Review of "Life in Moving Fluids"

Life in Moving Fluids: the physical biology of flow, by Steven Vogel. ISBN 0-691-02616-5.

The first edition of this book was instrumental, so I understand, in creating the field of biological fluid dynamics. Not having read the first edition, I can't comment on what's changed; but apparently the new edition is about twice as long as the old. It's certainly a big meaty book: over 450 pages of small type.

"Life in Moving Fluids" is primarily intended for biologists who want to learn enough about fluid dynamics and its interface with biology to make use of it in their work. Its secondary audience would be engineers, physicists and mathematicians with a background in fluid dynamics who want to understand how their field interacts with the world of living things. On the whole Vogel assumes little in either field; I am neither a biologist nor a fluid dynamicist, but I found it quite readable. (On the other hand, I am a mathematician, and I didn't attempt to understand everything in it fully.)

Vogel writes very well, and he knows his stuff. The explanations are clear, the mathematics (generally kept brief and elementary) is fine, and the wisdom that comes only from insight and experience is frequently apparent. He also has an annoying addiction to alliteration and is particularly partial to puns, which at times obstruct the steady flow of his exposition and are frankly a bit of a drag despite the lift he clearly hopes they give to his writing.

I said above that the mathematics here is generally brief and elementary. One of the lessons of this book is that you can go a long way on the basis of understanding the fundamentals, if the necessary insight is there and you keep in touch with experimental reality. Perhaps this is largely a characteristic of a field that's still young.

The book has on the order of 100 figures. It would not have been hurt by having twice as many or more.

Readers interested in this book might (also, or instead) want to consider the similarly excellent "Life's Devices", by the same author, which covers some of the material in this book (more shallowly) but takes a broader view: biomechanics generally.