Pros: Entertaining and informative information on all sorts of natural oddities
Rating: 5 out of 5
Why Moths Hate Thomas Edison And Other Urgent Inquiries into the Odd Nature of Nature is a compilation of “the best of Outside Magazine’s ‘The Wild File’.” It’s edited by Hampton Sides, a longtime editor of and contributor to the magazine.
The book is filled with all the stupid, ridiculous, silly, or ‘obvious’ questions we’re too afraid to ask, or feel we should already know the answers to. Best of all, the folks at Outside tracked down the most obscure of experts to get the answers, sometimes going past the base level question to get at even more interesting details.
So if you’ve ever wanted to know precisely why a tongue will stick to cold metal (and what to do about it if it should happen to you), you can find that out in here. If you want to know how goose down is collected, that’s in here too. The book debunks common myths, such as the idea that eagles mate in midair and sometimes fall to the ground and die during the act. It explains the exact science behind that distinctive smell in the air when it rains, and the factors that have created the misconception that tornadoes are somehow attracted to trailer parks.
Then there are tidbits like how to pronounce Henry David Thoreau’s last name, which includes some entertaining commentary on his real name (David Henry, not Henry David) and how his neighbors felt about his name change. Next time someone gives you guff over your male pattern baldness you can point them to the argument in here for why it’s actually a sign of virility and fertility.
The editors turn seemingly dull questions into far more entertaining discourses. For example, the question of how high birds can fly becomes a catalogue of the highest known flights, such as the “mallard that smashed into an airplane at twenty-one thousand feet over Nevada in 1962″ or a commercial jet over the Ivory Coast that smacked into a vulture. Experts believe the vulture was probably sucked up by a thunderstorm and had been frozen solid by the time it hit the plane, but as the editors say,
All the same, we’re sticking with the unlucky vulture. Whether he was a visionary or just a frozen ball of feathers tossed in the path of destiny, he still got there. Effort is admirable, but elevation is… well, it’s elevating.
The editors and some of their experts also have a quirky and entertaining sense of humor; while the book is fascinating enough to hold the reader’s attention strictly on the basis of the information inside, the snark doesn’t hurt either:
“The first TV broadcasts are approximately 240 trillion miles away from us now,” says Shostak. “They have washed over some two thousand stars, any of which could theoretically have a planet with intelligent life. Right now there are worlds out there that may be tuning into episodes of Mister Ed—and really wondering.”
If you’re the kind of person who hasn’t given up their sense of wonder at the universe, this is a wonderful book to have around. It makes a great conversation starter, but it’s equally fun to just sit down and read for enjoyment’s sake.