Book Review: An Immense World, How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us, by Ed Yong

Another of my wonderful men's book club selection, and a good one, but super-detailed about ... hmmm, the immense world and the animal senses that reveal hidden realms around us humans. Actually, that is the title, or most of it. At 355 very dense and fact-filled pages as well as another 93 pages of acknowledgements, notes, bibliography, photo credits, and an index, this work is immense by itself. It's a true technical tour de force, but not a speedy read if one wants to absorb even a modicum of the value-added. Yong organizes superbly, with eleven main chapters that include all the human senses in addition to ones on electric and magnetic fields, which humans so not generally sense. Note: "Magnetism is the only known sense without a known receptor." Two summary chapters wrap up the "sense windows" and finally include threatened "sensescapes."

It's hard to pick out only a few of the many interesting points, but one points out that the oceans on Earth constitute over 160 times as much living space than all the other eco-systems combined. Most of the oceans are dark, and all over about 1,000 feet deep. Another factoid is that pain senses include "get away," and "don't go back," which are different. Sensing is described as "A nerve ending enclosed in some kind of touch-sensitive capsule."

The current theory on how the modern human ear developed into three bones is fascinating. And while we are discussing sound, the whale's ability to hear 20 Hertz notes, below what a human can detect, allows the animal to hear sounds from up to 1,000 miles away, as they propagate through salty sea water. Sounds travel faster and farther in water than in air! Elephants use even lower frequency sounds, as low as 14 Hertz to signal.

The author laments the loss of habitat and species and explains the interlocking dependencies that reach out to many others we know and love. This is an important work and deserves to be widely read and discussed.

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