#2: Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation by Olivia Judson
This was an entertainingly bawdy look at the mechanics of sexual reproduction and competition in organisms of all sorts. Each section starts with a letter from some living thing - plant, animal, fungus, bacteria, whatever - asking for advice from the titular sex columnist, who then uses it as a teaching example for some fascinatingly odd aspect of sexual interaction. The book settles into a rhythm in its pedagogy - some statement or discovery about a species' sexual habit is asserted, and then examined through the microscope of evolution: if this is so, there must be a reason; is it advantageous to procreation, and does it have a genetic basis? "Deviances" as widespread as prenatal incest, intermittent hermaphroditism and gender-switching, and microbiotic lesbian necrophilia are shown to have advantages in certain situations of natural or sexual selection. ("Sexual selection" happens to be a different mechanism from "natural selection"; the latter as postulated by Darwin concerns traits that make members of a species more likely to survive long enough to see its offspring reach breeding age, whereas the former concerns an organism's advantages in finding or attracting a mate. After all, survival does you no good if you can't find someone to screw.)
My only complaint is that the book ended rather abruptly; the last quarter or so of the book's thickness is notes on previous chapters and an immense bibliography. The amount of source material is astounding, but not terribly surprising when you realize the breadth of organisms the book discusses - everything from the asexually reproducing bdelloid rotifer family to polygamous birds and a species of dolphin for which any hole will do.
Thanks for the book, xaandria!
Next up: George R. R. Martin's short stories The Hedge Knight and The Sworn Sword - side stories from Westeros, thoughfully provided to me by Sheree.