Required Reading

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The Well-Dressed Ape: A Natural History of Myself
By Hannah Holmes
(Random House, $25)

"Who are we," science writer Hannah Holmes asks, "animally speaking?" Holmes (Suburban Safari) uses herself as a typical specimen in this amusing and illuminating look at how Homo sapiens compares with our critter cousins. Like crows, she explains, we're territorial; we're among only a few creatures, including dolphins, that sexually "fool around for the fun of it." But among our unique traits is the ability to tame ourselves. "Remarkably, the human also has the capacity to combat its own instincts," Holmes writes. "And that—the willingness to sacrifice for the other inhabitants of the planet … gives me the most hope for the future."

Every Living Thing: Man's Obsessive Quest to Catalog Life, from Nanobacteria to New Monkeys
By Rob Dunn
(Smithsonian, $27)

In his literary debut, North Carolina State zoology professor Rob Dunn profiles ten scientists whose groundbreaking work has helped untangle the complex tree of life. From the 18th-century botanist Carl Linnaeus, who thought he'd found every species in the world when his collection hit 10,000 (it's now believed there may be 30 million), to modern researchers who drill into the earth's crust searching for microbes, dive to ocean vents to study tube worms, and probe for life on other planets, Dunn chronicles the journey so far and considers where we might search next. "There is much here still," he writes. "More than we know, and more than we can yet imagine."

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