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Cats' Paws and Catapults: Mechanical Worlds of Nature and People Paperback – January 17, 2000

ISBN-13: 978-0393319903 ISBN-10: 0393319903 Edition: 0th

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Cats' Paws and Catapults: Mechanical Worlds of Nature and People + Life's Devices: The Physical World of Animals and Plants (Princeton Paperbacks) + Comparative Biomechanics: Life's Physical World (Second Edition)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (January 17, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393319903
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393319903
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #121,362 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

"Life is what biology's all about. Technology is something else altogether. Or so I believed before I got into a kind of biology that's about technology as well as life," begins biomechanics expert Steven Vogel in the preface to Cats' Paws and Catapults. Vogel examines the "mechanical worlds of nature and people" in such chapters as "The Stiff and the Soft" and "The Matter of Magnitude." Lots of line-drawing illustrations help readers understand the examples used to answer questions of animal and machine efficiency, design and repair. Vogel clearly loves the puzzles of biology--why, for instance, do daffodil stems bend at only one precise spot? This book is filled with intriguing answers to such hidden questions, and curious readers will eagerly dive into Vogel's investigations of whether nature or human design is superior and why the two technologies have diverged so much. --Therese Littleton --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Nature often comes up with simpler solutions to engineering problems than do human engineers. Does that mean that nature's technology is superior? Arguing that nature can be improved upon, Vogel's comparison of biological and human-made technologies shows how and why.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

What a pleasurable and stimulating book!
Michael J. Edelman
Not great in the sense of changing the world as Newton, Darwin, and Freud did, but great in the sense of well done.
Charles Bradley
Vogel really knows how to explain his subject well.
Hayro

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Michael J. Edelman TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 2, 2000
Format: Paperback
What a pleasurable and stimulating book! Vogel is one of those rare authors who can communicate the essence of a complex technical field without either dumbing it down or making it so complex as to be unapproachable to the lay reader. "Cat's Paws and Catapults" is just full of elegant, clear text and beautiful pen-and-ink illustrations that make the difficult clear.
Vogel begins by comparing nature's solutions to problems of structure, propulsion and so forth with the creations of man, illustrating the differences and the similarities in how the two evolve. He differs with those philosophers who have argued that within nature might be found the ideal solutions to the problems of engineering and design, and gives convincing examples to support his case. He works though issues in structure, transport, proplsion and so on showing the differnt ways in which nature and man arrive at solutions, and argues why each may or may not be optimal.
One chapter is devoted to the question of scale, and how it influences design. For example, the houses built by humans are, despite all their nails and other fasteners, mainly held together by gravity. Things like nails and mortar serve mainly to keep bits from sliding off each other. That's not possible when building something the size of a bacterium; at that scale, gravity is essentially negligible.
Scale is similarly important in building a flying machine. Aircraft and insects fly in very different environments. Airplanes must fly fast to overcome gravity, whereas insects fly slowly, in an environment where drag is the main force to be overcome.
And that's just one small section.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 17, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Vogel's book attempts to refute the assertion that many the "techie" or the laymen make regarding the world's greatest innovations. Most will instantly assume that Mother Nature is the queen of all things brilliant when it comes to design, however this book has a different angle. Rather than touting Mother's praises, Vogel takes an analytic look at devices both natural and man-made and compares them. He discusses the truly divergent processes by which nature evolves and human engineering is refined, and points out a few cases where convergent solutions have emerged. A great book for any engineer who's also a fan of late night Discovery Channel.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Charles Bradley on May 24, 2007
Format: Paperback
This is a great book. Not great in the sense of changing the world as Newton, Darwin, and Freud did,

but great in the sense of well done. It is informative and entertaining at the same time.

Most of the book is a "compare and contrast" man made things and things in nature. A small part

is devoted to debunking the belief that whatever nature does is the best way to do it. Vogel

explains why airplanes do not have flapping wings. The laws of physics apply in both worlds.

Bones and I beams break under sufficient loads. The chapter titled "The Matter of Magnitude" is

important throughout the book. Things do not scale up. An elephant's legs are not as slender

as a deer's. Almost all of a small animal's mass is close to the surface, so it is easy to

disapate heat from a hard working muscle. A large animal would cook itself without additional

means of cooling.

There are chapters about shapes, surfaces, angles, rigidity, tension and compression, pulling

versus pushing, engines, transmissions, pumps, jets, manufacturing, and copying.

You do not have to be a mechanical engineer or have a great interest in biology to enjoy this book.

I think most readers with a variety of interests will enjoy it and learn a lot from it.

Even language fans will enjoy it. There is a pleasant phrase on almost every page, an expression

that will make you think "I wish I had said that."
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A. Panda on August 8, 2008
Format: Paperback
Humanoid giants (4 m tall) would be incapable of moving, since doubling the length and width in a proportional manner increases volume and therefore weight by several times, so if such huge creatures exist, either they cannot resemble humans or they are not able to move. This is how the author addresses issues like shape, area and volume as well as their relation to weight. His amusing approach would have made physics a lot more fun at school. He also explains practical matters like "how many books can a standard shelf support without bending and what if you double the lenght..."

The author explains supporting structures like skeletons, towers, pillars, etc. and their stability if they rely on 1, 2, 3, 4 or more legs as well as their mobility (motion on ground, motion in water and flight).

Probably the main differece between nature design and human engineering is a matter of scale, since the majority of living beings are a lot smaller than humans (the scale is shown in an extremely interesting graph). The author mentions that the main difference when choosing a flying method between an airplane and a bird is size and therefore weight, since weight multiplies faster than area. This is why an airplane requires a lot more flight speed. This section is extremely interesting, I will probably read it again.

Other chapters deal with pumps, valves, motors, engines and propulsion systems. I must say that reading through this section was quite difficult, some notions in mechanics are probably helpful. In the end I could manage to understand them after a second reading of some paragraphs (at least the basic concepts or underlying principles, though not the mechanics of the engines itself). This was the only thing that made the book a bit less enjoyable to me.
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