A noticeable thread runs through this fall’s science titles, connecting books on astrophysics, particle physics, and paleolithic art while addressing ongoing interest in the origins of human consciousness. Theoretical physicist and novelist Alan Lightman meditates on these themes in The Accidental Universe: The World You Thought You Knew, getting to the core of the emotional and philosophical conundrums we face as creatures aware of our own existence.
Is it this awareness of self that differentiates humans from other members of the animal kingdom or is it something else? Psychologist Thomas Suddendorf explores the possibilities in The Gap: The Science of What Separates Us from Other Animals, proposing that it’s not language or morality that sets humans apart, but a capacity for fiction: the ability to imagine new scenarios and reflect upon them.
Meanwhile, We Are Our Brains, the life’s work of renowned Dutch neuroscientist D.F. Swaab, investigates how the human brain develops over the course of a lifetime. And just as brains change over a lifetime, they’ve changed over the course of human evolution. For his work Shaping Humanity: How Science, Art, and Imagination Help Us Understand Our Origins, artist John Gurche studied fossils and forensic reconstruction to recreate the world of our paleolithic ancestors, in the process revealing the paths evolution takes and controversial debates within the scientific community.
J. Craig Venter, who sequenced the human genome and is a pioneer in the new field of “synthetic life,” questions our conceptions of what “life” is and what it means to “play God” in his overview Life at the Speed of Light: From the Double Helix to the Dawn of Digital Life.
Moving away from Earth, we find Lee Billings’s Five Billion Years of Solitude: The Search for Life Among the Stars. Through interviews with researchers, Billings lays out how the quest to find life beyond our solar system has forced us to re-examine the mysteries of the concept on our own planet.
A number of forthcoming titles address the chase for the Higgs boson, led by Caltech physicist Sean Carroll’s The Particle at the End of the Universe: How the Hunt for the Higgs Boson Leads Us to the Edge of a New World. Another elusive particle, the neutrino, sits at the center of Ray Jayawardhana’s Neutrino Hunters: The Thrilling Chase for a Ghostly Particle to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe. Where the Higgs may be the secret to understanding why mass exists, neutrinos are believed to hold the key to the mysteries of antimatter and the nature of the universe seconds after the Big Bang.
Medical journalist Sandra Hempel presents a more tangible detective story in The Inheritor’s Powder: A Tale of Arsenic, Murder, and the New Forensic Science. She lays out how contemporary forensic techniques can be traced back to an obscure 19th-century English chemist and the methods he devised to track down poisoners.
Are there ultimate boundaries to what we can learn through scientific methods? Computer scientist Noson S. Yanofsky’s The Outer Limits of Reason: What Science, Mathematics, and Logic Cannot Tell Us looks at everything from the bizarre worlds of chaos theory and quantum mechanics to problems of language and philosophy, noting that, for all our ever-increasing bodies of knowledge about the universe, there will always be problems just beyond our grasp.
PW’s Top 10: Science
The Accidental Universe: The World You Thought You Knew. Alan Lightman. Pantheon, Jan.
The Gap: The Science of What Separates Us from Other Animals. Thomas Suddendorf. Basic, Nov.
We Are Our Brains. D. F. Swaab, trans. by Jane Hedley-Prole. Spiegel & Grau, Jan.
Shaping Humanity: How Science, Art, and Imagination Help Us Understand Our Origins. John Gurche. Yale Univ. Press, Dec.
Life at the Speed of Light: From the Double Helix to the Dawn of Digital Life. J. Craig Venter. Viking, Oct.
Five Billion Years of Solitude: The Search for Life Among the Stars. Lee Billings. Penguin/Current, Oct.
The Particle at the End of the Universe: How the Hunt for the Higgs Boson Leads Us to the Edge of a New World. Sean Carroll. Plume, Sept.
Neutrino Hunters: The Thrilling Chase for a Ghostly Particle to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe. Ray Jayawardhana. FSG/Scientific American, Dec.
The Inheritor’s Powder: A Tale of Arsenic, Murder, and the New Forensic Science. Sandra Hempel. W.W. Norton, Oct.
The Outer Limits of Reason: What Science, Mathematics, and Logic Cannot Tell Us. Noson S. Yanofsky. MIT Press, Sept.
Allen & Unwin
(dist. by IPG)
Star-Craving Mad: Tales from a Travelling Astronomer by Fred Watson (Oct. 1, trade paper, $16.95, ISBN 978-1742373768). Everything amateur astronomers need to know about the history of the universe, from the transit of Venus to the Higgs boson and from ancient Peruvian observatories to the world’s largest particle accelerator.
Trespassing on Einstein’s Lawn: A Father, a Daughter, the Meaning of Nothing, and the Beginning of Everything by Amanda Gefter (Jan. 14, hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-0345531438) is a spirited and personal account of a father/daughter quest for answers to the universe’s biggest questions.
The Gap: The Science of What Separates Us from Other Animals by Thomas Suddendorf (Nov. 12, hardcover, $29.99, ISBN 978-0465030149) provides a definitive account of what makes human minds unique and how this disparity arose, arguing two innovations account for this: our open-ended ability to imagine and reflect, and our insatiable drive to link our minds together.
The Monkey’s Voyage: How Improbable Journeys Shaped the History of Life by Alan de Queiroz (Jan. 7, hardcover, $27.99, ISBN 978-0465020515). In the tradition of John McPhee’s Annals of the Former World, a lyrical examination of how related species ended up in far-flung lands.
Black Dog & Leventhal
(dist. by Workman)
The Secret Language of Color: Science, Nature, History, Culture, Beauty and Joy of Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, and Violet by Joann Eckstut and Arielle Eckstut(Oct. 9, hardcover, $29.95, ISBN 978-1579129491) is a fascinating and beautiful book on color and how it affects everything in the universe in profound ways.
Columbia Univ. Press
Abominable Science!: Origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and Other Famous Cryptids by Daniel Loxton and Donald R. Prothero, foreword by Michael Shermer (Aug. 6, hardcover, $29.95, ISBN 978-0231153201) is an entertaining, educational, and definitive text on cryptids, presenting the arguments both for and against their existence and systematically challenging the pseudoscience perpetuating their myths.
The Why of Things: Causality in Science, Medicine, and Life by Peter V. Rabins (Aug. 20, hardcover, $28.95, ISBN 978-0231164726) offers a conceptual framework for analyzing daunting questions of causality, navigating a lively intellectual voyage between the polar star of strict reductionism and the murky shoals of relativism.
Da Capo Press
(dist. by Perseus)
No Better Time: The Brief, Remarkable Life of Danny Lewin, the Genius Who Transformed the Internet by Molly Knight Raskin (Aug. 27, hardcover, $25.99, ISBN 978-0306821660) is a riveting story of a young, driven mathematical genius who wrote a set of algorithms that created a faster, better Internet, with a heartbreaking 9/11 coda.
(dist. by Workman)
Ask a Science Teacher: How Everyday Stuff Really Works by Larry Scheckel (Nov. 5, trade paper, $14.95, ISBN 978-1615190874). An award-winning teacher answers everyday questions we may have wondered about but didn’t know who to ask, from how do touch lamps work to why we don’t feel the Earth spin.
Survival of the Nicest: How Altruism Made Us Human and Why It Pays to Get Along by Stefan Klein, trans. by David Dollenmayer (Jan. 7, hardcover, $24.95, ISBN 978-1615190904) investigates the evolutionary advantages of altruism, synthesizing a wide array of research, from brain scans, economics, and psychology to historical and contemporary culture.
Secrets of Infinity: 150 Answers to an Enigma by Antonio Lamua (Sept. 1, hardcover, $29.95, ISBN 978-1770852198) helps demystify the elusive infinity and its influence on culture back through antiquity, bringing it closer to modern concepts and understanding in everyday language.
Neutrino Hunters: The Thrilling Chase for a Ghostly Particle to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe by Ray Jayawardhana (Dec. 10, hardcover, $27, ISBN 978-0374220631) takes us on a thrilling journey into the shadowy world of neutrinos and the colorful lives of those who chase them.
(dist. by Consortium)
The Burning Question: We Can’t Burn Half the World’s Oil, Coal, and Gas. So How Do We Quit? by Mike Berners-Lee and Duncan Clark, foreword by Bill McKibben (Oct. 15, trade paper, $16.95, ISBN 978-1771640077). Tackling global warming will mean persuading the world to abandon oil, coal, and gas reserves worth trillions of dollars. Will we wake to the threat in time?
Harvard Univ. Press
More than Nature Needs: Language, Mind, and Evolution by Derek Bickerton (Jan. 13, hardcover, $35, ISBN 978-0674724907) addresses a crucial problem that both biology and cognitive science have ignored: how animal thinking escaped the prison of the here and now.
The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2013, edited by Siddhartha Mukherjee and Tim Folger (Oct. 8, trade paper, $14.95, ISBN 978-0544003439). A collection of the best science and nature writing from the past year. 25,000-copy announced first printing.
Huron Street Press
(dist. by IPG)
Citizen Science Guide for Families: Taking Part in Real Science by Greg Landgraf (Aug. 1, trade paper, $19.95, ISBN 978-1937589356) helps families contribute to real scientific research and offers links to library sources and descriptions to help parents and children match projects with their interests and commitment levels.
A Case for Climate Engineering by David Keith (Sept. 6, hardcover, $14.95, ISBN 978-0262019828). Climate engineering has emerged in recent years as an extremely controversial technology, and for good reason: it carries unknown risks and it may undermine commitments to conserving energy.
The Outer Limits of Reason: What Science, Mathematics, and Logic Cannot Tell Us by Noson S. Yanofsky (Aug. 30, hardcover, $29.95, ISBN 978-0262019354) investigates what science, mathematics, and reason tell us cannot be revealed, exploring the limitations of our knowledge to better understand the structure and limitations of reason itself.
Natural History Museum, London
(dist. by Chesapeake & Hudson)
Extinction: Not the End of the World? by Steve Parker (Oct. 1, trade paper, $15.95, ISBN 978-0565093211) features engaging extinction case studies from around the world and discusses the key issues regarding the extinction of species today, including its causes, impact, and the different kinds of extinction that exist.
The Dynamics of Disaster by Susan W. Kieffer (Oct. 21, hardcover, $25.95, ISBN 978-0393080957) shows how all natural disasters are connected, arguing that only by understanding their dynamics can we begin to institute engineering and policy practices to minimize their impact.
The Inheritor’s Powder: A Tale of Arsenic, Murder, and the New Forensic Science by Sandra Hempel (Oct. 15, hardcover, $26.95, ISBN 978-0393239713). An infamous murder investigation that changed forever the way poisoners were brought to justice, Hempel brings together a gripping story, a fascinating slice of history, and an unforgettable foray into the origins of forensic science in the 19th century.
(dist. by NBN)
Animal Behavior: A Beginner’s Guide by John Byers (Sept. 10, trade paper, $14.95, ISBN 978-1780742601). Communicating the passion of the scientists who have driven the discipline, zoologist Byers draws together evolutionary theory, ecology, population biology, genetics, physiology, and anatomy to demonstrate the diversity involved in ethology.
Oxford Univ. Press
Cracking the Quantum Code of the Universe by John Moffat (Jan. 1, hardcover, $29.95, ISBN 978-0199915521) takes us on a journey through CERN, current particle theories, and where a rethinking of physics might go if the hunt for the Higgs particle fails.
Higgs: The Invention and Discovery of the ‘God Particle’ by Jim Baggott (Sept. 1, trade paper, $15.95, ISBN 978-0199679577) explains the science behind the discovery, looking at how the concept of a Higgs field was invented, how the vast experiment was carried out, and its implications for our understanding of all mass in the universe.
The Infested Mind: Why Humans Fear, Loathe, and Love Insects by Jeffrey Lockwood (Nov. 4, hardcover, $24.95, ISBN 978-0199930197) dissects our common reactions, distinguishing between disgust and fear, and invites readers to consider their own emotional and physiological reactions to insects in a new framework that he’s derived from cutting-edge biological, psychological, and social science.
Waking the Giant: How a Changing Climate Triggers Earthquakes, Tsunamis, and Volcanoes by Bill McGuire (Sept. 1, trade paper, $19.95, ISBN 978-0199678754) argues that global warming may also trigger earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions, much as it did 20,000 years ago. Could we be on track to not only a far hotter world but also a more geologically fractious one?
Falling Upwards: How We Took to the Air by Richard Holmes (Oct. 29, hardcover, $35, ISBN 978-0307379665) tells the story of the enigmatic group of men and women who first risked their lives to take to the air, and so discovered a new dimension of human experience, revealing the secrets of our planet in wholly unexpected ways.
The Accidental Universe: The World You Thought You Knew by Alan Lightman (Jan. 14, hardcover, $24, ISBN 978-0307908582) meditates on the unexpected ways in which recent scientific findings have shaped understandings of ourselves and our place in the cosmos. He explores emotional and philosophical questions, focusing on the human condition and the needs of humankind.
The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease by Daniel Lieberman (Oct. 1, hardcover, $27.95, ISBN 978-0307379412) is a lucid, engaging account of how the human body evolved and the increasing disparity between the jumble of adaptations in our Stone Age bodies and the modern world.
Five Billion Years of Solitude: The Search for Life Among the Stars by Lee Billings (Oct. 3, hardcover, $27.95, ISBN 978-1617230066) delivers a tale of the pioneers seeking the meaning of life in the infinite depths of space.
Octopus!: The Most Mysterious Creature in the Sea by Katherine Harmon Courage (Oct. 31, hardcover, $27.95, ISBN 978-1591845270) provides an entertaining yet informative romp through the world of these infinitely mysterious cephalopods.
Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them by Joshua Greene (Oct. 31, hardcover, $29.95, ISBN 978-1594202605). A pathbreaking neuroscientist reveals how our social instincts turn Me into Us, but turn Us against Them—and what we can do about it.
The Particle at the End of the Universe: How the Hunt for the Higgs Boson Leads Us to the Edge of a New World by Sean Carroll (Aug. 27, trade paper, $16, ISBN 978-0142180303) documents the doorway that is opening into the mind-boggling world of dark matter, uncovering money and politics, jealousy and self-sacrifice, history and cutting-edge physics.
Princeton Univ. Press
Dreams of Other Worlds: The Amazing Story of Unmanned Space Exploration by Chris Impey and Holly Henry (Sept. 4, hardcover, $35, ISBN 978-0691147536) spans four decades of dramatic advances in astronomy and planetary science to describe 11 exploratory missions and how they transformed our scientific and cultural perspectives on the universe and our place in it.
Einstein and the Quantum: The Quest of the Valiant Swabian by A. Douglas Stone (Oct. 21, hardcover, $29.95, ISBN 978-0691139685) offers a completely new perspective on the scientific achievements of the greatest intellect of the 20th century, showing how Einstein’s contributions to the development of quantum theory are more significant, perhaps, than even his legendary work on relativity.
From Dust to Life: The Origin and Evolution of Our Solar System by John Chambers and Jacqueline Mitton (Jan. 4, hardcover, $29.95, ISBN 978-0691145228) relates how the celestial objects that make up the solar system arose billions of years ago, and how scientists and philosophers through the centuries have sought to unravel the mystery of how this happened.
Wizards, Aliens, and Starships: Physics and Math in Fantasy and Science Fiction by Charles L. Adler (Jan. 19, hardcover, $29.95, ISBN 978-0691147154) delves into the extraordinary details in science fiction and fantasy—such as time warps, shape-changing, rocket launches, and illumination by floating candle—and shows readers the physics and math behind the phenomena.
Beyond the God Particle by Leon M. Lederman and Christopher T. Hill (Oct. 8, hardcover, $24.95, ISBN 978-1616148010). Using thoughtful, witty, everyday language, two leading physicists discuss the importance of the Higgs boson, the future of particle physics, and the mysteries of the universe yet to be unraveled.
Invisible Nature: Healing the Destructive Divide Between People and the Environment by Kenneth Worthy (Aug. 6, trade paper, $19, ISBN 978-1616147631) offers a revolutionary new understanding of the precarious modern human-nature relationship and a path leading to a healthier, more sustainable world.
The Fairness Instinct: The Robin Hood Mentality and Our Biological Nature by L. Sun (Oct. 15, hardcover, $24.95, ISBN 978-1616148478) combines research from the social sciences, physical sciences, and the humanities in an accessible cross-disciplinary book that offers fascinating insights into a key component of human nature and society.
Think: Why You Should Question Everything by Guy P. Harrison (Nov. 5, trade paper, $16.95, ISBN 978-1616148072) serves as a guide to critical thinking that will help you think like a scientist, see through most scams at first glance, and learn how your own brain can trip you up.
Knocking on Heaven’s Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death by Katy Butler (Sept. 10, hardcover, $25, ISBN 9781451641974) is a memoir and exposé of modern medicine that leads the way to more humane, less invasive end-of-life care.
Heart: An American Medical Odyssey by Dick Cheney and Jonathan Reiner (Oct. 8, hardcover, $28, ISBN 9781476725390). Former Vice President Cheney and his longtime cardiologist, Dr. Jonathan Reiner, share the story of Cheney’s 35-year battle with heart disease, providing insight into the medical breakthroughs that have changed cardiac care over the past four decades.
(dist. by W.W. Norton)
Anatomy of a Scientific Discovery: The Race to Find the Body’s Own Morphine by Jeff Goldberg (Sept. 1, trade paper, $12.95, ISBN 978-1626361935) describes John Hughes and Hans Kosterlitz’s lives before, during, and after their historic scientific breakthrough. Goldberg also reveals the brutal competition between drug companies to find a way to cash in on the discovery of endorphins.
Deadly Outbreaks: How Medical Detectives Save Lives Threatened by Killer Pandemics, Exotic Viruses, and Drug-Resistant Parasites by Alexandra Levitt (Sept. 1, hardcover, $24.95, ISBN 978-1626360358) recounts the scientific adventures of a special group of intrepid individuals who investigate these outbreaks around the world and figure out how to stop them.
Spiegel & Grau
We Are Our Brains by D.F. Swaab, trans. by Jane Hedley-Prole (Jan. 7, hardcover, $28, ISBN 978-0812992960). The culmination of renowned neuroscientist Swaab’s life’s work unlocks the mysteries of the most complex organ in the human body, providing a fascinating overview of the brain’s role in nearly every aspect of human existence.
Renewable: The World-Changing Power of Alternative Energy by Jeremy Shere (Nov. 26, hardcover, $25.99, ISBN 978-0312643751) considers how “green” choices for his family broadened into an examination of how energy is changing in today’s United States and a look at the history of renewable energy.
The New York Times Book of Physics and Astronomy: More Than 100 Years of Covering the Expanding Universe by Cornelia Dean, foreword by Neil deGrasse Tyson (Sept. 3, hardcover, $24.95, ISBN 978-1402793202). From the discovery of distant galaxies and black holes to the tiny interstices of the atom, here are the 125 best articles on physics and astronomy from the Times.
The Cosmic Tourist: Visit the 100 Most Awe-Inspiring Destinations in the Universe! by Brian May, Patrick Moore, and Chris Lintott (Sept. 3, hardcover, $39.95, ISBN 978-1847326195) flies us from Earth to the farthest-out galaxies with stopovers at everything from asteroids to zodiacal dust. Extraordinary images present the universe as seen through the biggest and best telescopes on Earth and in space.
Thames & Hudson
Animal Earth: The Amazing Diversity of Living Forms by Ross Piper (Nov. 11, hardcover, $45, ISBN 978-0500516966) is a tour of the bewildering range and still largely undiscovered world of animal species, illuminating the bizarre appearances and hidden lives of the creatures who share our planet.
Univ. of Arizona press
Encountering Life in the Universe: Ethical Foundations and Social Implications of Astrobiology, edited by Chris Impey, Anna H. Spitz, and William Stoeger (Oct. 17, trade paper, $39.95, ISBN 978-0816528707) examines the intersection of scientific research and sociology to determine the philosophy and ethics of how to behave in a universe where much is unknown.
Univ. of California Press
Tracks and Shadows: Field Biology as Art by Harry W. Greene (Oct. 15, hardcover, $29.95, ISBN 978-0520232754) is an intellectually rich, intensely personal, and beautifully written celebration of the wonder of snakes, the beauty of studying and understanding natural history, and the importance of sharing a love of nature with humanity.
Univ. of Chicago Press
Don’t Look, Don’t Touch, Don’t Eat: The Science Behind Revulsion by Valerie Curtis (Oct. 7, hardcover, $25, ISBN 978-0226131337) reveals disgust to be a vital part of what it means to be human and explores how this deep-seated response can be harnessed to improve the world.
The Accidental Species: Misunderstandings of Human Evolution by Henry Gee (Oct. 21, hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-0226284880) combines incredible paleontological findings with healthy skepticism and humor to create a book that aims to overturn popular thinking on human evolution—the key is not what’s missing, but how we’re linked.
The Gaia Hypothesis: Science on a Pagan Planet by Michael Ruse (Sept. 27, hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-0226731704) traces Gaia’s connection to Plato and explains not only why Lovelock and Margulis’s peers rejected the Gaia hypothesis as pseudoscience, but also why the project was a success.
Life at the Speed of Light: From the Double Helix to the Dawn of Digital Life by J. Craig Venter (Oct. 17, hardcover, $26.95, ISBN 978-0670025404) presents an overview of the new field of “synthetic life,” pondering anew the question “What is life?” and examining what we really mean by “playing God.”
Yale Univ. Press
Shaping Humanity: How Science, Art, and Imagination Help Us Understand Our Origins by John Gurche (Nov. 26, hardcover, $49.95, ISBN 978-0300182026). Paleo-artist Gurche draws on fossil discoveries and forensic techniques to create transfixing reconstructions of long-lost human ancestors.