I, Mammal: The Story of What Makes Us Mammals
Author: Liam Drew
Publisher: Bloomsbury Sigma
Release Date: January 16, 2018
A list of the attributes that define a mammal is a ragbag of things--fur, live birth, three bones in the middle ear, a brain whose two halves are robustly joined together . . . But this curious collection of features contains the roots of all the biology that makes humans what we are: monkeys with massive brains who parent extensively, enjoy sports, and think lots. What makes us mammals makes us human. Without mammary glands we might not be such dedicated parents; without those middle ear bones there would be no Bach.
I, Mammal examines anatomical and physiological traits and explores their implications for what it means to live as a mammal. Neurobiologist Liam Drew details what is known of the evolution of each respective trait and outlines what it contributes to mammalian life. Each chapter also offers a wider perspective: the middle ear demonstrates how bones were not evolved out of nothing but rather were re-purposed; the placenta illustrates the competition between generations and between maternal and paternal genes; the mammary gland shows how a feeding strategy opened new ecological niches and ultimately created the potential for cultural exchange; while the mystery of the scrotum serves as notice of how incomplete our knowledge still is.
Written as a very personal narrative and in the author's characteristically conversational, droll tone, I, Mammal underscores the idea that we do not study biology--we are biology.