Engineering animals

Mark Denny, ‎Alan McFadzean

Why I looked at this book

We're used to the great diversity of animals on this planet, and it may seem that any type of animal can exist. Looking at them from an engineering point of view shows, however, that there are many limitations on what animals can do. I'm hoping that reading this book will give me a new way of looking at animals and help to understand the different ways they deal with these limitations.

First impressions

The samples available for this book are rather limited in size. What I have read seemed a bit less lively that I would have hoped. Possibly this is due to the first chapter looking at energy flow which didn't seem that captivating - I felt that the authors might have found something better to start the book with. But it's informative enough, so I'll carry on reading.

Main review

Browsing through the book it looks like it ought to be fascinating, with a variety of topics and plenty of diagrams at a level that can be understood by the non-specialist reader. It's clearly aimed at those who are reading for their own interest, rather than being a textbook. Somehow, though, it doesn't quite get there - the rest of the book is no more lively than the first chapter. One problem seems to be that the authors try to pack in as much as possible, but don't spend long enough on each topic. Just as you are getting interested in a topic, the book switches to a new one. Also, the topics with more space devoted to them tend to be the more technical bits. It's OK reading through a section that's a bit more technical if you think that it's going to help understand the subject, but several times I found that the chapter seemed to come to and end too soon after such a section.

I can see that someone keen to find out more about animals would get a lot out of this book, as it is very informative, and has plenty of notes for those wishing to take the subject further. The first part is on structure and movement, and includes a chapter on energy use and one on animal minds. The second part is on communication, dealing with chemical sensing, sound and sonar, vision, animal navigation, and animal languages. I felt that the general reader,however, may well find it's style insufficiently stimulating.
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