苏州吴江区美甲培训

苏州美甲美睫培训学校

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DEATH ON EARTH. Adventures in Evolution and Mortality. By Jules Howard. Bloomsbury. $27.99.
苏州美甲美睫培训学校

Reviewer: Frank O’Shea

One way of approaching a subject like death is to say that it is the absence of life, but then you have to define life. Textbooks on biology use the mnemonic MRS GREN as an aid to remember the characteristics of living things: movement, respiration, sensitivity, growth, reproduction, excretion and nutrition. Of course that was before modern robotics, so you may prefer the NASA definition: “Life is something that undergoes Darwinian evolution.” In this book, Jules Howard elects to go with that last description.

Howard is a professional zoologist whose specialty appears to be frogs and toads. His book promises to deal with the topic of death but he spends a lot of time on ancillary subjects, and never quite gets to grips with his main theme.

There is a chapter on ageing that deviates into an account of his attempts to explain death to his young daughter. He had been telling her, as most of us would, that a dead bird or cat was actually sleeping but he was persuaded that now that she is four years old, he ought to explain about death. As it happened the child’s great grandma died and he was happy that the young girl seemed to understand the coffin and the funeral service and cremation. But he later found her walking on tiptoes past great grandma’s room because she did not want to wake the old lady. I’m with you, young girl.

The chapter on mourning is one that deserves to be read by those folk who love to post pictures and stories of animals appearing to grieve the death of their owner or of a companion animal. Science is far from convinced and the author concludes people believe that animals mourn because they (humans) feel uncomfortable about being the only living things who understand about the finality of death.

There is a chapter on the roles played by red kites and vultures as scavengers, helping to clean up after nature, unacknowledged aids to human hygiene. In a similar vein is his treatment of the maggots, blowflies and bluebottles that colonise the bodies of dead animals. “Hundreds may appear within hours. Thousand sometimes. They know death. They know its smell. And they smell it well.”

This conversational style grates after a while and the reader may wish for a more philosophical, less scattergun treatment of the subject.

Frank O’Shea is a regular reviewer.

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