Sunday, May 28, 2017

Book Review: 'How the Zebra Got Its Stripes: Darwinian Stories Told Through Evolutionary Biology' by Leo Grasset

How the Zebra Got Its Stripes: Darwinian Stories Told Through Evolutionary Biology
By Leo Grasset

Review by David Wineberg

It turns out there is less certainty than the scientists and the textbooks would have us believe. Biologist Leo Grasset looks at the stereotypical facts we assume about African savannah fauna. It’s about zebra stripes and giraffe necks and antelope fleeing strategies, and also termite mounds and bird tools and why trophy killing male lions does far more damage than hunters realize. But it doesn’t confirm much of what we are sure we know. And it doesn’t debunk much either.

That there is disagreement in science is no headline, but in these cases, Grasset depicts the field as wide open. There are assumptions, interpretations, possibilities and theories. How The Zebra Got Its Stripes is a fast little book that brings us up to speed on the state of our thinking today. It is an enthusiastic examination, with all due respect for the animals. I think I liked the story of the crows that drop otherwise unbreakable nuts onto the street from their position on electrical lines, and wait for cars to crush them. They even know the functions of traffic lights, and collect their rewards safely.

As for the zebras of the title, their stripes are white, and the patterns are less important than we think, and they have much duller personalities than horses.

We have much to learn.

Editor's note: This review was has been reposted with permission of David Wineberg. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right. 

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