is called “Swimming With the Sharks”.  I vaguely remember it because I was very excited about batoids on the television.

Cakes aside, I’m not sure how much I can say about shark rays given there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of information out there about them.  I have learned that like everything else in the universe they get stuck in nets and make fisherfolk mad, they’re pretty much impossible to mistake for any other creature and the “bowmouthed” part of their name is derived from the silhouette of their head resembling a longbow.

As for “shark ray”, well, they kind of look like someone smashed and shark and ray together and they’re the result.  No idea about “mud skate” though; it’s oddly non-descriptive, given their unique appearance.

How about non-bowmouth guitarfish?

Guitarfish that lack the “bowmouth” adjective look similar to their bowmouthed relatives, but with pointier heads and a greater diversity of body shapes:

It is much harder to find good pictures of not dead/mutilated  guitarfish online than you’d think. BE NICE TO GUITARFISH
Speaking of guitarfish, the Tennessee Aquarium Blog has a couple of nice entries with lovely images showing Gibson, a giant guitarfish who lived at the aquarium for a bit when floods hit Nashville (where Gibson typically resides, the subject of many of a TripAdvisor Review) in May of 2010.  Entries on how one goes about moving a giant guitarfish and what one feeds such creatures follow.

There’s even an online story for children about a guitarfish named Gilbert, although it’s a slightly less biologically accurate representation (in all fairness, the author acknowledges this).  You should probably read it, you’ll thank me later.

However, the real awesomeness of guitarfish is what they look like underneath:

 

Atlantic guitarfish: dorsal and ventral views of head © George Burgess
While it’s tempting to call the lower image the guitarfish’s “face”, that’s incorrect; its eyes are on the top (dorsal) side of its body while the holes located behind the eyes are the spiracles.

WHAT’S A SPIRACLE?  I’m so glad you asked that question!  Aside from the simple answer (“Ray head holes!”), lets have an illustration from our friend the Blue-Spotted Ray:

Bluespotted ribbontail ray (Taeniura lymma) near Leyte, Philippines Photo:  Nicolai Johannesen
To be simple about it, spiracles are holes on the surfaces of some animals that are used for respiration.  They’re probably most well-known in an oceanic context from the example of batoids, but they have ample representation on land as well.  For example, many caterpillars, some types of spiders, scorpions, and others have spiracles.  LET’S HAVE A VISUAL AID
© Tufts School of Arts and Sciences
See those holes sportily dotting the side of our very hungry caterpillar?  Those are their spiracles, which they can open and close at will.  Spiracles do occur in other animals, but for purposes of our discussion we’ll focus on their presence in elasmobranchs (if you care you can look it up).  Yes, elasmobranchs, not just batoids: sharks (though not all sharks, mind you) have spiracles too.
Grey carpet shark; the spiracle is located below the eye. © David Harasti
But anyway, back to the point at hand, which was ray “faces”.  So what’re all the holes on the under (ventral) sides of their weird heads?  The mouth is pretty self-evident, it’s where they stick their food.  What ISN’T self-evident is their dentition, which is one of the big differences between skates and rays.  Rays certainly have teeth (a wide variety, in fact), but they’re fused together into “crushing plates”.  This can be somewhat difficult to mentally visualize so here’s an example of a spotted eagle ray jaw:
http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/fish/gallery/descript/seray/seray.html © Cathleen Bester
This particular set of jaws is used for crushing shelled mollusks into lunch. As I said before though, there’s diversity of ray teeth so here’s an illustration of dentition from perhaps the most familiar and unfairly maligned of batoids, the stingray.  This example has the benefit of showing how the jaw actually fits into the fish’s head as well.
Dentition of yellow stingray, A. Opened mouth of female, B. Front upper teeth (above line) and rear upper teeth (below line) of female, C. Side view of upper tooth of female, D. Upper teeth of mature male, E. Side view of one tooth of same (Fishes of the Western North Atlantic, 1948) http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/fish/Gallery/Descript/yellowstingray/yellowstingray.html
 

As is so often the case though, we have an exception to the rule of ray teeth: the Shamu of the batoid world, the manta ray.  Yes, I know I’ve managed to go this entire entry without even mentioning their awesome remora-crusted forms, except when they’re beating their tortillaform offspring to death in captivity in displays of paternal care.  Mantas are filter feeders, preferring zooplankton to whelks, but they actually possess vestigial peg-shaped teeth on their lower jaw.  Poky vestigial teeth that look like this:

Manta ray teeth! Photographer: Mark McGrouther © Australian Museum
These teeth are not used for eating, but unsurprisingly, for mating.  Mantas get frisky, which is concerning when both members of congress can weigh up to 5,000 lb/2,268 kg.  Regardless, there is your manta ray dentition.  So what about skates?  Unlike rays, skates have their nice and pointy teeth arrayed prettily on their funky jaws in non-crushing plate fashion:
http://courses.washington.edu/chordate/453photos/teeth_photos/specialized_teeth.htm
The big question is, will skates bite you with their pointy little teeth?  I searched the Internet in vain because the word “skate” is an unfortunate homograph in English. Additionally, there’s apparently some phenomenon related to hockey called “skate bite” that definitely does not involve batoid skates (although there is one that involves octopus).
…I was still talking about guitarfish faces, wasn’t I?  I suppose the important part isn’t so much knowing what every part of a batoid “face” is (though I encourage it!), but the fact of the matter is that picking up on resemblance of the ventral side of batoids (particularly skates) to a vaguely human idea of a grimacing face is not new.
A few hucksters back in the day (back in the day = at least as far back as the 1500s) decided to capitalize on this and gave us the Jenny Haniver: a the body of a dried skate or ray (which preserved the “face”) which was then cut and shaped to give to give it a vaguely anthropoid figure.  Some were purported to be the corpses of mermaids, some of devils (the pectoral fins of batoids came in handy for infernal capes), alien creatures, etc.
Ms. Haniver in all her glory!  This thing is incredibly cute (if you’re into mutilated batoids). http://www.zymoglyphic.org/acquisitions/haniver.html
Internet rumor purports that the celebrated bishop fish, one of my personal heroes and sources of inspiration in life, may have been a Jenny Haniver, but I find this difficult to swallow, given it would be very difficult for a Jenny Haniver to a) appeal to Catholic bishops and b) make the sign of the cross before swimming off into the Baltic Sea. We’re going to ignore the fact that all of these things seem awfully impractical for any type of fish to do and just enjoy the illustration below:
Gesner, Conrad. (1587). Historiae animalium.
NOTE: If you haven’t checked out Conrad Gesner’s Historiae Animalium you should probably run, not walk, there now.  It was published in 1587, which pretty much guarantees that is amazing and an utter delight.  This text has the distinction of featuring the angriest porcupines and beavers I have ever seen in my life.
We’ll stop right here before exploring individual groups of batoids in greater depth. In the coming weeks, I will post obligatory sections on three subjects that I kept running across as I’ve done research for this post: stingrays, manta rays and electric rays.

Here’s a video from Sharklab-Malta chronicling the rescue, rehabilitation and release of an angular rough shark that was found left in a bucket. For a more in-depth description of the rescue, Oceanographic Magazine has a write-up.

In the meantime, have a few shark and batoid-centric reading recommendations! This will be heavier on the “shark” end of things, as batoids do not appear have to experienced their own publishing renaissance quite yet.
I’d also take a moment to recognize the Elasmodiver’s (referenced earlier in this entry) reading list – if you’re looking at getting deep into writings about sharks (especially from the angle of a scientist or a. His entire website is excellent and very informative, so I recommend a visit.

Many animals elicit the same mythical terror and awe as sharks, and yet we know little about these elusive, highly engineered creatures. John A. Musick and Beverly McMillan bring us along on a thrilling adventure as they chase sharks from Bear Gulch, Montana, to a whale shark-feeding station in Okinawa, by way of Alaska, the Bimini islands, and the most sophisticated shark-research labs in the world. En route we discover that sharks navigate using electromagnetic signals, have a bloodhound’s sense of smell, are both cold- and warm-blooded, and possess biochemical weapons, which, used properly, might indeed help fend off malignant tumors and microbes.

Musick, who has spent over thirty years as a defender of the much-maligned shark, here excavates the mysterious lives of sharks from the dark recesses of the oceans–and raising the alarm about how fishing and industry are reducing their numbers and affecting their behavior. This captivating and educational scientific exploration challenges us to rethink our relationship with sharks, leaving us with the question: Are humans the prey, or the predator?


Sharks of New England, by Alessandro de Maddalena.
Lots of elasmobranch books are regional – as such, I thought it appropriate to include information on our local shark population. Readers who think sharks are a predominantly tropical species will be in for quite a surprise when they learn that the cold waters of New England are home to 33 different species. The aim of this book is to provide both accurate scientific information on sharks and to profile those species that inhabit the waters of New England.


Unlikely Friendships: 47 Remarkable Stories from the Animal Kingdom, by Jennifer S. Holland
This book merits a mention because of a story included about the relationship between a diver and a manta ray, but feel free to enjoy all the rest as well! Unlikely Friendships documents one heartwarming tale after another of animals who, with nothing else in common, bond in the most unexpected ways. A cat and a bird. A mare and a fawn. An elephant and a sheep. A snake and a hamster. The well-documented stories of Koko the gorilla and All Ball the kitten; and the hippo Owen and the tortoise Mzee. And almost inexplicable stories of predators befriending prey—an Indian leopard slips into a village every night to sleep with a calf.
Ms. Holland narrates the details and arc of each story, and also offers insights into why—how the young leopard, probably motherless, sought maternal comfort with the calf, and how a baby oryx inspired the same mothering instinct in the lionness.


The Encyclopedia of Sharks, by Steve and Jane Parker.

The Encyclopedia of Sharks is a richly illustrated and fact-filled reference on all the world’s species of sharks. The author debunks the fearful myths and fierce legends, providing straightforward facts and the latest research on sharks. More than 200 striking photographs show sharks in their natural habitats. Detailed drawings illustrate the anatomical features unique to sharks, such as their fearsome but short-lived teeth.

The book includes authoritative and updated information on:

  • Evolution and design of the shark
  • Classifications and orders
  • Understanding the shark
  • The life of the shark — how it feeds, breeds and migrates
  • Shark “supersense” — how it survives in the aquatic environment
  • The need for protection and conservation — how sharks are now endangered by over fishing and “finning.”

Also included is a 50-page comprehensive, all-color section featuring and explaining the world’s most important breeds.

Through its lively text, spectacular photography, and charts, maps and illustrations, The Encyclopedia of Sharks will encourage an understanding of these complex creatures.

See you next entry, dear readers!

The Beautiful Science of Clouds

Today, we are delighted to welcome Ashur back to the blog to share with us some fascinating information on the clouds above us (and some invertebrates, too!)

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Noctilucent_clouds_over_Stockholm.jpg Credit: Kevin Cho.

For readers in the mid-latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, summer has arrived. This is doubly-true for New England, where we’ve been experiencing our first sustained period of “summer” weather, despite the season’s various arbitrary start dates (the summer solstice, Memorial Day in the US, the “start” date of the Atlantic hurricane season, etc). For some, it means a break from school; for others, vacation. Others yet, farmers markets and fresh in-season produce. Of course, for some of us it’s just a change of clothing.

For me, it marks noctilucent cloud-watching season, which generally spans May-August in the Northern Hemisphere and November-February in the Southern Hemisphere. Noctilucent clouds (NLCs, also known as PMCs, polar mesospheric clouds) are generally visible only at high latitudes (~45° N/S). Here in Peabody, we’re at  42.5279° N; a little too far south for most, but they’ve been seen as far south as Colorado and Utah in recent years; this week, they were seen in Seattle, which sits at 47.6062° N.  

Layers of the atmosphere: troposphere, stratosphere, mesosphere and thermosphere. Credit: Randy Russell, UCAR

Unlike most clouds, NLCs form high above the earth in the mesophere; in contrast, with certain unusual exceptions (which we’ll talk about in a bit), all cloud activity (and what we consider weather, in general) takes place in the lowest layer, the troposphere. NLCs’ altitude causes them to be underlit by the sun after it’s sunk below the horizon, producing their night-shiningness.

When we’re talking about clouds, we’re generally referring to the clouds found in the simplified chart below:

https://scied.ucar.edu/webweather/clouds/cloud-types © 2012 UCAR

For a more descriptive guide to cloud types, the University of Illinois has a handy and succinct guide, which features many excellent photos.

Returning what I alluded to earlier, there are two other types of extra-tropospheric clouds, though one’s a bit of a cheat: 1) tops of cumulonimbus clouds (in some cases) and 2) nacreous clouds, also known as polar stratospheric clouds (PSCs).

A well-developed cumulonimbus capillatus Image credit: Simon Eugster

Depending on where you live and the season, the cauliflower-topped-with-an-anvil shape of cumulonimbus may be a frequent sight. The cause for the flattening (and at times with wispy cirrus tendrils at the top, a variety of cloud called cumulonimbus capillatus) is the cloud’s top running into the tropopause, the boundary between the troposphere and stratosphere. Nevertheless, they can poke a bit above the tropopause into the stratosphere, though conditions there prevent them from extending higher. If you’re curious, here’s a bit more detail on the various characteristics of our planet’s atmospheric layers.   

Nacreous clouds over Norway. www.lofotenbilder.no © Eric Fokke

Above is a nacreous cloud, also known as a polar stratospheric cloud (PSC; guess what layer of the atmosphere they form in). While visually stunning, nacreous clouds are not benign: they have a role in the destruction of Earth’s protective (for us!) ozone layer, which is also located in the stratosphere. If you’re interested in the nitty-gritty physics, Harvard has you covered. For a more lay-friendly approach, NASA says:

These high altitude clouds form only at very low temperatures help destroy ozone in two ways: They provide a surface which converts benign forms of chlorine into reactive, ozone-destroying forms, and they remove nitrogen compounds that moderate the destructive impact of chlorine. In recent years, the atmosphere above the Arctic has been colder than usual, and polar stratospheric clouds have lasted into the spring. As a result, ozone levels have been decreasing.

PSC is a more accurate term than “nacreous” (meaning to resemble nacre, which is also known as mother-of-pearl), as not all PSCs have this appearance.

A nacreous abalone shell https://phys.org/news/2015-10-mother-of-pearl-genesis-mineral.html Credit: Pupa Gilbert (https://home.physics.wisc.edu/gilbert/)

Because I am contractually obligated to talk about invertebrates at some point in a given blog post, let’s talk about mother-of-pearl/nacre. Cornell University has the goods on the precise material process that is used to create nacre; a more accessible description can be found here.

Like pearls themselves, nacre can be found in a variety of different mollusks, not just pearl oysters. Nacre itself is what coats the outside of a pearl (if it’s from a pearl oyster or pearl mussel) and gives the pearl its characteristic appearance. As shown as above, abalone produce spectacular mother of pearl.

http://www.aqua.org/Experience/Animal-Index/chambered-nautilus Credit: George Grall, National Aquarium

Cephalopods also produce mother of pearl: the inside of some chambered nautilus shells are iridescent, and there is the iridescent mineral ammolite, which can found on some fossils of the long/sadly-extinct ammonite.     

Ammolite on an ammonite fossil. https://gem-a.com/news-publications/media-centre/news-blogs/from-the-archives/from/korite-ammolite-ammonite-mining-calgary-alberta

Returning back to NCLs and PSCs, it’s worth noting that NLCs are recently observed and identified atmospheric phenomena: there is no record of their observation prior to 1885 and there have been suggestions linking their appearance to the catastrophic eruption of Krakatoa in 1883. While nothing has been conclusively proven (at least according to my research efforts), there has also been discussion of NLCs being linked to climate change and the effects of the Industrial Revolution.  

Here’s what a noctilucent cloud looks like from the International Space Station. https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/12/02/504153643/the-electric-blue-polar-cloud-season-came-early-this-year NASA/ISS/Don Pettit

Finally, since we’ve been discussing these colorful night-shining and pearlescent clouds, I should take the time to mention an optical phenomenon that can occur with “ordinary” tropospheric clouds: iridescence. Depending on the angle of sun/moonlight and how water droplets or ice crystals are aligned in a cloud, diffraction can cause a colorful iridescent effect to be seen.

You don’t have to be above the troposphere to be colorful and striking! Iridescence seen in mid-altitude clouds. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cloud_iridescence#/media/File:Highly_iridising_altocumulus.jpg Credit: C Messier

For more images of NLCs, PSCs, aurora and other spectacular images of the sky (and beyond, in some cases), may I recommend Atmospheric Optics and Polar Image?

 

Do you personally want to also take stunning images of things high in the sky? Rayann Elzein has a tutorial on his site.

Finally, if you too want to keep up with interesting atmospheric phenomena that may or may not be near you, pay attention to spaceweather.com: You’ll find information about aurora, satellite and space station flybys, noctilucent clouds, solar flares, sunspot activity, eclipses, meteor showers (the Perseids are coming in August!), weird clouds due to missile or rocket launches and more.

If you’re interested in learning further about clouds, how to predict the weather based on cloud conditions (WARNING: Orographic lifting ruins everything) or about others’ adventures as they explore and pursue clouds, read on for book recommendations!

The Cloudspotter’s Guide: The Science, History and Culture of Clouds, by Gavin Pretor-Pinney, Founder of the Cloud Appreciation Society: The author says: The Cloudspotter’s Guide was our first book. Written by Society founder, Gavin Pretor-Pinney, it was turned down by 28 publishers but then went on to be an international bestseller and is now in 20 translations. It is predominantly black and white throughout, with a short colour section in the middle.  The Cloudspotter’s Guide explains in an entertaining way that is accessible to everyone how and why clouds form, but it also explores our curious relationship with clouds, showing how this has been expressed over the centuries in literature, art and film. After all, these “patron goddesses of idle fellows”, as the Greek playwright Aristophanes described clouds, have been the ever-present, subtle backdrop to the whole of human existence. If you’re interested in learning more about or perhaps joining the ranks of the Cloud Appreciation Society, here’s where to find them.

The Cloud Collector’s Handbook, by Gavin Pretor-Pinney  he Cloud Collector’s Handbook fits into the pocket, allowing cloudspotters to identify cloud formations anytime and anywhere. All the common cloud types are represented, as are many of the rare ones, each fully described and illustrated with a range of photographs. Not only is The Cloud Collector’s Handbook an invaluable resource for anyone who wants to be able to identify and understand every cloud that floats by, it also caters for the competitive cloudspotter. Points are awarded for each cloud type identified – the rarer the cloud, the greater points – and there’s space to fill in where and when it was sighted. Beautifully designed, in colour throughout, and full of the humour that made The Cloudspotter’s Guide so engaging, the Handbook is the essential reference for anyone with their head in the clouds. This handbook is now printed on coated paper so that the images are clearer and more vibrant.

An Observer’s Guide to Clouds and Weather: A Northeastern Primer on Prediction, by Toby Carlson, Paul Knight, and Celia Wyckoff: Today, most people look down when they want to check the weather, peeking at cell phones or popping open a browser, instead of looking up at one of the most accessible weather predictors of all–the sky. Knowing what the atmosphere has in store without relying on technology can be a gratifying experience, and now with An Observer’s Guide to Clouds and Weather , it is also one that is easy to learn. This informative and accessible guide walks readers through the basics of making weather predictions through understanding cloud types and sky formations. It explains, in nontechnical terms, the science behind the weather, connecting fundamental meteorological concepts with the processes that shape weather patterns. Readers will learn how to develop their powers of observation and hone their ability to make quick forecasts without complicated tools. Whether you’re an amateur weather enthusiast or a beginning meteorology student, An Observer’s Guide to Clouds and Weather will help anyone who prefers looking up to looking it up. If you’re interested in checking out this book, please speak with a librarian.

A Sideways Look at Clouds, by Maria Mudd Ruth Author Maria Mudd Ruth fell in love with clouds the same way she stumbles into most passions: madly and unexpectedly. A Sideways Look at Clouds is the story of her quite accidental infatuation with and education about the clouds above.  When she moved to the soggy Northwest a decade ago, Maria assumed that locals would know everything there was to know about clouds, in the same way they talk about salmon, tides, and the Seahawks. Yet in her first two years of living in Olympia, Washington, she never heard anyone talk about clouds-only the rain. Puzzled by this lack of cloud savvy, she decided to create a 10-question online survey and sent it to everyone she knew. Her sample size of 67 people included men and women, new friends in Olympia, family on the East Coast, outdoorsy and indoorsy types, professional scientists, and liberal arts majors like herself. The results showed that while people knew a little bit about clouds, most were like her-they had a hard time identifying clouds or remembering their names. As adults, they had lost their curiosity and sense of wonder about clouds and were, essentially, not in the habit of looking up. A Sideways Look at Clouds acknowledges the challenges of understanding clouds and so uses a very steep and bumpy learning curve – the author’s – as its plot line. If you’re interested in checking out this book, please speak with a librarian.

The Invention of Clouds: How an Amateur Meteorologist Forged the Language of the Skies, by Richard Hamblyn: The Invention of Clouds is the true story of Luke Howard, the amateur English meteorologist who in 1802 gave the clouds their names — cumulus, cirrus, stratus. He immediately gained international fame, becoming a cult figure among artists and painters — Goethe, Constable, and Coleridge revered him — and legitimizing the science of meteorology. Part history of science, part cultural excavation, this is not only the biography of a man, but of a moment: the cultural birth of the modern scientific era.

The Weather Wizard’s Cloud Book: A Unique Way to Predict the Weather Accurately and Easily by Reading the Clouds, by Louis D. Rubin Sr. and Jim Duncan: The Weather Wizard’s Cloud Book offers a foolproof three-step system for predicting the weather. With amazing accuracy, this simple system can account for swiftly changing local weather developments more effectively than weather maps or official area forecasts, which are issued well in advance of weather conditions. Includes more than 120 photographs.

The Book of Clouds, by John A. Day: See the sky as you never have before. Using a series of his awe-inspiring images, photographer and scientist John Day–who has a Ph.D. in cloud physics and is known round the world as “The Cloudman”–introduces us to earth’s great skyscape. His spectacular portfolio of pictures captures a variety of cloud forms and shapes, ranging from cottony-soft cumulus clouds to frightening, whirling funnels, as well as a number of optical effects seen in the heavens above. Rainbows, halos, coronas, flashes: all these and more elements in nature’s magic show appear on the page, including the incredible “Parhelia” or sun pillar, shafts of bright light that stretch from the ground right up into the sky. A magnificent cloud chart; an explanation of how clouds form; hints on forecasting, observing, and photographing clouds; and his “Ten Reasons to Look Up” show us how to use our “inner eye” to really see the familiar fleeting forms that seem to float effortlessly above.

A Spineless Study, Part 1

Today, we are thrilled beyond measure to welcome Ashur, one of our wonderfully talented staff members, to the Free for All, to share with us the first in a series of posts devoted to all the wonder and joy to be discovered in the study of our spineless fellow creatures.  We hope you enjoy, and can’t wait to learn more soon!

97% of all animal* species on Earth are invertebrates, meaning that they lack a spine. Despite these overwhelming numbers, when we think of animals, we typically think of vertebrates. Within this classification, we often think particularly those known as “charismatic megafauna” (which are overwhelmingly mammals): big cats, whales, bears, elephants; the poster children of popular endangered species conservation efforts that show up on postal stamps. Animals that you can expect to see at the zoo and that you go to the zoo specifically to see.

While the term “invertebrate” covers a huge number of species both extant and extinct (ammonites! The Burgess Shale!), today I want to give special attention to marine invertebrates. Don’t worry, the others will have their time in the sun sooner or later – consider this a series of posts.

I’ll start off by saying that I can’t do this vast family justice, here’s a broad and wholly incomplete list of some of the more well-represented marine invertebrates:

Look into the 200 mirrored blue eyes of the scallop!
© David Moynahan
http://webhome.phy.duke.edu/~hsg/162/images/scallop-eye.html
    • Bivalves: clams, scallops, oysters and others, many who are tragically delicious.
    • Sea Snails (both with and without shells)
Clione limacina, a sea butterfly, which is a subgroup of pelagic sea snails
Photo © Jeffrey Gallant 2018; Aquatic Biodiversity Monitoring Network
  • Sea Urchins: Sand dollars are a type of very flat sea urchin. If you meet a living sand dollar in the wild, please gently return it to the water.
  • Sea Stars: Still known popularly as starfish, the term “sea star” is preferred because they’re not fish.
A cushion sea star (Culcita novaeguineae) invites you to relax. © @fishx6 2005 https://www.whatsthatfish.com/fish/cushion-sea-star/777
  • Jellies
  • Corals: Not a plant, but colonies of reef-building polyps
  • Sea cucumbers: Are they as tasty as the vegetable cucumber? I personally don’t know, but the recipes are out there if you’re interested in trying it (or are already a devotee) but they swim better than the average cuke. Here’s one in action:

The charismatic marine invertebrates are largely represented by the octopus, (though certain other cephalopods also attract public attention at times), which has enjoyed wide representation in recent and current non-fiction releases, as well as in the news.

So what books do we have for the reader interested in invertebrates?

Spineless: The Science of Jellyfish and the Art of Growing a Backbone, by Juli BerwaldWhile cephalopods are the most popular marine invertebrates, jellies may be a close second for their grace, beauty, bioluminescence and untouchability. In popular-science-writing-meets- memoir text, Juli Berwald guides readers through the current science of jellyfish. Elegant in design, the contents are structured like a jelly’s life cycle.

Spineless: Portraits of Marine Invertebrates, the Backbone of Life, by Susan Middleton : While Middleton’s book shares a title with Juli Berwald’s, they’re quite different; this Spineless is a striking gallery of 250+ underwater images (sprinkled with short essays and asides) taken of all manner of marine invertebrates. A good place to learn appreciation of the breadth of this group if you haven’t been appreciating them appropriately yet.

The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness, by Sy MontgomeryIn her widely-lauded book, popular naturalist Sy Montgomery has practiced true immersion journalism, the kind where you stick your hand in the water. From (our) New England aquarium tanks to the reefs of French Polynesia and the Gulf of Mexico, she has befriended octopuses with strikingly different personalities—gentle Athena, assertive Octavia, curious Kali, and joyful Karma. Each creature shows her cleverness in myriad ways: escaping enclosures like an orangutan; jetting water to bounce balls; and endlessly tricking companions with multiple “sleights of hand” to get food.

Squid Empire: The Rise and Fall of the Cephalopods, by Danna Staaf: Remember what I said about cephalopods being marine invertebrate superstars? An epic half billion years of evolution brought one extraordinary group of animals from mud-grubbing snails to monstrous monarchs of the sea—and, eventually, to the calamari on your dinner plate. This book actually covers one of my favorite topics: extinct invertebrates! If this is your jam, run, don’t walk. If you’re interested in checking out this book, please speak to a staff member in reference.

The Secret Life of Clams: The Mysteries and Magic of our Favorite Shellfish, by Anthony D. Fredericks How often do you think about the lives of clams, or other shellfish for that matter? Possibly often, depending on whether you have an invasive shellfish species affecting your local ecosystem. This book was designed to fill that knowledge gap and perhaps develop within you a greater appreciation of the clam. If you’re interested in checking out this book, please speak to a staff member in reference.

The Secret Life of Lobsters: How Fishermen and Scientists are Unraveling the Mysteries of our Favorite Crustacean, by Trevor Corson: So many secret lives! If you like your invertebrates to have more than one foot, why not peer into the life of the lobster, crustacean symbol of coastal New England (sorry cod, you have a spine)? 

 If you’re interested in checking out this book, please speak to a staff member in reference.

Rise, Ye Sea Slugs!  a theme from In praise of old Haiku, with many more poems and fine elaboration, by Robin D. Gill: While this list is largely comprised of educational non-fiction, I would be remiss if I did not alert you to this splendid volume of over 900 translated haiku, all about sea cucumbers. I generally do most of my reading from books taken from the library; this is one I plan to own.  If you’re interested in checking out this book, please speak to a staff member in reference.

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this brief foray into the exciting science and lives of marine invertebrates. More to come in the future!

*=the term “animal” includes insects

 

 

Five Book Friday!

And very happy Free for All birthday wishes to Anna Marguerite McCann, art historian, and the first American woman to work in underground archaeology!

Via Wikipedia

McCann was born on May 11, 1933, in Mamaroneck, New York.  In 1954, she graduated from Wellesley College with a degree in art history with a minor in Classical Greek.  She was awarded a Fulbright  Scholarship to attend the American School of Classical Studies at Athens for a year, before beginning her studies at New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts.  She began diving with Jacques Cousteau early in the 1960’s off the coast of Marseille, France, where they explored ancient Roman shipwrecks.  Underwater projects like this were new at the time, and, like so many other fields, largely populated by, and controlled by, men.  Nevertheless, McCann’s acumen, insight, and enthusiasm helped her carve out a career for herself, but also made her an excellent teacher.  She lectured in colleges across the country, as well as at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and even contributed to a children’s book in order to inspire a new generation of archaeologists and divers!  Her book, which was an expansion of her Master’s Thesis, entitled The Portraits of Septimius Severus, A.D. 193–211, is still considered the best and most authoritative text in the field.  McCann married her childhood friend Robert Dorsett in 1973.  She passed away on February 12, 2017.   Today, we celebrate her curiosity, adventurous spirit, and lifelong devotion to education and learning!

And what better way to celebrate than by taking a look at some of the new books that have sauntered onto our shelves this week!

The Lost Pilots: The Spectacular Rise and Scandalous Fall of Aviation’s Golden CoupleIn June 1927, an Australian woman named Jessie Miller fled a loveless marriage and journeyed to London, where she fell in love with the city’s energy and the decadence of the interwar elites.  There, she met William Lancaster, who had served with the Royal Air Force during the First World War, and was determined to make his name as famous as Charles Lindbergh, who had just crossed the Atlantic.   Lancaster wanted to fly three times as far – from London to Melbourne – and in Jessie Miller he knew he had found the perfect co-pilot.  By the time they landed in Melbourne, the daring aviators were a global sensation – and, despite still being married to other people, deeply in love. Keeping their affair a secret, they toured the world in style until the 1929 stock market crash bankrupted them both.  To make ends meet Jessie agreed to write a memoir, and selected a man named Haden Clarke as her ghostwriter.  As Corey Mead shows in this fast-paced, detailed book, Clarke’s arrival changed everything for Miller and Lancaster, leading to a crime that was as infamous as they were renown.  This story takes us around the world–and through the skies–all the way to 1962, with the wreckage of a plane in the Sahara Desert, in a wonderfully engaging work of narrative non-fiction that Kirkus Reviews calls “A brisk, entertaining history of daring and passion.”

The Destiny Thief: Essays on Writing, Writers and Life: A collection of essays, addresses, and writings from beloved writer Richard Russo is a treat not only for his fans, but for bibliophiles in general.  From a commencement speech he gave at Colby College, to a comprehensive analysis of Mark Twain’s value, this collection shows Russo in all his thoughtful, emotional, and humorous glory.  These essays are personal, as well as literary, exploring his journey with a friend undergoing gender reassignment surgery, as well as how an oddly placed toilet made him reevaluate the purpose of humor in art and life, allowing us to appreciate a respected author in a new light–and perhaps helping readers find a new storyteller to follow!  Booklist agrees, noting in its review: “For aspiring writers, Russo’s musings on the art and craft of the novel are a trove of knowledge and guidance. For adoring readers, they are a window into the imagination and inspiration for Russo’s beloved novels, screenplays, and short stories. . . . Few authors seem as approachable in print and, one suspects, in person as acclaimed novelist Russo.”

The Saint of Wolves and Butchers: Those of you who loved Alex Grecian’s historical mysteries will know he is a writer with a terrific sense of place and a keen observer of emotion–and both these talents come to the forefront in his newest contemporary thriller.  Travis Roan and his dog, Bear, are hunters: They travel the world pursuing evildoers in order to bring them to justice. They have now come to Kansas on the trail of Rudolph Bormann, a Nazi doctor and concentration camp administrator who sneaked into the U.S. under the name Rudy Goodman in the 1950’s and has at last been identified.  But Goodman has some influential friends who are more than willing to stick their necks out to protect him–and the work that he has continued to this very day.   Caught between these men is Kansas State Trooper Skottie Foster, an African American woman and a good cop who must find a way to keep peace in her district–until she realizes the struggle between Roan and Bormann will put her and her family in grave peril.   This is an unsettling, unrelenting book that has drawn comparisons to both John Grisham and Stephen King.  Booklist gave it a starred review, calling it “A breathtaking thriller with plenty of action and some very clever twists . . . the grimly satisfying conclusion makes it worth it for both characters and readers. Fans of David Baldacci and John Grisham will enjoy the unpredictability and unrelenting suspense.”

Asymmetry: Lisa Halliday’s debut novel has left readers and critics alike spellbound and fascinated with her ability to weave storylines together into a single narrative that is prescient, engaged, and timeless.  Told in three distinct and uniquely compelling sections, the book explores the imbalances that spark and sustain many of our most dramatic human relations: inequities in age, power, talent, wealth, fame, geography, and justice.  From the story of Alice, a young American editor, and her relationship with the famous and much older writer Ezra Blazerduring the early years of the Iraq Wa to the first-person narrative of Amar, an Iraqi-American man who, on his way to visit his brother in Kurdistan, is detained by immigration officers and spends the last weekend of 2008 in a holding room in Heathrow, these seemingly disparate stories  interact and overlap in ways that are hard to see coming and impossible to forget.  There are heaps of praises coming in for Halliday’s novel, including from The New York Times Review of Books, which called it  “Masterly…As you uncover the points of congruence, so too do you uncover Halliday’s beautiful argument about the pleasure and obligations of fiction…It feels as if the issues she has raised — both explicitly and with the book’s canny structure — have sown seeds that fiction will harvest for years to come.”

That Kind of MotherRumaan Alam won a number of devoted fans with his first novel Rich and Pretty, and this newest book features the same gentle humor, compassion, and wit that earned such accolades.  This story focuses on Rebecca Stone, a white woman who has just given birth to her first child.  Struggling to juggle the demands of motherhood with her own aspirations and feeling utterly alone in the process, she reaches out to the only person at the hospital who offers her any real help, a Black woman named Priscilla Johnson, and begs her to come home with them as her son’s nanny.  In their time together, Priscilla teaches Rebecca not only about being a mother, but about navigating a world rich in privilege, prejudice.  When Priscilla dies unexpectedly in childbirth, Rebecca steps forward to adopt the baby. But she is unprepared for what it means to be a white mother with a black son. As she soon learns, navigating motherhood for her is a matter of learning how to raise two children whom she loves with equal ferocity, but whom the world is determined to treat differently.  Filled with timely observations and rich with sympathy, this is a novel that is both heartbreaking and redemptive.  Vogue gave it a glowing review, noting how Alam “expertly and intrepidly blends topics of the zeitgeist, including race, privilege, and motherhood, without sacrificing elegant prose and signature wit.”

 

Until next week, beloved patrons–Happy Reading!

Well, that was fun!

We sincerely hope everyone had a chance to enjoy yesterday’s eclipse.  While the event itself was rare enough in and of itself, it was also pretty remarkable to have an event that unambiguously brought everyone in this country together…and gave them a reason to look up and to marvel.  I was lucky enough to spend the height of the eclipse in a parking lot with a group of strangers who were all sharing their eclipse glasses, talking about the fact that the world was a weird kind of hazy orange-ish color, and, best of all, that we were grateful for each other’s presence at that moment in time.

If you weren’t able to watch the eclipse, then allow me to share with you some of the sensational images that NASA captured of the event:

Here’s the shadow of the Moon as seen from space:

From https://www.nasa.gov/image-feature/the-eclipse-2017-umbra-viewed-from-space-2

This composite image shows the progression of a partial solar eclipse over Ross Lake, in Northern Cascades National Park, Washington on Monday, Aug. 21, 2017:

A total solar eclipse swept across a narrow portion of the contiguous United States from Lincoln Beach, Oregon to Charleston, South Carolina. A partial solar eclipse was visible across the entire North American continent along with parts of South America, Africa, and Europe. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

And here’s the show itself:

https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-prepares-for-aug-21-total-solar-eclipse-with-live-coverage-safety-information

And, if you, like me, took some very well-intentioned, but generally unimpressive photos of the eclipse, then you can commiserate with these photos that The Guardian collected of people’s “Underwhelming Photos of the Eclipse”.

From The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/gallery/2017/aug/21/bad-solar-eclipse-photos-gallery

On the day that we were reminded how small we are in the cosmos, and how great are the forces balanced around us, it’s kind of nice to know that even if our attempts didn’t amount to much, that we all collectively strove to capture some wonder and some beauty together yesterday.

So thanks to the Sun for a great show, for bringing us together, and for reminding us of our place in the Grand Scheme of Things.  And if you’re interested, we’ll be back in this position again in 2024!  But just so you know, eclipse glasses have a short shelf life, so don’t save them for next time!  If you’re looking to get rid of those eclipse glasses, here’s what to do:

  1. Take the protective lenses (the black filmy stuff) off, then put them in the recycling bin
  2. Keep an eye on the Astronomers Without Borders website–they are looking to redistribute those glasses, and yours could do some real good!  We’ll let you know when their plan is announced.

And in the meantime, in case you aren’t ready to put your eclipse-o-mania away just yet, here is a selection of books that you can check out to keep you going (maybe not until 2024, but we’ll certainly keep trying!):

Every Soul a Star: This story, about three people among thousands who gather at Moon Shadow, an isolated campground in right in the path of totality to witness a solar eclipse.  Each of these three young people, Ally, Bree, and Jack, are dealing with their own burdens, from the experience of being overweight to social awkwardness, from the insecurity that comes with popularity to the fear of growing up and moving on–but during the eclipse, they will begin to forge friendships that will slowly change their lives.  Wendy Mass does a brilliant job shifting narrative voices in this book, alternating between Ally’s, Bree’s, and Jack’s experiences to form a powerful story about the strength human bonds, even in the face of massive, cosmic changes.  Like I said, my favorite part of the eclipse was hanging out with strangers who suddenly became friends, and this book revels in that feeling from the very first chapter.

Shooting the Sun: Anyone who tried to take a picture of the sun, balancing your eclipse glasses precariously over the lens, only to get a weird, grainy blur of red and black, will be glad to hear that people have been trying to capture eclipses on film for centuries.  Max Byrd takes this premise to create a fascinating, twisty, historically detailed story of cosmic wonders and human treachery. Charles Babbage, a British genius (and famous eccentric) has sponsored an expedition into the American wilderness in order to photograph an eclipse that Babbage’s Difference Engine has predicted.  On the expedition are four men and one remarkable woman, Mary Somerville, who is determined to prove Babbage’s predictions true.  But no computer can predict the vagaries of the human heart, or the darkness of the human mind, and Mary will soon find that the eclipse poses a much smaller risk to her than the other people in this expedition…This is a terrific blend of history, science, and intrigue, that is sure to appeal to history buffs…as well as any of you intrepid eclipse-chasers who books tickets to the path of totality to witness the full eclipse for yourself!

Eyes to See: Ok, so this book isn’t about eclipses, I admit it–it’s a supernatural, urban thriller.  But in this series’ debut, our hero, Jeremiah Hunt, sacrifices his normal sight, not quite by staring at an eclipse, but in order to see the world of ghosts and dark powers in order to find malevolent power that stole his daughter, and a series about a man who describes his world through his other sense, whose sense of loss (both of his family and his eyesight) is unforgettable.  Nassise does a brilliant job with the noir tone in this book, but by sending the hero on a quest for his daughter (rather than some sort of femme fatale), he gives this whole quest a totally different, urgent, and believable feel.  This is a book about the nightmares that lurk just beyond what the rest of us are able to see–but it’s also about someone who has looked at what he was forbidden to…so if you spent way too much time yesterday trying not to look up at the eclipse, or telling other people not to look up at the eclipse, this title might be for you.

The Wellcome Book Prize Longlist!

For those of you beloved patrons who live to read to learn, let me tell you about the Wellcome Book Prize.

Let me start by telling you a little bit about the Wellcome Collection.  Located right across the street from Euston Station in London, the Wellcome Collection is dedicated to uniting the fields of science, medicine, and the arts, declaring itself “The free destination for the incurably curious”.  The institute was originally funded by Sir Henry Solomon Wellcome (pictured at right), a fascinating entrepreneur, born in Wisconsin in 1853, whose first business was peddling invisible ink (it was lemon juice).  He later went into pharmaceuticals, where he revolutionized medicine by developing medicine in tablet form, though he called them ‘Tabloids’.  Upon his death, Wellcome vested the entire share capital of his company in individual trustees, who were charged with spending the income to further human and animal health, and even left specifics in his will as to the building in which the collections were to be housed.  Today, the Wellcome Trust, which funds all this gloriousness, is now one of the world’s largest private biomedical charities.

Yay for Science! (From the Wellcome Collection)

I cannot recommend exploring the Wellcome Collection online to you enough.  Because of their dedication to education and engagement, a surprisingly vast amount of their exhibits have online components, and a good deal of their archives and library are digitized, making it possible to access their treasure trove of educational riches from the comfort of your living room (or local Library!).  Their exhibits range from the emotional and contemporary, such as videos and talks on military medicine, to the sublimely bizarre, like this gallery on curatives and quack medicine.  Throughout their work is a very firm dedication not only to education, but to sparking a love of learning in their visitors, and that work pays huge dividends.

I personally adore the Wellcome because of it’s 1) incredible library, which has allowed me to write my dissertation, it’s 2) stupendous archive, which is also helping me with The Dissertation, and 3) Their ridiculously welcoming, air-conditioned building (I don’t know if Sir Wellcome thought of central air, but if he did, I tip my proverbial hat to him).  There is a section of their library with chaise lounges and beanbags, for pity’s sake.  And the security guards encourage you to wander around and learn all you can–and don’t mind that you have a cold and look like you got hit by a truck. That, my friends, is an institution dedicated to learning.

And, as part of their outreach efforts, and in the hope of encouraging more quality and creative writing in the sciences, the Wellcome Trust also funds one of the largest book prizes around, providing 30,000 GBP (right now, about $37,500) to it chosen author.  As described on the Wellcome Book Prize site, all the books that are nominated have “a central theme that engages with some aspect of medicine, health or illness.”  While this dedication to science is wonderful, the Wellcome Prize also recognizes art, standing by its core principles by recognizing that such books “can cover many genres of writing – including crime, romance, popular science, sci-fi and history.”  Thus, their list includes both non-fiction and fiction, in order to celebrate those works that “add new meaning to what it means to be human.”

The 2016 Wellcome Book Prize design (courtesy of Notcot)

So here, without further ado, is the Wellcome Book Prize Longlist.  We hope you’ll find something to whet your reading appetite either here, or in the list of past winners.  The shortlist will be announced at the London Book Fair on March 14th, and the winner will be revealed at a ceremony at the Wellcome Collection on April 24th.  Because the Wellcome Prize’s descriptions of these books are so terrific, clicking on the book title or author will take you to the Wellcome page….there is a link to the Noble Listing for the books beside each entry.  As usual with overseas prizes, some of these books haven’t come to our shores as yet, but we’ll keep you updated when they do!

How to Survive a Plague by David France non-fiction  (NOBLE)
Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari non-fiction (NOBLE)
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi non-fiction (NOBLE)
Mend the Living by Maylis de Kerangal trans. Jessica Moore fiction Currently unavailable in the US
The Golden Age by Joan London fiction (NOBLE)
Cure by Jo Marchant non-fiction (NOBLE)
The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss fiction Currently Unavailable in the US
The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee non-fiction (NOBLE)
The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry fiction US release date to be set soon
A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived by Adam Rutherford  non-fiction US Release: September, 2017
Miss Jane by Brad Watson fiction (NOBLE)
I Contain Multitudes by Ed Yong non-fiction (NOBLE)

Happy reading!