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Mother Nature Is Trying to Kill You: A Lively Tour Through the Dark Side of the Natural World First Edition Edition

4.3 out of 5 stars 64 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1476707549
ISBN-10: 1476707545
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

As host of Animal Planet’s grotesque but paradoxically popular show about parasites, The Monsters Inside Me, Riskin has endured his share of unsavory encounters with Mother Nature’s predatory side. As he recounts at the beginning of this absorbing and witty, if sometimes stomach-churning, catalog of nature’s more gruesome proclivities, a botfly maggot once took up residence in his scalp. Far from repelling him, the episode ignited a fascination for all creatures rapacious and parasitical whose close study, Riskin compellingly argues, is necessary to fully appreciate the complexity of life on Earth. Using the seven deadly sins as a whimsical roadmap, Riskin here describes the unsettlingly “sinful” behaviors of not only parasites but all manner of plants and animals, from ducks to hyenas and (the author’s favorites) bats. “Greed,” for instance, showcases newborn birds and sharks that bump off their siblings, “Gluttony” is embodied in the toxins plants use to avoid being eaten. While not recommended for the squeamish, Riskin’s book is an entertaining and informative close-up look at the ingenious tricks nature’s creatures use to survive. --Carl Hays

Review

"Can a book about vampire bats and necrophiliac frogs be an uplifting experience? When Dan Riskin writes it, yes. Mother Nature Is Trying To Kill You is a no-holds romp through life's nasty, creepy, and otherwise fascinating corners." (Carl Zimmer, author of Parasite Rex)

"I am in awe of Dan's ability to make the most disgusting and repulsive things seem fascinating and, frankly, beautiful. I wish he'd write the press releases for my show. This is very cool." (Craig Ferguson, host of The Late Late Show and author of American on Purpose)

You have to love Dan Riskin's Mother Nature is Trying to Kill You. It's eye-opening, hair-raising, and engaging science, all at the same time. A fascinating tour of the often ghoulish strategies nature devises to help creatures unmask, do-in, and otherwise wreak havoc with you, me, and nearly every other living thing on the planet. The research is exhaustive and surprising, yet fun and accessible. Along the way readers get a fresh, first-hand view of the inventive ways the evolutionary sweepstakes works.” (Chip Walter, author of Last Ape Standing: The Seven-Million-Year Story of How and Why We Survived)

"Calling all science geeks! A fascinating and funny look at some of the fantastic and frightening aspects of the ‘natural’ world. You will laugh, you will learn, you may even throw up a little in your mouth. Required reading, if you like things that are good." (Ed Robertson, lead singer of Barenaked Ladies)

"Well worth reading. Full of fascinating facts and intriguing tales that will ensure you never look at nature in quite the same way again." (Penny Le Couteur, author of Napoleon’s Buttons: How 17 Molecules Changed History)

“Wildlife lovers, in an effort to dispel the idea that we are dominant over the earth, have tried to portray ‘nature’ and ‘natural’ as beautiful, peaceful things. Dan Riskin reveals the folly of that by showing us that not only are other organisms trying to take us down – in myriad ways – but in their spare time, trying to get each other. Peaceful? Ha!” (Jay Ingram, author of The Science of Everyday Life)

"Pride and envy, lust and sloth—in Riskin's evolutionary romp, not deadly sins, but virtues learned at Mother Nature's knee." (Pam Nagami, M.D., author of The Woman With a Worm in Her Head)

“A fact-filled and amusing trek through nature’s dark side that adroitly combines learning and the yuck factor.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“[An] absorbing and witty, if sometimes stomach-churning, catalog of nature’s more gruesome proclivities. . . . Riskin’s book is an entertaining and informative close-up look at the ingenious tricks nature’s creatures use to survive.” (Booklist)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone; First Edition edition (March 4, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1476707545
  • ISBN-13: 978-1476707549
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (64 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #40,144 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Unlike the dark side of the moon, the dark side of nature is simply fabulous and surprisingly extremely interesting. There abound creatures that exhibit the seven deadly sins of man: greed, lust,laziness, gluttony, envy, wrath and pride. In fact each of these sins form a chapter in Riskin's book. Dr. Riskin maintains our interest throughout by describing the most interesting and fascinating creatures that steel, rape philander, kill and put on glorious displays of razzle-dazzle to attract a female, all in the name to perpetuate their DNA. All this places new meaning to the word natural. Anyone pointing to nature to justify any of our vices, sexual orientation, or food preferences relating to meat or vegetables would find ample evidence here as nature dark veil is opened for our eyes to behold. This book is well written especially for the non-scientist to enjoy and understand. It is a non-fiction page turner which I heartily recommend.
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Format: Hardcover
I found this a delightful book about how Mother Nature is not as nice as is popularly believed or advertised. Told in everyday explanations and vignettes for all to understand, with humor and personal experiences, this biologist explains through six of the seven deadly sins how every element in nature is better at committing them than we are, while trying to advance its own DNA at the expense of all others.
Doctor Riskin uses “meat robots” as the term for all living things, especially mammals (including us) because all behaviors are directed by the instinct to pass on DNA of…not the fittest, but the sneakiest, the most venomous, and the cruelest. From parasites, plants and birds, to sea creatures, insects and mammals there is no other purpose. And each does it in an amazing way evolved over time as situations changed so survival is assured.
Even man behaves according to the dictates of his DNA, rationalizing it’s natural, and if so, must be the only correct way to behave. He shows how this is absolutely not true, not in natural childbirth, not in natural foods, and certainly not in our warlike, self-serving, self-destructive behavior.
Man has, for better or worse, the ability to change Nature for his benefit, receiving the trophy for the last vice – pride. We believe, as the most advanced species, we’re different from the others, and normal rules don’t apply to us. But that has made us as short sighted as each element in nature that performs in the moment without understanding the consequences to their own future.
Even though scientists chip away at old theories and misguided, antiquated beliefs, society as a whole takes decades, even centuries, to accept the facts.
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Format: Hardcover
Although this book rehashes a bit of Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene, Riskin provides a lot of detail about the lethal side of plants and animals, as well as some up-to-date philosophy of how the naturalistic fallacy affects us humans. Best book I've come across all week. Highly recommended, if for no other reason than the description of the cuddling hyenas.
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Format: Paperback
A previous review raved about how this book is rich in information and yuck factor. I agree, but in a different sense. It is packed full of random, cocktail-party-worthy facts about how wildlife can be hostile. This could have been a real bestseller, particularly if it had stuck to the threats to human life, as suggested in the title. Instead, it is more an overview of how life is really a merciless struggle for individuals to pass on their DNA. Or, in the authors terms, how we are all meat robots. The vulgarity of this phrase is typical of the irreverent prose style, which is probably what you would expect from someone who appears on talk shows to discuss parasites. The whole exercise reads like an MTV adaptation of Richard Dawkins, whom the author acknowledges as his inspiration.

If you are going to preach evolutionary biology, and criticize the idea of projecting human morality onto the natural world, why structure the chapters around the religious concept of the Seven Deadly Sins? If it was meant to ironic, it is heavy-handed. More likely, it gives and excuse to discuss some titillating animal behaviour that really has nothing to do with the title. But what literally turned my stomach was not some detail of how beastly animals can be. It was the opening premise that, by searching for an exception to DNA determinism disguised as ruthless behavior, the author would validate his love for his newborn son. This issue is unresolved until he consults a wise colleague in the final chapter.

Please. Spare me, not form Mother Nature, but this intellectual yuckiness. Or do yourself a favour, and skip the Introduction and final chapter. Like a predatory meat robot, you will enjoy the good bits with less effort.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Premise: Mother Nature is not nice. In fact, she is inherently selfish and cruel, interested only in perpetuating her own DNA, and if there is any hope for the future of mankind, it behooves us to rise above our own hard-wired, self-serving instincts to build a better world.

The Good News: The book itself is – or should be – an example of how technology can improve the experience of reading. There are links in the text so that, for example, after you read about a wild bird in the Brazilian rainforest, you can click on a link to watch YouTube videos of that very bird in the Brazilian rainforest.

The Bad News: The links did not work on my Kindle. Amazon would not take me to the Amazon.

More Bad News: Riskin’s decision to link wildlife to humanity’s “seven deadly sins” is often a gimmicky stretch. Is an insect that eats lots of food truly indulging in “gluttony” – or is it simply acting on instinct? Is a monkey really “envious” of another monkey’s bowl of grapes – or does it simply crave the grapes? Riskin’s theories are more successful when he likens human behavior to our animal cousins, less successful when he attributes human-like motivations to animal behavior.

Despite the publisher’s best efforts to convince us that Mother Nature is a unique take on what people are and why they do what they do, this is mostly just a biology book about creepy crawlies.
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