The Life of a Leaf

Steven Vogel. Univ. of Chicago, $35 (312p) ISBN 978-0-226-85939-2
Duke University biomechanist Vogel (Cats’ Paws and Catapults) capably demonstrates how a scientist can unite micro and macro perspectives in looking at the natural world. Using the leaf of a plant as his model system of life, he explores aspects of structure, function, and physiology while embedding specific questions in a broader evolutionary context. Thus, as we learn how a leaf (and the plant to which it is attached) uses various strategies to maintain appropriate water balance, we also learn why these strategies are important. Those larger points allow Vogel and his readers to reach beyond botany to the entire natural world. He mixes the principles of biology with those of physics to great effect, demonstrating the constraints the physical world places on living organisms and the limited options available to evolution. Vogel does present a heavy dose of complex equations to support his reasoning, but they are relegated to footnotes and not essential to his message. The larger theme deals with the nature of scientific investigation: how scientists formulate and test hypotheses and the role that chance can play in those inquiries. His firsthand account of many of his own experiments, and the joy with which he recounts them, brings the scientific process to life. 47 color and 18 b&w illus. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 06/18/2012
Release date: 10/01/2012
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