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Sustaining Life: How Human Health Depends on Biodiversity Hardcover – May 8 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In 1992, the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School agreed to coordinate a massive, international scientific effort under the direction of Nobel Peace Prize-winning scientist and author Chivian (Critical Condition: Human Health and the Environment) to catalog "what was known about how other species contribute to human health." The result of that extraordinary collaboration, involving more than 100 contributors, is this thorough volume, an invaluable resource for policy makers and a fascinating exploration for general readers of their hyper-connected biosphere. Species diversity, it turns out, acts as a kind of insurance policy for humans, by buffering stresses to the environment. The "mosaic of ecosystems" provide "services" (food, timber, air and water purification, waste decomposition, climate regulation) necessary for life that, due to their complexity and scale, are almost impossible to substitute. Naturally, the system is robust but vulnerable: the vultures of southern Asia, for instance, are threatened with extinction because their natural diet-carrion-has been poisoned with medicine routinely prescribed for livestock and humans. Another "service" contributed by the ecosystem is the highly useful E. coli bacteria, used in biomedical research to develop new medications and provide insight into Alzheimer's and other diseases. This book represents a landmark addition to our understanding of our ecological heritage, and the importance of preserving it. 175 color illus.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
"A landmark book that lays out the case for the conservation of biodiversity and the multiple benefits it provides - pharmacopeia, regulation of infectious diseases, and food production/security. Sustaining Life is a much needed resource and a call to appreciate and take action to conserve our biological diversity at this critical time."--Integrative and Comparative Biology
"The book is perfect for undergraduate students in any biologic field, or as supplemental reading for a large number of graduate students in areas ranging from public health and medicine to ecology or biologic sciences. I also highly recommend it for physicians, scientists, policymakers, and the general public."--The New England Journal of Medicine
"Well-written chapters on the threats to biodiversity and biodiversity's contributions to medical and biomedical research, with a sharp focus on seven threatened groups of organisms. Excellent color photographs, maps, and diagrams accompany a highly readable, low-jargon-laden text. Highly recommended."--Choice
"Sustaining Life is the best work ever about what biodiversity means to human health." -- Donald Kennedy, President Emeritus of Stanford University and Former Editor-in-Chief of Science
"This remarkable volume Sustaining Life will be an important text for our introductory majors' course, Foundations of Biological Diversity, this fall at Harvard. There is nothing comparable that so well establishes our dependence on--and membership in--the consortia of species with which we share the planet, important to humans in every way." -- Brian Farrell, Professor of Biology and N. Michele Holbrook, Charles Bullard Professor of Forestry, Harvard University
"Although written by physicians and scientists, the book is without jargon or esoteric terminology, and is highly accessible to the layperson. It is flush with beautiful photography, easily understood graphs, charts and illustrations, and three supplemental appendices. This exquisite text - surely destined to find its way into college curricula - is authoritative, with extensive references." -- Bookloons.com
Highlighted in Conservation Magazine, Vol. 9 No. 4
"An invaluable resource for policy makers and a fascinating exploration for general readers of their hyper-connected biosphere. This book represents a landmark addition to our understanding of our ecological heritage, and the importance of preserving it." -- Publishers Weekly
"The book, the Silent Spring for frogs and fishes, is clear, readily understandable, and its message is compelling." -- Holcomb B. Noble, Pulitzer Prize winning science editor
"It is a remarkable labor of love by its editors, Eric Chivian and Aaron Bernstein, and manages to merge three books in one: a textbook for scholars, a plea to policy makers, and a beautiful read for nonscientists. The production values and glossy photographs are superb. Heavily subsidised, it is ridiculously cheap, and should be on every undergraduate reading list and everyone else's gift list." -- The Lancet, Vol 372
"Sustaining Life is the most complete and powerful argument I have seen for the importance of preserving biodiversity."--Al Gore, former Vice President, 2007 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate
"It was an exhilarating moment when scientists broke the genome code and showed us the basic building blocks of the human being. Now scientists are showing us how biodiversity works and why it is crucial to saving our planet for our children's children and beyond. This important and compelling book is a blueprint for acting wisely and urgently."--Bill Moyers, former White House Press Secretary, Host of PBS's Bill Moyers Journal
"There is probably no better way to convince anyone still uncertain about the urgent need to preserve biodiversity, which is rapidly diminishing as a result of human activities, than to document its importance to human health and medicine. The authors have done this with great thoroughness and from every possible angle, producing a volume that pairs authority with anecdote and scholarship with passion."--Harold Varmus, President, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, 1989 Nobel Prize Laureate, former Director of the National Institutes of Health
"As a public health physician, I have been deeply involved for decades in helping political leaders, policy-makers, and the general public understand the relationship between human beings and the environment. Sustaining Life is the best and most comprehensive resource available demonstrating how human health depends on the health of the natural world."--Gro Brundtland, former Director-General of the World Health Organization, former Prime Minister of Norway
"One of the main reasons the world faces a global environmental crisis is the belief that we human beings are somehow separate from the natural world in which we live, and that we can therefore alter its physical, chemical, and biological systems without these alterations having any effect on humanity. Sustaining Life challenges this widely held misconception by demonstrating definitively, with the best and most current scientific information available, that human health depends, to a larger extent than we might imagine, on the health of other species and on the healthy functioning of natural ecosystems."--Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations, 2001 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, from the Prologue
"A powerhouse of information on a topic that concerns of us all. Highly recommended."--Irwin Weintraub, Library Journal Reviews
"Comprehensive and compelling...Well researched and with stunning graphicsthe volume could serve admirably as a college text or recommended reading for politicians, health and resource managers, and citizens at large."
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I lead a small, volunteer-run conservation organization. Our objective is to educate the public about our local fauna and flora, to get them outdoors and to inspire an appreciation for wildlife and an understanding of their habitat needs. We emphasize tolerance for wild animals which increasingly come into conflict with us, as our own population expands and development marches onward.
Early on in this work, however, it became evident to me that the average person does not see much intrinsic value to wildlife, nor believes that other species have any inherent right to occupy space on this planet. Instead, people want to know how they themselves might benefit, (beyond aesthetics and recreational opportunities), from protecting wildlife and their habitats. Why limit our own expansion for the benefit of wildlife? Why not shoot the coyote who took a lamb, the fisher that snatched a cat, the fox who snuck off with a chicken, or the groundhog who eats in a vegetable garden? Why spend money on protective fencing, guard animals, or land conservation? "What's in it for me?" they want to know.
So, I decided I needed to learn the answers to these questions: to learn more about how biodiversity benefits people. I found this book and read it cover to cover. It is full of detailed examples of what Nature does for us, why all species, from fungi to polar bears, are important for our own survival, how healthy ecosystems ensure clean water and clean air, how countless individual species provide for our food production and medical treatments, and how a loss of biodiversity has, time and again, resulted in outbreaks of human infectious disease. There are many concrete examples in this book that I can use in my own work with the public, to help them understand why tolerating wildlife and protecting habitat are important for their own existence, and that of their children and grand children to come. Exactly what I needed.
This book is well organized and beautifully put together with stunning photos. It is written well enough to be read cover to cover, and valuable as a resource to which I will frequently refer. It assumes no detailed scientific knowledge on the part of the reader, as many technical terms are defined. However, it is densely packed with information and would probably be a very challenging read for someone who lacks a strong science background.
I do have one criticism. The editors occasionally make reference to the destructive effects of human overpopulation, but seem satisfied to give the subject only brief mention and then to quickly turn away from it. Well, it is certainly safer to tiptoe around this extremely important taboo of a topic, but it felt to me to be a cop out. After all, they argue that we need to preserve the world's flora and fauna so that we can develop more and better treatments for human illnesses. But what is the result of all that resource intensive medical research and treatment if not reduced human mortality and increased human population?
Even with the current human population, it may not be possible for us to live sustainably enough to halt the current extinction crisis, while at the same time provide people with better medical care. The editors present a graph on p. 408 which shows that in order for people to live sustainably, based on the 2001 human population, each person's ecological footprint would have to be, on average, only slightly higher than that of the average African, tens of thousands of whom receive no medical care at all. In light of this, I was disappointed that the editors avoided direct discussion of the need to maintain our own population at a lower level, and neglected to include, in their otherwise very helpful chapter entitled "What Individuals Can Do to Help Conserve Biodiversity", a suggestion that couples consider having only one or two children.
Nonetheless, I still think this book is outstanding. No other book that I could find addresses so comprehensively how important other species are for our own continued existence. I am deeply grateful to Drs. Chivian and Bernstein for taking on the enormous task of putting together this magnificent volume.
Now the book. I like that it has a lot of figures. I'm a scientist and usually have to read long, black and white papers, with only formal figures. Adding figures to text books is not cheap, but is makes is much more reader-friendly. Also, it is written in a non-scientific language so that anybody can read it, and it explains all necessary scientific terms. This might be a bit boring for those familiar with terminology, but I think its better that way, because this is NOT a scientific text book, it aims to reach wider audiences. thus, it has ''basic'' chapters on what biodiversity is and why is it threatened. Still, the book is essential for conservationists. It contains many hard data on why biological conservation is not just something we should promote because of aesthetic or recreational purposes but because of live and dead issues such as medical research and disease spreading. I would have liked though more than the seven groups of living organism that were reviewed in this book, for example fungi.
This book is somehow a mixture of scientific data with general environmental education. Something I will use for my work and also to share with my friends and (future) children.
Editor Dr. Eric Chivian lays out for us the myriad ways in which we should revere our planet. For instance, polar bears do not go into hybernation when in captivity yet they do in the wild. Humans could never go as long as bears do without the simple process of releaving our bladders, or we'd die! As an amateur zoologist -- it all goes back to my undergrad days of studying Field and Systematic Vertebrate Zoolong in college -- I have always been interested in what goes on this planet, and am an avid fan of not only Dr. Chivian but the other writers and editors of this book.
I would also like to give a quick shout out to the PBS NewsHour, for if it wasn't for an interview with Dr. Chivian, I would never have known about this book.
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