Venom: The Secrets of Nature’s Deadliest Weapon

Ronald Jenner and Eivind Undheim. Smithsonian, $19.95 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-1-58834-454-0
Venom researchers Jenner and Undheim record the stunning, often beautiful diversity of the world’s venomous species and the parallel evolution of poisons and venoms in this generously illustrated—and shudder-inducing—volume. The authors carefully convey substantial physiological, chemical, and ethological information about the functions of nature’s aggressive pharmacopeia, which has evolved numerous times for predation, defense, and other more surprising uses. Jenner and Undheim devote a chapter to venoms used for human medicine, but focus mostly on the natural roles venoms play in their particular environments. The authors make plain that the study of venomous creatures is worthwhile in its own right and that researchers can learn lessons relevant to human physiology by studying the function of venom at the systems and molecular levels. However, they never imply that the value of these astonishingly well-targeted chemical cocktails derives from their potential service to the human world. The text itself is well-balanced, even occasionally bland, and the authors largely refrain from introducing their own emotional reactions, except in defending animal experimentation. The book is well suited to inspire budding biologists, while discussions about lethal capacity and stories of researchers bitten intentionally or unintentionally will still satisfy the curious thrill seeker. Color photos. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 08/07/2017
Release date: 10/17/2017
Genre: Nonfiction
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