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How Life Learned to Live by Helmut Tributsch
Adaptation in Nature
Published by MIT Press in 1982
Book Review by Bobby Matherne ©2002


In this information-packed book, Tributsch applies the fundamentals of physics and chemistry to the understanding of how birds fly and fishes swim. He studies and explain how friction on the skin of fishes affects their motion, how the principles of aerodynamics are incorporated in the flight patterns of hummingbirds and albatrosses. How the presence of thin capillaries in trees allows them to suction water to ten times the height that a water column could be pulled by a vacuum. Why geese fly in a Vee formation and nautical birds skim the surface of waves are the result of a natural conservation of energy. How termites build traffic rotaries in their nests. In all this Helmut sees nature as having a greater knowledge of physics than man. Yes, he excludes man from nature our technological achievements aren't natural to him. As though polyester fibers made from naturally occurring petroleum deposits are somewhat less natural than cotton.

In spite of his anti-man sentiment, the author produces an excellent compendium of physics applied to the understanding of the plant and animal kingdoms. He details them in an almost encyclopedic form that makes the book an excellent reference book. The reference material is very readable, only at times a little too technical. It is the writing that links the reference items together in which the author's limited energy, limited space catastrophic presuppositions leak through. "The world is best when you're alone with nature," he seems to say over and over again ignoring man as part of nature, as so many pop ecologists do. The best example of his ecologist hogwash is "no earth species have learned to live outside of the atmosphere." If some non-human (sub-human) species had learned to build a cocoon with a life support system for outer space (as some spiders do to live underwater), he would have been delighted to expound on the ingenuity of nature. That man has done it with the space shuttle, Tributsch has completely ignored.

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