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Nandita Narayanasamy

By Jules Howard
Year 2016, pp. 288, Rs. 449.00

VOLUME XL NUMBER 11 November 2016

When I saw the title of the book I had been asked to review Death on Earth: Adventures in Evolution and Mortality I was apprehensive. I assumed that the book would be another treatise on the much flogged concept of Darwinian adaptive evolution: the superior importance of population and species survival over the death of any individual of a species. But what really got my interest was the introduction and the first chapter that discussed the concept of death as envisioned as a cessation of Life; and the rational of defining life and the misunderstanding that till now exist in our definition of ‘What is Life??’. Though the book essentially reinforces the tenets of Biology and Darwin’s theory of evolution, it is the rendition of these concepts in a delightfully entertaining way that makes the book worth reading. In the book, Jules Howard has very effectively dealt with the biological processes that are essential for living but which society skirts around and considers taboo. The only two events that any organism that is born will definitely perform is that it will excrete and it will die!! The book explores both mortality and defecation in all living species in a wonderfully humorous but at the same time thoughtprovoking way. The author places death as an essential process required for the propagation of life in the biosphere. His syle of writing is anecdotal and an easy read but is at the same time highly informative and scientifically accurate. The incident of the loss of popularity of the bezoars’ stone jewellery when it was discovered the bezoars are essentially ‘fossilized pieces of shit’ and the ‘Shitites’ that are solidified shit stalactites in ant colonies, highlights in the most entertaining way human abhorrence and disgust of the most essential activity in everybody’s life! This is discussed in the backdrop of the ease with which all other animal species deal with excreta, sex and death as a part and parcel of living. At times however, the author tends to meander from topic to topic in an apparently disconnected manner; plunging from the importance of scavengers in the disposal of corpses to the value of cellular death (Apoptosis) in the development of an organism. Another oft repeated theme of the book is that it is only Humans who shun the issue of death and decay and this is largely a fear of the unknown ...

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