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Natural history

NATURE'S CONNECTIONS: An Exploration of Natural History. By Nicola McGirr. The Natural History Museum. Pounds 12.95

This book will appeal to a non-specialist adult audience who wish to know more about the development of natural history and its emergence into a science. It would also be good background reading for upper secondary school pupils as it addresses some aspects of ideas and evidence in science.

The first part deals with the development of natural history from its beginnings over two million years ago as our hunter-gatherer ancestors learned how to use the natural world to feed, clothe and heal themselves, to the opening of the Natural History Museum in 1881. Along the way, it describes the contributions of founding scientists such as John Edward Gray, Richard Owen and Thomas Henry Huxley.

These convey a welcome sense of discovery, which is returned to in the accounts of the lives and activities of scientists today. The "drive" of science is shown to be just as powerful as it was in scientists of the past. The consequences of centuries of work in the field, laboratory and museum are brought together to provide an up-to-the-minute overview of the natural world.

To complete the sense of how knowledge is built up from observation, a later chapter describes a research project from beginning to end. It begins with the discovery of a dinosaur claw bone and ends with the identification and classification of the dinosaur. In the final section, experts answer frequently asked questions about science and the future.

With boxed sections, excellent photographs and artwork and celebrities' anecdotes about the Natural History Museum, this well-written book covers a huge amount of material yet still manages to hold the reader's attention.

Peter D Riley Peter Riley is a science writer and winner of the TESEPC Secondary Schoolbook Award for Science

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