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Tuatara: Volume 21, Issue 3, April 1975


page 130


THis is a magnificent book. Beautifully illustrated, almost encyclopaedic in its coverage and very up-to-date and well written. It is an extravagant book, in the better sense, with over 900 photos and line drawings (including a cartoon), not always limited to plants. For example, there are large photographs in this large book (706 pages, 9 inches X 10 inches) of the earth as seen from Apollo 7; a large crowd of people (‘We have met the enemy — and they are us’); smog; sea otters; a Galapagos tortoise and ‘Birth of a star’.

It is divided into eight sections. Section 1, the cell, covers structure, energetics and chemistry of the cell and the chemistry of heredity. Section 2. plant development, deals with the anatomy and physiology of plant development. Section 3, photosynthesis and respiration, makes excellent use of diagrams. Section 4, soil and water relationships, contains several striking scanning electron micrographs. Section 5, genetics and evolution, includes meiosis and its consequences, gene mutation, segregation, linkage, chromosome mapping, epistasis, the Hardy-Weinberg Law, ecotypic and clinal variation, introgressive hydridisation and apomixis, as well as other topics. Section 6, diversity of plants, which is over 200 pages in length, surveys the plant groups and discusses plant classification. There is a chapter on the origin and evolution of flowering plants, floral evolution, pollinators of flowers and the evolution and dispersal of fruits. Section 7, ecology, has chapters on the distribution of biomes, the integration of the community and the dynamics of the ecosystem. The final section, man and the world ecosystem, includes consideration of population growth, pollution, the use of pesticides and herbices and ways to increase the supply of food. There is a useful appendix on those fundamentals of chemistry which are helpful in the study of biology, as well as appendices on classification of organisms, temperature and metric conversion tables and geological eras. There is also a comprehensive glossary.

At appropriate points in the text essays are inserted in italicised type and include ‘The Economic Uses of Algae’, ‘Symbiotic Algae’, ‘Society and the Totipotent Cell’, ‘Water: A Most Extraordinary Liquid’, ‘Alexander von Humboldt’ and ‘Evolution of Photosynthesis’.

The enthusiasm and refreshing outlook which the authors have for biology is clearly communicated. This is even reflected in the carefully selected ‘suggestions for further reading’ at the end of each section. Thus, J. D. Watson's ‘The Double Helix’ is described as page 131 ‘“Making out” in molecular biology. A lively account of how to become a Nobel laureate.’ The text contains some vivid analogies, which are used with discretion. The advantage of synchronised operation of enzymes is likened to ‘workmen on the same assembly line, there is an obvious advantage to being able to turn them off and on together as a group — like blowing the factory whistle’.

My review copy was not without errors. For example, on page 25 ‘exoskeletons of fungal cell walls’ should ready something like ‘exoskeletons of arthropods and fungal cell walls’. On page 61 it is stated that chloroplasts are about 1 to 5 microns in length, but Table 1-3 gives chloroplast diameter as ranging from 5 to 20 microns (micrometres). On page 96 (section 1-76) ‘cytosine in place of thymine’ should read ‘uracil in place of thymine’. In figure 2-5 on page 119, vessels, tracheids and fibres are wrongly labelled.

In an introductory book of this nature (albeit one which is far more detailed than most) a more detailed labelling of some illustrations seems desirable. One hopes that it may be possible to include some colour illustrations in future editions.

In summary: this is a truly outstanding book; one which already has its imitators. ‘The Biology of Plants’ goes into considerable detail on a wide variety of topics and is therefore a valuable reference work and one which will serve a variety of courses. It is also very readable indeed. Buy it!