Books  Animal & General Biology  Animal & General Biology 

Engineering Animals: How Life Works

Popular Science

By: Mark Denny and Alan McFadzean

385 pages, 100 line drawings, 18 halftones

Harvard University Press

Hardback | May 2011 | #190209 | ISBN-13: 9780674048546
Availability: Usually dispatched within 5 days Details
NHBS Price: £25.95 $32/€29 approx

About this book

The alarm calls of birds make them difficult for predators to locate, while the howl of wolves and the croak of bullfrogs are designed to carry across long distances. From an engineer's perspective, how do such specialized adaptations among living things really work? And how does physics constrain evolution, channeling it in particular directions?

This book offers an expert look at animals as works of engineering, each exquisitely adapted to a specific manner of survival, whether that means spinning webs or flying across continents or hunting in the dark - or writing books. This particular volume, containing more than a hundred illustrations, conveys clearly, for engineers and nonengineers alike, the physical principles underlying animal structure and behavior.

Pigeons, for instance - when understood as marvels of engineering - are flying remote sensors: they have wideband acoustical receivers, hi-res optics, magnetic sensing, and celestial navigation. Albatrosses expend little energy while traveling across vast southern oceans, by exploiting a technique known to glider pilots as dynamic soaring. Among insects, one species of fly can locate the source of a sound precisely, even though the fly itself is much smaller than the wavelength of the sound it hears. And that big-brained, upright Great Ape? Evolution has equipped us to figure out an important fact about the natural world: that there is more to life than engineering, but no life at all without it.

Denny and McFadzean, both having distinguished careers in bioengineering and biomechanics, draw deeply from their experience to explore engineering principles at work in functioning and design of living things. The subject matter is endlessly fascinating addressing topics as diverse as thermodynamics of living processes to principles of communications. Their writing sits firmly in the Vogel/Wainwright tradition of biomechanics.
-J. Scott Turner, author of "The Tinkerer's Accomplice"

"Yes, animals are engineered - by that designer of long experience, natural selection. Viewing them as products of an exquisitely sophisticated technology, as Denny and McFadzean do here, cannot fail to enrich one's appreciation of the living reality of which we're parts. At the same time, the viewpoint provides a fine mirror in which to appreciate our own, widely divergent, human technology."
-Steven Vogel, author of "Glimpses of Creatures in Their Mechanical Worlds"

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Mark Denny is a retired aerospace engineer and the author of "Froth: The Science of Beer".

Alan McFadzean is an independent consultant.

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