Steve's Herpetological Blog

An insight into the life of Steve, his research and the many books he reads


#StevesLibrary: Death on Earth

I know you’ve all been waiting for another one of these for a long time. fear not as a number of book reviews are coming over the next few weeks. Thankfully the lockdown has given me ample opportunity to catch up with my reading, which you may have seen if you follow me on Instagram or GoodReads. Death on Earth is a sequel to Jules Howard’s previous book Sex on Earth (which I thoroughly recommend). Knowing Jules, I’m aware of the long hours of hard work put into the book as well as the added bonus of being able to read things in his voice.

Death on Earth is more a journalistic piece than anything. It is chock-full of Jules Howard’s presence, adventure and perspective on things. The way he writes really gives the reader an opportunity to view inside Jules’ mind without needing any expensive medical equipment. It is obvious from page one that the author immersed himself in the research for this book, something that I’d personally like to see more of in popular science writing. Whilst the book is less science-focused than I was expecting, this really is to be expected when reading a book about death as things do tend to be slightly more philosophical.

Within Death on Earth, Jules’ visits a lab to see an ocean quahog (Arctica islandica) which is over 500 years old. This sets the pace for the rest of the book, with chapters looking at of research various fields all focussing on death. For examples how mitochondria and the mopping up of free radicals may help prevent the ageing process to understanding how bodies decay under different circumstances. You can imagine that the topic of death can be quite off-putting, although it is the only guarantee if life. The book isn’t constantly rubbing this fact in your face but instead uses examples from the natural world to try to explain our own thoughts and feeling on death.

There are a number of points in the book that really caught my attention. One of these was more information and background to one of Jules’ previous jobs working on a national frog hotline (from before the days of the internet). As someone that studies amphibians, you kind of get used to their death. Here in the UK, roads, loss of habitat and disease are all threats to local populations of amphibians. Globally over 41% of all known amphibian species are at risk of extinction. It’s a sobering thoughts. However there other chapters concerning how a colony of ants cope with the death of their conspecifics as well the potential extinction of the horrid ground weaver spider and other such topics.

Pick up a copy and let me know what you think, for a book that focusses on such a delicate topic – it does a great job of not just commenting on our mortality but instead brings the whole of the natural world along for the ride!

Just as quick reminder, it is my birthday in 2 weeks time (on the 26th April). If you’d like to buy me a book to read and review on this part of the blog, you can do so by visiting my Amazon Wishlist. Thanks in advance!

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