Aquagenesis: The Origin and Evolution of Life in the Sea, by Richard Ellis (Viking/Penguin, 2001; $25.95)
With a sense of exuberance and wonder, marine artist and writer Richard Ellis investigates the evolution of sea life, especially land animals that have returned to an aquatic existence - such as whales, seals, manatees, and penguins. He manages the daunting task of compressing 300 million years of evolution into a very readable book.
The Evolution Explosion: How Humans Cause Rapid Evolutionary Change, by Stephen R. Palumbi (W W. Norton, 2001; $24.95)
Whether in TB's resistance to antibiotics or the diamondback moth's immunity to the deadly pesticide known as Bt toxin, the force of human-driven natural selection is abundantly evident. Harvard biologist Palumbi looks at our species' impact on evolution and the ways we ourselves continue to evolve.
The Botany of Desire: A PLant's-- Eye View of the WorLd, by Michael Pollan (Random House, 2001; $24,95)
Linking the destinies of apple, tulip, potato, and cannabis species to our own, this entertaining and informed book celebrates how plants, animals, and microbes respond with "so many different and unexpected answers to the deep pulse of their genes and the wide press of their surroundings."
Hubbert's Peak: The Impending World Oil Shortage, by Kenneth S. Deffeyes (Princeton University Press, 2001; $24.95)
Geologist M. King Hubbert proved correct in his 1956 prediction that U.S. oil production would peak in the early 1970s. Now analysts have applied Hubbert's method to global oil output. They estimate that between 2004 and 2008, supplies will begin a permanent decline. This is a sobering look at fossil fuels and alternative energy sources.
World Atlas of Coral Reefs, by mark D. Spalding, Corinna Ravilious, and Edmund P Green (University of California Press, 2001; $45)
Enormous, spectacular, and dense with overwhelmingly diverse life, the planet's tropical reefs are visible even from space. This exhaustive, area-by-area assessment of an increasingly threatened ecosystem includes text, photographs, tables, and splendid, up-to-date maps.
Great Waters: An Atlantic Passage, by Deborah Cramer (W W Norton, 2001; $27.95)
The origins, organisms, and movements of the vast Atlantic Ocean (which covers 32 million square miles and reaches depths of 12,000 feet) are illuminated by an author who spent a decade researching the scientific literature and many weeks aboard a research vessel visiting "the rough, chilly Gulf of Maine" as well as "the calm, weedy Sargasso. …