Monday, 12 September 2016

Review: The Most Perfect Thing: Inside (and Outside) a Bird's Egg

The Most Perfect Thing: Inside (and Outside) a Bird's Egg The Most Perfect Thing: Inside (and Outside) a Bird's Egg by Tim Birkhead
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Way back in the 1950’s the Egg Marketing Board recommended that we should ‘go to work on an egg’. It was something that the nation took to heart and nowadays we consume over 11 billion hen’s eggs in the UK. They are a healthy nutritious food; though in my household most of them end up in cakes…

Tim Birkhead has been fascinated by birds and eggs for his entire career. In this book, he seeks to answer a variety of questions. Such as how are eggs formed, how are their colours and shapes created, is the pointed end laid first and are some designed to roll in a circle on a cliff face. Using information from his own scientific research and examples from museum collections and from a whole variety of different birds Birkhead sets about answering some of these by beginning from the moment of fertilisation to the point where the unborn chick makes that first chip in the shell.

We learn how the eggs are made in the oviduct, how the shells are strong enough to be sat upon during incubation and weak enough to allow the chick to escape. There is masses of detail explaining how they breathe, whilst still having a protective layer against water and microbes and explains the purpose of the yolk and albumen. As well as the science, he looks at the history and mankind’s fascination, and sometimes obsession, with eggs bringing alive all sort of weird and wonderful facts. There is details on the parasitic birds like the cuckoo who have the ability to mimic other birds shells almost exactly, as well as lots of his passion for the guillemot and their beautifully patterned eggs.

It is a fascinating account of what you would think is a simple entity. He writes well, managing to get the balance between details, clarity and scientific jargon just about right. Throughout the book, he regularly points out that answering one question frequently prompts two more and tells us where more research is needed as we simply do not know the answers. What makes this particularly special is his boundless enthusiasm for his subject, not just in his own research, but also for the history behind this most perfect of things. 4.5 stars


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