Learning From the Octopus by Rafe Sagarin
How Secrets from Nature Can Help Us Fight Terrorist Attacks, Natural Disasters, and Disease

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Synopsis

Despite the billions of dollars we’ve poured into foreign wars, homeland security, and disaster response, we are fundamentally no better prepared for the next terrorist attack or unprecedented flood than we were in 2001. Our response to catastrophe remains unchanged: add another step to airport security, another meter to the levee wall. This approach has proved totally ineffective: reacting to past threats and trying to predict future risks will only waste resources in our increasingly unpredictable world. In Learning from the Octopus, ecologist and security expert Rafe Sagarin rethinks the seemingly intractable problem of security by drawing inspiration from a surprising source: nature. Biological organisms have been living—and thriving—on a risk-filled planet for billions of years. Remarkably, they have done it without planning, predicting, or trying to perfect their responses to complex threats. Rather, they simply adapt to solve the challenges they continually face. Military leaders, public health officials, and business professionals would all like to be more adaptable, but few have figured out how. Sagarinargues that we can learn from observing how nature is organized, how organisms learn, how they create partnerships, and how life continually diversifies on this unpredictable planet. As soon as we dip our toes into a cold Pacific tidepool and watch what we thought was a rock turn into an octopus, jetting away in a cloud of ink, we can begin to see the how human adaptability can mimic natural adaptation. The same mechanisms that enabled the octopus’s escape also allow our immune system to ward off new infectious diseases, helped soldiers in Iraq to recognize the threat of IEDs, and aided Google in developing faster ways to detect flu outbreaks.  While we will never be able to predict the next earthquake, terrorist attack, or market fluctuation, nature can guide us in developing security systems that are not purely reactive but proactive, holistic, and adaptable. From the tidepools of Monterey to the mountains of Kazakhstan, Sagarin takes us on an eye-opening tour of the security challenges we face, and shows us how we might learn to respond more effectively to the unknown threats lurking in our future.
 

About Rafe Sagarin

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Rafe Sagarin is a marine ecologist and environmental policy analyst at the University of Arizona. Among his many accolades, Sagarin is a 2011 Guggenheim Fellowship to support his work on natural security, and he was a Congressional Science Fellow in the office of U.S. Representative Hilda Solis. Sagarin has taught ecology and environmental policy at Duke University, California State University Monterey Bay, and University of California, Los Angeles. His research has appeared in Science, Nature, Foreign Policy, and other leading journals, magazines, and newspapers. He lives with his family in Tucson.
 
Published March 27, 2012 by Basic Books. 322 pages
Genres: Political & Social Sciences, Education & Reference, Nature & Wildlife, Science & Math, Professional & Technical. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Learning From the Octopus

Kirkus Reviews

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Redundant features, which efficiency experts hate, aid survival by preserving vital information, and cooperation and exchange of information among organisms in the same environment is a major tool for increased security.

Jan 16 2012 | Read Full Review of Learning From the Octopus: Ho...

Publishers Weekly

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Eradicating risk is impossible because the threat also adapts, e.g., insurgencies adapt faster than standing armies.

Feb 06 2012 | Read Full Review of Learning From the Octopus: Ho...

City Book Review

He teaches us exactly how to use natural resources that have evolved by nature to combat changing and unpredictable world threats in his illuminating book, Learning from the Octopus.

Jun 25 2012 | Read Full Review of Learning From the Octopus: Ho...

The Ecologist

To put it succinctly: ‘It’s about finding simple processes that impart our security systems with the adaptability necessary to deal with a wide range of threats.’ And if that’s what the octopus is teaching, it might just be worth paying attention.Learning from the Octopus by Rafe Sagarin (£17.99,...

May 03 2012 | Read Full Review of Learning From the Octopus: Ho...

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