BkRev #1827.  The Serengeti Rules: The Quest to Discover How Life Works and Why It Matters. (2016). Sean Carroll.  Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.  263 pp. $16.95. 978-0-691-17568-3.

Kim Charmatz, Academic Advisor, University Of Southern Maine, [email protected]

The college or university community is like an ecosystem, made up of multiple interconnected parts and people that all play a role in the education of students, individually and collectively.  In The Serengeti Rules, Carroll shows that all biological systems follow similar regulatory processes from the cells in the human body to the ecosystems of the Serengeti and the Earth as a whole. These ideas around regulation of biological systems have direct content implications for students, advisors, and faculty in the STEM fields, as well as systematic implications for everyone that is part of a college community. 

Carroll provides a detailed historical account of how physiologists discovered different regulatory processes of human body systems and then shows how ecologists identified similar processes of regulation in larger ecosystems.  In this way, he presents science from historical and humanistic perspectives, as a process and compelling story that evolves over time.  The presentation of science as a process and human endeavor are important concepts to understand on their own; adding to that, the science of regulation is another layer that advisors, faculty, and students from many disciplines will find relevant in their fields or educational experiences.  Carroll’s writing style is engaging and accessible for readers in all fields; he provides many examples and high quality visual images to illustrate the scientific concepts and main ideas.

Both professional academic advisors and faculty advisors may be interested in this book as a tool to talk with students about the interconnectedness of the natural sciences, especially topics in biology such as physiology, genetics, and ecology.  Although there is not any specific content in the book on advising students, a discussion on the book could act as a foundation to conversations about the interdisciplinary nature of biology and how students’ field of study and college experiences connect and build on each other.  This type of discussion could also provide a tangible way of reviewing how different paths within the biology major are relevant to students’ lives and future careers, and has the potential to improve the relationship between advisors and students through deeper academic conversations.  

In addition, an ecosystem metaphor for the college setting can be helpful to students and advisors in any discipline interested in understanding the larger context of their field of study, education, and school.  The Serengeti Rules could potentially be used in a focus group of students, professional academic advisors, and faculty advisors from all disciplines about how their university is a type of ecological community that is regulated by various factors, and the important role each person plays in the community.  For example, questions that may be relevant to discussion include: What is your place or role in your college community?  What factors regulate your learning in positive or negative ways?  In what possible direction(s) is your current path taking you? 

The Serengeti Rules is an excellent nonfiction science book that shows the interconnections of many fields of biology and systems in general. It would be a great book to introduce content in biology or systems to a class, a group, or a student in an advising session.  I recommend it to other advisors that are interested in talking with students about the big picture of their educational experience within a university community and how the details of their academic programs and college experience fit together, both in the sciences and in all academic areas. 

Posted in: Book Review
Actions: E-mail | Permalink |