Review: Dazzled and Deceived: Mimicry and camouflage by Peter Forbes

Review: Dazzled and Deceived: Mimicry and camouflage by Peter Forbes

For more reviews and to add your comments, visit www.NewScientist.com/books-art McGovern, cultivated cereals for fermentation rather than for food. B...

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McGovern, cultivated cereals for fermentation rather than for food. Beer, it seems, came before bread. Rather than the root of all evil, alcohol is the root of all that makes us human: art, music, religion and other aspects of our culture all got their start in palaeolithic binge-drinking. That’s the theory, and McGovern has found plenty of evidence to support it. You may well be wondering what these ancient drinks tasted like. Here, ancient crusts and residues can’t help much. To answer this question McGovern has had to innovate. With the help of friends in the brewing industry, he has recreated a Phrygian grog, an alcoholic chocolate “beer” and Chateau Jiahu – the oldest drink of all. Two out of three weren’t bad.

Homo imbibens A history of drinking finds alcohol is at the root of all that makes us human

Reviewed by Stephanie Pain

QUESTS don’t come much more appealing than this. But while for most people the quest ends in the nearest bar, biomolecular archaeologist Patrick McGovern has gone much further. He has spent decades travelling the world and journeying back in time, scraping dirty crusts from ancient cauldrons, retrieving dribbles of liquid from sealed jars and extracting residues from the pores of prehistoric pots, all in the name of investigating the origins of ancient alcoholic beverages. After he famously identified the world’s oldest wine – a resinated grape wine found

in two clay jars from the Neolithic village of Hajji Firuz in Iran, in 2004 he found an even older sample in China. At a 9000-year-old site called Jiahu on the banks of the Yellow river, he recovered the remains of grog made from rice, hawthorn fruit, grapes and honey. Another of his recent revelations is that the people of Central America got drunk on fermented chocolate, giving new meaning to the word chocoholic. McGovern’s delving, detailed in this fascinating book, leaves little doubt that humans are born drinkers, more Homo imbibens than Homo sapiens. From the earliest times, people the world over have felt the urge to drink alcohol and applied themselves to finding ways to produce prodigious amounts of it. By Neolithic times, the inhabitants of different continents had all come up with the same answer: the domestication of cereals. The first farmers, argues

Who, me? Dazzled and Deceived: Mimicry and camouflage by Peter Forbes, Yale University Press, $27.50/£18.99 Reviewed by Gail Vines

MICHAEL DEWEVER-PLANA/AGENCE VU

Uncorking the past: The quest for wine, beer and other alcoholic beverages by Patrick McGovern, University of California Press, $29.95/£20.95

WE MIGHT call a fickle, changeable acquaintance a chameleon, but the true champions of camouflage turn out to be cephalopods – octopuses, cuttlefish and squid. Unlike a chameleon, an octopus can duplicate the colour and texture of almost anything, making it a “living, breathing, swimming compendium of every camouflage and mimicry technique known,” writes Peter Forbes. The natural armoury of deceptions as depicted in Dazzled and Deceived is astounding, and the history of research into the phenomenon is just as surprising. Starting in the 1850s in the Amazon rainforest, Forbes presents an authoritative account of research into mimicry, and

brings it bang up to date with today’s molecular studies. Cultural spin-offs of camouflage abound, and everything from Picasso’s cubism to quixotic military attempts to disguise battleships and soldiers are covered. Bizarrely, the US army’s Woodland camouflage pattern is today’s fashion staple: “What was originally intended to conceal has had an afterlife as something highly recognisable on the high street.”

Geek power Makers by Cory Doctorow, Harper/Tor, £14.99/$24.99 Reviewed by Paul Marks

ELECTRONIC waste is a global problem – with an interesting corollary: there’s an awful lot of computer power just sitting doing nothing in those dumps. The characters in Cory Doctorow’s Makers harness some of that power by inventing imaginative gadgets forged from their own clever coding and 3D printers, creating a dynamic new economy as a result. Want a self-driving car? Use a swarm of voice-controlled robot dolls to press the pedals and steer left and right on command. Or build a radio frequency identification (RFID) system that knows where everything in your house is. Or how about a robotic theme park ride based on abandoned stair-climbing Segways? Set against a backdrop of geek life in failed, feral suburbs of the not-too-distant future, this is not a pretty vision, but a kooky illustration of what might happen if the geeks ever have to take charge. The story has a tendency to drag at times but, falling somewhere between Stig Of The Dump, Microserfs and Freakonomics, it is an entertaining yarn. 14 November 2009 | NewScientist | 49