Why Elephants Have Big Ears, and Other Riddles from the...

Editor's Choice

February 16, 2003|By Michael Pakenham

Why Elephants Have Big Ears, and Other Riddles from the Natural World, by Chris Lavers, St. Martin's Griffin, 288 pages, $13.95.

Lavers, as a young student, was deeply distressed by the elusiveness of answers to such basic nature riddles as that of the title, and reports here that he became more so as he climbed the path to eminence in wild-life ecology. Few of the answers are simple, for this is truly an exploration of the nature of animal evolution. But Lavers' command of the language and of imagery is superb, and the book thus is enchanting much of the time. Here is a cornucopia of nature tales. The breeding cycle of the Antarctic emperor penguin seems beyond rational comprehension, but is thus fascinating; that is one of dozens of bodies of facts to which Lavers meticulously brings a skeptical eye and a deep-seated knowledge of science.

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