Monday, July 5, 2010

Book Review: Nasty, Brutish, and Short by Pat Senson

Nasty, Brutish, and Short: The Quirks and Quarks Guide to Animal Sex and Other Weird Behaviour by Pat Senson

As you can probably tell by the spelling in the title, this book isn't American. It's Canadian, which also explains the "Quirks and Quarks" which is a Canadian radio show. This book is a collection of short essays based on radio bits about science, particularly zoology. Mostly it's about insects, with bird and fish following, and eventually a few mammals. The book started off with a bang, with the initial chapter "The Battle of the Sexes," all about sex. But the book is mostly focused on not just the weird things different creatures do, but why. Why certain animals would have evolved such unusual behaviors/physical characteristics, and what advantages those evolutions would have given them, is the goal of this book.

For instance, the Argentine lake duck has not only the longest penis (proportionally) of any vertebrate but it's also shaped like a corkscrew. The female duck's lady parts are also shaped like a corkscrew, but in the wrong direction. Why on earth would the ducks have evolved this way? Clownfish (you know, like Nemo), when they are born are neither male or female. In fact, in each anemone colony, there are only 2 fish that have a gender. The largest fish is a female, the next largest is a male. When the female dies, the male then turns into a female, and the 3rd largest fish turns into the male.

Not all of the odd facts are quite as bizarre as these, and many of them make sense pretty quickly. But it is filled with really weird and unusual science. The sections are super-short (1-3 pages) so that helps the book zip by quickly. It is a bit punny for my taste, but I was able to overlook that. Was the book as good as the best science book I've ever read, Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation by Olivia Judson? No. But that was a very high bar. This book was still fun and informative.


Kathleen said...

I read this book too in April and loved it! Very interesting. Great review.

Rebecca Chapman said...

Sounds like a great book! I love those sorts of stories. Have you ever read of Gerald Durrel's books? He writes about his own life with animals, but your review sort of reminded me about his works.

Carin Siegfried said...

Becky, I have not read Gerald Durrel but when I looked him up, I think there was a PBS show based on him in the spring, on Masterpiece Theater (I didn't see it though). He does sound like fun.

Callista, if you loved this book you've GOT to check out Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation. Granted, it's only about sex, not about other stuff, but seriously that's the most interesting parts, right?

Jeane said...

I love reading interesting, bizzare facts about animals. I'm going to have to look for this book!