Vital Circuits

Vital Circuits : On Pumps, Pipes and the Wondrous Workings of Circulatory Systems

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Most of us think about our circulatory system only when something goes wrong, but the amazing story of how it goes right--"magnificently right," as author Steven Vogel puts it--is equally worthy of our attention. It is physically remarkable, bringing food to (and removing waste from) a hundred trillion cells, coursing through 60,000 miles of arteries and veins (equivalent to over twice around the earth at the equator). And it is also intriguing. For instance, blood leaving the heart flows rapidly through the arteries, then slows down dramatically in the capillaries (to a speed of one mile every fifty days), but in the veins, on its way back to the heart, it speed up again. How? In Vital Circuits, Steven Vogel answers hundreds of such questions, in a fascinating, often witty, and highly original guide to the heart, vessels and blood. Vogel takes us through the realm of biology and into the neighboring fields of physics, fluid mechanics, and chemistry. We relive the discoveries of such scientists as William Harvey and Otto Loewi, and we consider the circulatory systems of such fellow earth-dwellers as octopuses, hummingbirds, sea gulls, alligators, snails, snakes, and giraffes. Vogel is a master at using everyday points of reference to illustrate potentially daunting concepts. Heating systems, kitchen basters, cocktail parties, balloons--all are pressed into service. And we learn not only such practical information as why it's a bad idea to hold your breath when you strain and why you might want to wear support hose on a long airplane flight, but also the answers to such seemingly unrelated issues as why duck breasts (but not chicken breasts) have dark meat and why dust accumulates on the blades of a fan. But the real fascination of Vital Circuits lies neither in its practical advice nor in its trivia. Rather, it is in the detailed picture we construct, piece by piece, of our extraordinary circulatory system. What's more, the author communicates not just information, but the excitement of discovering information. In doing so, he reveals himself to be an eloquent advocate for the cause of science as the most interesting of the humanities. Anyone curious about the workings of the body, whether afflicted with heart trouble or addicted to science watching, will find this book a goldmine of information and more

Product details

  • Hardback | 326 pages
  • 157.48 x 231.14 x 25.4mm | 1,247.37g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 52 line drawings, glossary
  • 0195071557
  • 9780195071559

Table of contents

Plumbing; Pumps and Pipes; Getting there; Pressure; How blood moves; Why move blood; Pliant pipes; Hearts, again; Moving oxygen; Moving heat; Tiny vessels; more

Review Text

This is not a book about heart disease, bypass surgery, or balloon angioplasty. It is not a book about how to change your habits and become fit and slim and heart-healthy (although the author confesses to having had a heart attack and having changed his lifestyle). It is a book about how your heart and circulatory system work - their normal physiology - told by a professor of zoology at Duke with a love for comparative anatomy and - well, plumbing. Yes, Vogel's great gift in this lucid exposition is to explain how the pumps (the right and left sides of the heart are essentially two pumps that work together) and the pipes (the arteries and veins) and the blood they supply to all the body's cells obey classic laws of fluid dynamics. So there is much here that will appeal to the home handyman and the physics student as well as to those naturally curious about the way things work. Forced convection, laminar flow, principles of continuity, and numerous eponymous laws (Bernoulli, Pascal, Laplace) are all invoked to explain the beauty of a system that is indeed vital to survival. Among the curiosa: Small animals have shorter lives and more rapid heartbeats than larger animals, but, generally speaking, the total number of heartbeats per lifetime in mammals is a constant: one billion. Also, did you know that flow rate is moat rapid at the center of a pipe and is zero at the walls? That explains why fan blades get dirty: Air doesn't flow at the surface so they collect dust. All this and more await the intelligent science reader who would like time out from all those books on genes and biotechnology for some fine old-fashioned whole-organ physiology. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

About Steven Vogel

About the Author: Steven Vogel is Professor of Zoology at Duke University. His most recent book Life's Devices, which Nature hailed as "brilliant and eccentric," won the first Irving and Jean Stone Prize for Science Writing for Public more

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