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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "You don't need brains . . ., 29 Aug. 2008
By 
Stephen A. Haines (Ottawa, Ontario Canada) - See all my reviews
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. . . to be a builder", says Hansell, and goes on to demonstrate that with a photo of a house built by "Difflugia coronata". It's a spiked sphere with a nicely decorated front entry - tasteful, if rather enigmatic, one looks in vain for the resident. Not one of those clever wasps that pulps paper to tuck a nest under your eaves or one of the swallows that brings mud to accomplish a similar task, D. coronata is a micro-organism: an amoeba that collects tiny sand grains to build itself a shelter. An amoeba?? How does it accomplish this? Hansell responds, as he must do often in this fine study, "we don't know".

Animal building hasn't been a topic of intense study as the author frequently reminds us. However, he's good at demonstrating what we do know and what further work needs doing. He poses several good questions - how much of an animal's building skill is genetically inherited? How important to animals is the idea of standardised material [think "bricks" in human construction]? Which animals produce structures the equivalent of three times the size of any human office building? What planning steps are required for an orb spider to form its web? Finally, and what might be the most pertinent of all, what is a tool and is that what distinguishes human builders from the other animals?

As Hansell poses these questions, he goes on to show how some of the answers have been obtained. He explains the varieties of construction behaviour - how an African rat may have an extended burrow system with up to several hundred entries, for example. Logic demands this is an indication of a group endeavour, but the entire system is inhabited by one rat. We think birds intuitively construct complex nests from their first effort. Many weaver birds, however, may fall out of the tree on their first effort to fashion a hanging nest. Orb spiders, on the other hand, weave their webs with much variation - some species even know the best time of day to construct a particular type of web for a specific prey. An the web material is an engineering masterpiece - flexible enough to catch the prey and strong enough to hold it. How it manages this is a fascinating section of this book. Hansell warns the reader against falling victim to "heavy eyelids" prior to the description, noting that the solution is too "elegant" to miss. He's correct in that.

What does an animal "think" as it's building a structure?, he reflects. Some prompt leads bees to form comb relating to their body size, as do many nesting birds - especially weavers. Is there "thinking" involved when one of the bolas spiders shifts the issuing of a pheromone for one moth species to that of another - at a specific time of night? Termites built immense, complex towers - Hansell compares them to the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur. Yet, although there are millions of construction jobs in erecting the mounds, not one of the termites appears to be in charge. Does each termite carry a mental blueprint in that miniscule brain? Further, why do some termite species ventilate the mound with one method, while others in a similar environment do it differently?

Hansell poses these questions as much to himself as to the reader. He calls for research into various areas throughout the narrative. There are even topics he declares he will be investigating in the coming years. That's another thing that makes this book a prime gift to a young student. Building is not merely a human endeavour and variety and innovation isn't limited to our species. It's important to understand how life works and this is one significant indicator in that quest. Try this book and find out why. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Building is an Art, 4 Jun. 2009
By 
J. Taylor (Poole, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Built by Animals: The natural history of animal architecture (Paperback)
Hansell makes a strong case for animals building, trapping and making difficult decisions in a state of blissful ignorance : they clearly have no concept of causal relationships.
An interesting issue this book provoked for me, is the one of human self-awareness and behaviour; how do we arrive rational descisions?
My one real criticism, contrary to another positive review, was that the author digresses a lot, which I felt actually interrupted the flow and coherence of the arguements.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Good Read, 5 Jan. 2009
By 
F. Gibbins (Scotland) - See all my reviews
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For a topic that could be dry this book was a great read. Flowing text that explained the ideas well. Would recommend to others
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4.0 out of 5 stars Is n't nature amazing, 4 Sept. 2013
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I'm more of a visual person and like lots of pictures in my 'interest' books. However although I've not finished reading it I find it a fascinating read. It was an impulse purchase and being cheap I bought it. It's given me some interesting ideas for my art work, (and I don't mind it's mainly text)
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4.0 out of 5 stars Built by Animals, 11 Nov. 2012
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I've not finished it yet but so far it's great! I have held back on the last star because I feel some of the data is a bit complex for the layman. I told my l grandchildren, of 3 1/2 and 7, about the oikopleura house and they were rivetted
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5.0 out of 5 stars especially as we have seen some of the beautiful nests made by birds in other countries, 16 Mar. 2015
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This review is from: Built by Animals: The natural history of animal architecture (Paperback)
A very interesting book, especially as we have seen some of the beautiful nests made by birds in other countries.
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Built by Animals: The natural history of animal architecture
Built by Animals: The natural history of animal architecture by Mike Hansell (Paperback - 29 Jan. 2009)
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