BTRIPP (btripp) wrote,

A bit deeper into the stack ...

As I've noted, I'm trying to catch up on a fairly large stack of "to be reviewed" books going back as far as last fall. This one's been waiting since December, so my impressions are somewhat dulled by the delay, but I'll have a go at it.

I picked this up at used book store a year or so back, and the copy I have looks considerably older than it is ... this came out in 1997. I make a point of this, as I tried to do some follow-up research on a couple of things which grabbed my imagination at the time of reading, but I was singularly unable to find any current vestiges of those programs and projects that I was seeking more info on. There appears to have been a second edition of this (at least Amazon defaults to a different cover), but that appears to have just been a couple of years after this one, so I doubt that is more current at this point. This is too bad, because Janine M. Benyus' Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature is based on a fascinating concept; Biomimicry is defined here as 1) a new science that studies nature's models and then imitates or takes inspiration from these designs and processes to solve human problems (e.g, a solar cell inspired by a leaf), 2) a method that uses an ecological standard to judge the "rightness" of our innovations - after 3.8 billion years of evolution has learned what works, what is appropriate, and what lasts, and 3) a new way of viewing and valuing nature which introduces a model based not on what we can extract from the natural world, but on what we can learn from it.

The book is in 8 chapters, an introductory one and then seven which seek to answer certain questions ... How Will We Feed Ourselves? - Farming To Fit The Land: Growing Food Like A Prairie ... How Will We Harness Energy? - Light Into Life: Gathering Energy Like A Leaf ... How Will We Make Things? - Fitting Form To Function: Weaving Fibers Like A Spider ... How Will We Heal Ourselves? - Experts In Our Midst: Finding Cures Like A Chimp ... How Will We Store What We Learn? - Dances With Molecules: Computing Like A Cell ... How Will We Conduct Business? - Closing The Loops In Commerce: Running A Business Like A Redwood Forest ... and Where Will We Go From Here? - May Wonders Never Cease: Toward A Biomimetic Future. As you can tell from reading over that list, the book covers a lot of ground, some being more "Biomimetic" than others, and some being more plausible than others. Frankly, I wanted to run off to Kansas after reading about The Land Institute as what Benyus wrote about them was deeply inspiring ... she also covers a half a dozen other renewable resource approaches from around the world in that chapter (from fish to wood to low-impact farming).

However, some stuff in here is pretty stale ... the computer-themed section goes back more than a dozen years, and stuff that seemed "gee wiz" back then has long been lapped (try telling somebody in the mid-90's that a Terabyte external hard drive would be the size of a book and cost less than a nice dinner for two) by reality ... plus there's a lot of "guessing" about things like "holographic storage" which so far has remained within the realm of fiction. And, needless to say, when you start getting Gaia referenced in the "Running A Business" section, you know that you're in territory only reasonable to the Green Party loons.

All in all, though, Biomimicry is a pretty thought-provoking read, although frustrating for the reasons detailed above. It appears that this is currently out of print, so if you're interested in picking up a copy, you'll be at the mercy of the new/used vendors ... oddly enough, the hardcover version of the first edition is probably your best bet, with "like new" copies going for as little as $7.50 (where some guys are trying to sell "new" copies of the later paperback for upwards of seventy bucks!) ... or, you could find it in a used bookstore like I did.

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Tags: book review
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