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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

August 13, 1995|CHRIS GOODRICH

THE BEAUTY OF THE BEASTLY: New Views of the Nature of Life by Natalie Angier (Houghton Mifflin: $21.95; 278 pp.). A couple of decades ago good science writers were hard to find; now scores of general-interest publications have one or more on staff, and give them lots of space. Why the change? Because . . . well, I have no idea, but welcome it because there are so many fascinating things in the wide world of science. Natalie Angier here collects 41 of her newspaper articles, almost all of them written for the New York Times, and most contain some amazing fact or interpretation about nature. To wit: already mated purple martin sing to attract yearling male martin, then cuckold them by mating with the she-birds the young males draw; female gray tree frogs like males who display their strength with endless trilling, to the point that they flock to audio speakers playing speeded-up trills far beyond the capacity of actual frogs; scorpions can produce up to 30 different neurotoxins for use in their stingers, gestate their young up to 18 months, and live to 25 years; vipers ovulate so rarely, as little as once every five years, that when a receptive female emerges from hibernation in the spring she may be greeted by hundreds of males intending to win her favor. There's a certain sameness to these pieces, being conceived and written according to the newspaper popular-science-section formula, but Angier, who has won a Pulitzer for her work, puts them together with clarity and flair.

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