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Academic & Professional Books  Mammals  Mammals: General

I, Mammal The Story of What Makes Us Mammals

Popular Science
By: Liam Drew(Author)
352 pages, b/w photos, b/w illustrations
An entertaining book on evolution that marvels at our membership of this lactating, furry, warm-blooded group of animals.
I, Mammal
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  • I, Mammal ISBN: 9781472922915 Paperback May 2019 Out of stock: Usually dispatched within 6 days
  • I, Mammal ISBN: 9781472922892 Hardback Nov 2017 Out of Print #234929
Selected version: £9.99
About this book Customer reviews Biography Related titles

About this book

Humans are mammals. Most of us appreciate that at some level. But what does it mean for us to have more in common with a horse and an elephant than we do with a parrot, snake or frog?

After a misdirected football left new father Liam Drew clutching a uniquely mammalian part of his anatomy, he decided to find out more. Considering himself as a mammal first and a human second, Liam delves into ancient biological history to understand what it means to be mammalian.

In his humorous and engaging style, Liam explores the different characteristics that distinguish mammals from other types of animals. He charts the evolution of milk, warm blood and burgeoning brains, and examines the emergence of sophisticated teeth, exquisite ears, and elaborate reproductuve biology, plus a host of other mammalian innovations. Entwined are tales of zoological peculiarities and reflections on how being a mammal has shaped the author's life.

Ultimately, I, Mammal is a history of mammals and their ancestors and of how science came to grasp mammalian evolution. And in celebrating our mammalian-ness, Liam Drew binds us a little more tightly to the five and a half thousand other species of mammal on this planet and reveals the deep roots of many traits humans hold dear.

Customer Reviews (1)

  • Entertaining and academically sound
    By Leon (NHBS Catalogue Editor) 5 Jun 2019 Written for Paperback

    The seed of this book, if you will forgive me the pun, lay in an unfortunate collision between a football and the author’s scrotum. This led former neurobiologist Liam Drew to write a piece for Slate about the mammalian testicles and their precarious positioning in the males of this group. Before long, with the birth of his first daughter, he started wondering about lactation and all the other features and oddities that make us mammals. The resulting I, Mammal is a witty, irreverent overview of mammalian biology and evolution that is sure to entertain.

    In 13 chapters, Drew takes a roughly chronological journey through a mammal’s life, starting before conception, considering testicles, genitals, placentas, lactation, parental care and chromosomal sex determination. But also more general traits such as teeth and jaws, temperature regulation, senses, and brains. Throughout, Drew seeks to uncover the evolutionary history of these traits, returning frequently to comparisons with marsupials and monotremes (the group to which the platypus and echidna belong). These groups branched off earliest in mammalian evolution, before the development of placental mammals, and are thus a useful benchmark.

    En route, Drew is keen to dispel misconceptions surrounding evolution, such as the by biologists long-abandoned idea of humans as the crowning achievement (apparently even Linneaus did not think so, but did not dare put that in writing just yet), or the notion of evolution as a linear, long-term-goal–oriented process. But he is especially keen to show that parts of animals do not evolve alone, even if we often consider them in isolation for the sake of convenience and clarity. He returns to this theme at the end of the book when considering lactation (see Milk: The Biology of Lactation for more). For milk to be dispensed you obviously need to evolve a milk dispenser in the form of mammary glands, argues Drew, but you need a way of storing energy that can later be converted to milk – why, you need a mother that cares for offspring to start with. And with lactation lots of possibilities open up, the reliable and constant energy supply allowing the evolution of bigger brains for example. Like Tom Kemp (see his The Origin & Evolution of Mammals, but especially The Origin of Higher Taxa), Drew sees interdependencies looping back on themselves everywhere.

    The book’s initial focus on reproductive biology allows for plenty of irreverent writing. Drew delights in serving up unusual facts (“While we’re here, the scrotum of the yellow-bellied house bat is reportedly behind the anus”) and remarkable anecdotes such as Jack the tapir at San Francisco Zoo who stood on his own penis (“it fell off, and he ate it”). And the dik-dik, a small antelope where the males contribute nothing to childcare, is not named to comment on this apparent neglect, jokes Drew. But despite the potential for smut, he is surprisingly straight-faced throughout, marvelling at phalluses and placentas in equal measure. The latter, as he makes clear, is a remarkable organ that is incredibly varied in different mammals (see Life's Vital Link for more).

    In later chapters the subjects get more technical as Drew discusses mammalian phylogeny, endocrinology, sensory biology, neurobiology, and metabolism. Useful illustrations are included to help you understand brain architecture and proposed changes to the mammalian family tree. I learned some remarkable things here, such as the evolution of the defining mammalian jaw joint, while the original bones “went off to enjoy a most wondrous second career as parts of the mammalian middle ear” (the hammer, anvil, and stirrup). Wait, what?!

    What stands out here is how Drew manages to provide very readable histories of the research on certain subjects. Especially his overview of how, over the decades, our thinking on mammalian metabolism and warm-bloodedness, pardon me, endothermy has changed was an eye-opener for me. He gives the final word to Barry Lovegrove (see his upcoming Fires of Life for more), but not before considering many other ideas that have done the rounds. Similarly, the chapter on brain evolution does not shy away from considering controversial ideas (e.g. Harvey Karten’s ideas that bird brains, despite a different architecture, are really not that different).

    I, Mammal is a wonderfully entertaining book that wears its academic content lightly, all the while packing in a huge amount of content. It is a book borne as much from Drew’s fascination with evolution as it is from his personal journey into fatherhood, another recurring theme in the book. This is the kind of excellent popular science that you can nowadays reliably expect from the Bloomsbury Sigma imprint.
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Liam Drew is a freelance writer and former neurobiologist. He holds a PhD in sensory biology from University College London, and spent twelve years researching the neural and genetic basis of schizophrenia, the biology of pain and the birth of new neurons in the adult mammalian brain at Columbia University, New York and again at UCL. As a writer, his work has appeared in Nature, New Scientist, Slate and the Guardian. He is director of NeuWrite London, a London subsidiary of 'NeuWrite: a collaborative working group for scientists, writers, and those in between'.

Popular Science
By: Liam Drew(Author)
352 pages, b/w photos, b/w illustrations
An entertaining book on evolution that marvels at our membership of this lactating, furry, warm-blooded group of animals.
Media reviews

 "A splendid evolutionary study [...] Drew is a wry guide to wonders such as the evolution of the scrotum and the epic journey of marsupial newborns."

"An excellent combination of scientific principle and comedic wit that will appeal to biology fans and non-scientists alike. An excellent read."
How It Works

"A witty romp through evolution [...] I, Mammal is just the sort of book that can spark a love of nature and an appreciation for the ever-changing, eternally correcting march of science."

"Quotable, heartfelt and frequently fun."
The Biologist

"Drew's immersion makes one proud to be a mammal."

"Drew vividly conveys the excitement of scientific discovery [and] combines detailed technical information with interesting natural-history tidbits. There's much to be savoured by scientists and nonscientists alike."
Publishers Weekly

"From ice-sliding bison and tail-biting platypuses to cats and bats, hedgehogs and hooded seals, I, Mammal will change the way you think about hairy, milk-making, warm-blooded animals (yourself included). This carnival of mammals is science writing at its most funny, companionable and smart."
– Helen Scales, marine biologist, broadcaster and author of Spirals in Time

"Not only fun and instructive but also wonderfully written, I, Mammal takes us on an erudite journey through mammalian evolution. Liam Drew effortlessly weaves science together with all manner of often very funny anecdotes. Reading it will be a pleasure for scientists and non-specialists alike."
– René Hen, Professor of Neuroscience and Psychiatry, Columbia University

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