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This title in other editions

Cats' Paws and Catapults: Mechanical Worlds of Nature and People


Cats' Paws and Catapults: Mechanical Worlds of Nature and People Cover


Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

Our human technology has emerged from ten thousand years of design, trial and error. Nature's mechnical designs, the function of plants and animals, are billions of years older. Both "technologies" share the same physical environment — the same materials, atmosphere and temperature range — and both are subject to the same gravitational pull. But they've turned out to be wildly dissimilar.

Human designers love right angles, but nature is typically round, curved and its angles are more diverse. The wheel enables a huge amount of our technology, yet nature's only true wheels lie within tiny bacteria. Most of our water vessels sail buoyantly across water's surface, while nature typically swims submerged. Our hinges turn because hard parts slide around, wheras natural hinges (such as a rabbit's ear) turn by bending their flexible materials.

Author Steven Vogel examines the many questions that arise from these differences: why have these technologies taken such separate paths? Is nature the better designer or does homo sopiens, being sapient, get the nod? Cat's Paws and Catapults is about the ways living things work — and walk, run, jump and fly — and how they grow. It introduces the reader to the field of biomechanics and explains how the nexus of physical law and historical accident determine the designs of both people and nature. It asks, in the end, how looking at nonhuman — natural — technology might enrich our understanding of what we do and have done.


Includes bibliographical references (p. 343-362) and index.

About the Author

Steven Vogel is the James B. Duke Professor of Biology at Duke University. He has been a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, was awarded the Irving and Jean Stone Prize for Science writing for Public Understanding in 1990, and is the author of Life's Devices, among other books. His work has appeared in Scientific American, American Scientist, Natural History, Discover and Technology Review.

Product Details

Mechanical Worlds of Nature and People
Vogel, Steven
Davis, Kathryn K.
Vogel, Steven
W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
New York :
Popular works
Edition Number:
1st ed.
Publication Date:
May 1998
Trade Cloth
9.58x6.46x1.23 in. 1.40 lbs.

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Related Subjects

Science and Mathematics » History of Science » Technology

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