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Bill Schutt03-17-22 PUMP: A Natural History of the Heart with Bill Schutt Vertebrate Zoologist

Bill Schutt is a vertebrate zoologist and author of five nonfiction and fiction books, including the New York Times Editor’s Choice, Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History. Recently retired from his post as professor of biology at LIU Post, he is a research associate at the American Museum of Natural History, where he has studied bats all over the world. His research has been featured in Natural History magazine as well as in the New York TimesNewsday, the Economist, and Discover.

For centuries, humans have been fascinated by the heart. Aristotle believed it was the seat of consciousness; the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz mused about how his life would change if only he had one; and poets and musicians from Shakespeare to Tom Petty to Stevie Nicks have written countless words about hearts being cold, broken, and lonely. Now, American Museum of Natural History zoologist Bill Schutt, the critically acclaimed author of Cannibalism, turns his attention to this vital organ in PUMP: A Natural History of the Heart (Algonquin Books: Sept 21, 2021).

PUMP explores the mysteries and wonders of the literal heartbeat of life on earth. This is the first book to present in-depth natural histories of both the human heart and the hearts of dozens of diverse animal species ranging from worms to alligators to bats to sea squirts.  PUMP is an illuminating journey that shows how the heart has become the core of not only the circulatory system, but also the natural world.

From a Canadian museum where Schutt examines a rare, preserved blue whale heart the size of a golf cart to New England beaches where horseshoe crabs are being harvested for their life-saving blood to labs where he encounters frozen hibernating wood frogs, PUMP takes readers on a fantastic trip around the world, telling an incredible story of evolution and scientific process. Readers journey with Schutt through human history, too, as philosophers and scientists hypothesize, often wrongly, about what makes our ticker tick. The book traces humanity’s cardiac fascination from the ancient Greeks and Egyptians, who believed that the heart contains the soul, all the way up to modern-day laboratories, where scientists use animal hearts and even plants as the basis for many of today’s cutting-edge therapies. Schutt interviews notable doctors, researchers, and animal experts, revealing unexpected anecdotes and studies including:

  • the science behind the survival of the Antarctic icefish, whose blood contains a natural antifreeze;
  • the use of tropical Zebrafish, an organism that shares more than 70 percent of its genes with humans, to study the regrowth of functional heart muscle in humans;
  • the heart of the Burmese python, which can grow 40 percent after eating a meal, and how this invasive species can help researchers better understand physiological human heart growth;
  • the scientific background on why doctors made the switch from therapeutic bloodletting including the use of leeches to blood transfusions as a way to restore health;
  • the strange science behind the giraffe circulatory system – which includes a massive high-pressure heart that can pump blood to heights of eighteen feet and unique adaptations that prevent blood from rushing to their lowered heads when they drink;
  • the 150-year-old mystery behind the ailments that plagued Charles Darwin for the last forty years of his life, which may be traced to a rare bloodborne disease he contracted during his voyage on the H.M.S. Beagle;
  • the experiments showing the direct relationship between bereavement and Takotsubo syndrome, better known as “broken heart syndrome”;
  • the brand-new technologies utilized by various labs to grow and regenerate the human heart from stem cells, animal hearts, and plants.

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