The bulk of science titles in the first half of 2014 show a clear preoccupation with human impacts on the Earth’s ecological systems. Elizabeth Kolbert, who addressed global climate change with her previous book, Field Notes from a Catastrophe, returns with The Sixth Extinction, an unnerving account of the current mass extinction taking place on our planet, one for which our species bears unprecedented responsibility.
Another species whose demise can also likely be traced to us, the Neanderthals, happen to have been our genetic cousins. In Neanderthal Man renowned geneticist Svante Pääbo recounts his team’s successful mission to map the genes of our closest evolutionary relatives. Meanwhile, in Dinosaurs Without Bones, paleontologist Anthony J. Martin hunts for trace fossils, million-year-old clues that reveal more about the lives of those ancient beasts.
Besides Martin’s book, Pegasus, which has a strong Spring list, is releasing nuclear engineer James Mahaffey’s Atomic Accidents, which gets to the dangerous, world-changing core, so to speak, of nuclear research and innovation. That pockmarked history of discovery also receives a glowing treatment in The Age of Radiance, Craig Nelson’s story of the rise and fall of the Atomic Age.
As those two titles reveal, modern engineering often has its downsides and Neil Swidey, in Trapped Under the Sea, shows how constructing the marvels that keep our urban lives functioning can come at a heavy cost, though it’s often out of the public eye. The ever-perilous, give-and-take relationship between the built and natural environment is rarely more apparent than in the functioning of large, urban areas, and one of the world’s largest man-made regions on Earth is the greater New York City region, the ecological history of which Ted Steinberg recounts in Gotham Unbound.
Is art a form of technology? I don’t have a good answer for that, but I do know that science inspires and informs the art world just as much as it drives space exploration or bioengineering. Arthur I. Miller examines the confluence of science and art in Colliding Worlds, which traces the impact of scientific discoveries on the latest contemporary art. Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity was undoubtedly an influence on the Cubist art of the early 20th Century, but his later, more difficult Theory of General Relativity remains slightly obscure in comparison. Astrophysicist Pedro G. Ferreira attempts to rectify this public unfamiliarity with general relativity in The Perfect Theory, the first biography of the ideas that form the foundation of modern astrophysics and cosmology.
While we’re obsessing over nuclear disasters and ecological destruction, or pondering extinction and the fate of the cosmos, back here on Earth one constant necessary for animal life, plants, quietly go about their business. As botany’s heyday seems to retreat ever further into the past, Ruth Kassinger shows in A Garden of Marvels that botanists are still busy in the lab and in the field, revealing to us all the strange ways they function and discovering strange new ones (or creating them in labs!).
So before we kill them all off in our mad civilizational race to nowhere, let’s make 2014 the year we start giving plants a little more respect.
PW’s Top 10: Science
Neanderthal Man: In Search of Lost Genomes. Svante Pääbo. Basic Books, Feb.
Trapped Under the Sea: One Engineering Marvel, Five Men, and a Disaster Ten Miles Into the Darkness. Neil Swidey. Crown, Feb.
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. Elizabeth Kolbert. Holt, Feb.
The Perfect Theory: A Century of Geniuses and the Battle over General Relativity. Pedro G. Ferreira. HMH,. Feb.
A Garden of Marvels: How We Discovered that Flowers Have Sex, Leaves Eat Air, and Other Secrets of Plants. Ruth Kassinger. Morrow, Mar..
Colliding Worlds: How Cutting-Edge Science Is Redefining Contemporary Art. Arthur I. Miller. Norton, June.
Atomic Accidents: A History of Nuclear Meltdowns and Disasters: From the Ozark Mountains to Fukushima. James Mahaffey. Pegasus, Feb.
Dinosaurs Without Bones: Dinosaur Lives Revealed by Their Trace Fossils. Anthony J. Martin. Pegasus, Mar.
The Age of Radiance: The Epic Rise and Dramatic Fall of the Atomic Era. Craig Nelson. Scribner, Apr.
Gotham Unbound: The Ecological History of Greater New York. Ted Steinberg. Simon & Schuster, June.
The Island of Knowledge: The Limits of Science and the Search for Meaning by Marcelo Gleiser (June 3, hardcover, $28.99, ISBN 978-0465031719). How much can we know of the world? Can we know everything? Or are there fundamental limits to how much science can explain? This question and its surprising consequences are the focus of this in-depth exploration.
Lucky Planet: Why Earth is Exceptional-and What That Means for Life in the Universe by David Waltham (Apr. 8, hardcover, $26.99, ISBN 978-0465039999) seamlessly weaves the story of Earth and the worlds orbiting other stars to give us a new perspective of the surprising role chance plays in our place in the universe.
Neanderthal Man: In Search of Lost Genomes by Svante Pääbo (Feb. 11, hardcover, $27.99, ISBN 978-0465020836). What can we learn from the genomes of our closest evolutionary relatives? Geneticist Pääbo recounts his mission to answer this question and his ultimately successful efforts to genetically define what makes us different from our Neanderthal cousins.
Poison Spring: The Secret History of Pollution and the EPA by E.G. Vallianatos and McKay Jenkins (Apr. 8, hardcover, $28, ISBN 978-1608199143) is an insider’s account of how political pressure and corporate arm-twisting undermined the Environmental Protection Agency, with devastating effects on public safety and the environment.
The Psychopath Whisperer: The Science of Those Without Conscience by Kent A. Kiehl, PhD (Apr. 22, hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-0770435844) One of the world’s leading researchers into psychopaths recounts his two decades working with them and studying their thought processes. Open your eyes to a terrifying world most of us know little about but with which we are helplessly fascinated.
Trapped Under the Sea: One Engineering Marvel, Five Men, and a Disaster Ten Miles Into the Darkness by Neil Swidey (Feb. 18, hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-0307886729) The harrowing story of five men sent into a dark, airless, miles-long tunnel, hundreds of feet below the ocean, to do a nearly impossible job.
Cured: How the Berlin Patients Defeated HIV and Forever Changed Medical Science by Nathalia Holt (Feb. 27, hardcover, $27.95, ISBN 978-0525953920). The award-winning research scientist and HIV fellow at the Ragon Institute reveals the science behind the discovery of a functional cure and what it means for the millions affected by HIV and the history of the AIDS pandemic.
(dist. by PGW)
Waking the Frog: Solutions for Our Climate Change Paralysis by Tom Rand (Apr. 15, hardcover, $27.95, ISBN 978-1770411814) argues that the climate crisis is the most fundamental economic and political challenge of the 21st century, but before we can effectively solve the problem, we require a deep understanding of the causes of our current paralysis.
The Improbability Principle: Why Coincidences, Miracles, and Rare Events Happen Every Day by David J. Hand (Feb 11, hardcover, $27, ISBN 978-0374175344) From a major figure in the world of mathematics comes this eye-opening and engrossing look at rare moments, why they occur, and how they shape our world.
Infinitesimal: How a Dangerous Mathematical Theory Shaped the Modern World by Amir Alexander (Apr. 8, hardcover, $27, ISBN 978-0374176815). The epic battle over a mathematical concept that shook the old order and shaped the world as we know it.
The Reef: A Passionate History: The Great Barrier Reef from Captain Cook to Climate Change by Iain McCalman (May 20, hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-0374248192). A journey into the wonders of the Great Barrier Reef, as experienced by explorers, scientists, and artists.
The Remedy: Robert Koch, Arthur Conan Doyle, and the Quest to Cure Tuberculosis by Thomas Goetz (Apr. 3, hardcover, $27, ISBN 978-1592407514). The riveting history of the world’s most lethal disease, the two men whose lives it tragically intertwined, and the birth of medical science.
Inheritance: How Our Genes Change Our Lives—and Our Lives Change Our Genes by Sharon Moalem MD, PhD (Apr. 15, hardcover, $28, ISBN 978-1455549443) explains how art, history, superheroes, sex workers, and sports stars all help us understand the impact of our lives on our genes, and our genes on our lives.
Harvard Univ. Press
Banking on the Body: The Market in Blood, Milk, and Sperm in Modern America by Kara W. Swanson (May 12, hardcover, $35, ISBN 978-0674281431). Each year Americans supply blood, sperm, and breast milk to “banks” that store these products for use by strangers in medical procedures. Swanson traces body banks from early experiments to the current thriving global exchange.
Embryos under the Microscope: The Diverging Meanings of Life by Jane Maienschein (May 20, hardcover, $28.95, ISBN 978-0674725553) examines how understanding of embryos evolved, from the speculations of natural philosophers to bioengineering. Maienschein shows that research on embryos has always seemed promising to some but frightening to others, and makes a case for public understanding informed by scientific findings.
Missing Microbes: How the Overuse of Antibiotics Is Fueling Our Modern Plagues by Martin J. Blaser, MD (Apr. 8, hardcover, $28, ISBN 978-0805098105). A critically important and startling look at the harmful effects of overusing antibiotics, from the field’s leading expert.
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert (Feb 11, hardcover, $28, ISBN 978-0805092998) A major book about the future of the world, Kolbert blends intellectual and natural history and field reporting into a powerful account of the mass extinction unfolding before our eyes.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
The Homing Instinct: Meaning and Mystery in Animal Migration by Bernd Heinrich (Apr 8, hardcover, $27, ISBN 978-0547198484) A captivating exploration of the homing instinct in animals, and what it means for human happiness and survival, from the celebrated naturalist.
The Perfect Theory: A Century of Geniuses and the Battle over General Relativity by Pedro G. Ferreira (Feb. 4, hardcover, $28, ISBN 978-0547554891). The first complete biography of Einstein’s theory of general relativity reveals the history, the ideological battles, and the deep questioning of a theory that has given us black holes, dark energy, and modern cosmology.
Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials That Shape Our Man-Made World by Mark Miodownik (May 27, hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-0544236042). An eye-opening adventure deep inside the everyday materials that surround us, from concrete and steel to denim and chocolate, packed with surprising stories and fascinating science.
The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons: And Other True Stories of Trauma, Madness, Affliction, and Recovery That Reveal the Surprising History of the Human Brain by Sam Kean (July 1, hardcover, $27, ISBN 978-0316182348). With lucid explanations and incisive wit, Kean explains the brain’s secret passageways while recounting forgotten stories of common people whose struggles, resiliency, and deep humanity made modern neuroscience possible.
Zoom: How Everything Moves: From Atoms and Galaxies to Blizzards and Bees by Bob Berman (June 24, hardcover, $27, ISBN 978-0316217408). Natural motion dominates our lives and the intricate mechanics of the world around us. Berman explores how motion shapes every aspect of the universe, literally from the ground up.
A Garden of Marvels: How We Discovered that Flowers Have Sex, Leaves Eat Air, and Other Secrets of Plants by Ruth Kassinger (Feb. 25, hardcover, $25.99, ISBN 978-0062048998) Intertwining personal anecdote, accessible science, and untold history, Kassinger takes us on an eye-opening journey from the first botanists to today’s extraordinary plants found in the garden and the lab.
The New Press
Fukushima: The Story of a Nuclear Disaster by David Lochbaum, Edwin Lyman, and Susan Q. Stranahan (Feb. 11, hardcover, $27.95, ISBN 978-1595589088). Nuclear scientists and a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist combine a riveting account of the tsunami and the nuclear emergency it created with an explanation of the science and technology behind the meltdown as it unfolded in real time.
Colliding Worlds: How Cutting-Edge Science Is Redefining Contemporary Art by Arthur I. Miller (June 16, hardcover, $35, ISBN 978-0393083361). From its origins when Einstein’s theory of relativity shaped the new modern art and X-rays affected fine photography to the latest discoveries of biotechnology, cosmology, and quantum physics, an eye-popping look at artists incorporating science into their work.
The Sound Book: The Science of the Sonic Wonders of the World by Trevor Cox (Feb. 10, hardcover, $26.95, ISBN 978-0393239799). With forays into archaeology, neuroscience, biology, and design, Cox explains how sound is made and altered by the environment, how our body reacts to peculiar noises, and how these mysterious wonders illuminate sound’s surprising dynamics in everyday settings.
Oxford Univ. Press
The Improbable Primate: How Water Shaped Human Evolution by Clive Finlayson (May 1, hardcover, $27.95, ISBN 978-0199658794). A provocative view of human evolution, arguing that the critical factor that shaped us was water.
Life Unfolding: How the Human Body Creates Itself by Jamie A. Davies (Apr. 1, hardcover, $29.95, ISBN 978-0199673537). A revelatory book that seeks to answer to age-old biological mystery: how humans came to be.
Riveted: The Science of Why Jokes Make Us Laugh, Movies Make Us Cry, and Religion Makes Us Feel One with the Universe by Jim Davies (Aug. 5, hardcover, $27, 978-1137279019). A sweeping look at what grabs our attentions that pulls back the curtain on the psychological and evolutionary reasons that everyone is drawn to religion, conspiracy theories, and the news.
(dist. by Norton)
Atomic Accidents: A History of Nuclear Meltdowns and Disasters: From the Ozark Mountains to Fukushima by James Mahaffey (Feb. 15, hardcover, $29.95, ISBN 978-1605984926). From the moment radiation was discovered in the late 19th century, nuclear science has had a rich history of innovative scientific exploration and discovery, coupled with mistakes, accidents, and downright disasters.
Dinosaurs Without Bones: Dinosaur Lives Revealed by Their Trace Fossils by Anthony J. Martin (Mar. 6, hardcover, $29.95, 978-1605984995). CSI meets Jurassic Park in a fascinating, revelatory look at dinosaurs and their world through the million-year-old clues they left behind.
Earthquake Storms: The Fascinating History and Volatile Future of the San Andreas Fault by John Dvorak (Feb. 15, hardcover, $27.95, ISBN 978-1605984957). The lives of millions will be changed after it breaks, and yet so few people understand it, or even realize it runs through their backyard. Dvorak reveals the San Andreas Fault’s fascinating history and its volatile future.
Murderous Minds: Exploring the Criminal Psychopathic Brain: Neurological Imaging and the Manifestation of Evil by Dean A. Haycock (Mar. 6, hardcover, $27.95, ISBN 978-1605984988). Is there a biological basis for evil? From neurological imaging to behavioral studies, Haycock’s account of the groundbreaking research reveals what scientists are learning about the psychopaths living among us.
Our Necessary Shadow: The Nature and Meaning of Psychiatry by Tom Burns (June 15, hardcover, $27.95, ISBN 978-1605985701) reviews the historical development of psychiatry, throughout alert to where psychiatry helps, and where it is imperfect. Mental illnesses are intimately tied to what makes us human and the drive to relieve the suffering they cause is even more human.
Seven Elements that Changed the World: An Adventure of Ingenuity and Discovery by John Browne (Mar. 1, hardcover, $27.95, ISBN 978-1605985404). The fascinating story of how seven elements-iron, carbon, gold, silver, uranium, titanium, and silicon-have changed modern life, for good and ill.
Joy, Guilt, Anger, Love: What Neuroscience Can—and Can’t—Tell Us About How We Feel by Giovanni Frazzetto (Feb. 25, paper, $16, 978-0143123095). Is science ever enough to explain why we feel the way we feel? In this engaging account, renowned neuroscientist Frazzetto blends cutting-edge scientific research with personal stories to reveal how our brains generate our emotions.
Me, Myself, and Why: Searching for the Science of Self by Jennifer Ouellette (Jan. 28, paper, $16, 978-0143121657) addresses mysteries of human identity and behavior, drawing on genetics, neuroscience, and psychology—enlivened as always with her signature sense of humor and pop-culture references—to explore how we become who we are.
The Penguin Press
A Climate of Crisis: America in the Age of Environmentalism by Patrick Allitt (Mar. 20, hardcover, $29.95, ISBN 978-1594204661). A provocative history of the environmental movement in America, showing how this rise to political and social prominence produced a culture of alarmism that has often distorted the facts.
Extreme Medicine: How Exploration Transformed Medicine in the Twentieth Century by Kevin Fong (Feb. 6, hardcover, $27.95, ISBN 978-1594204708). Anesthesiologist, intensive care expert, and NASA adviser Fong explores how physical extremes push human limits and spawn incredible medical breakthroughs.
Windfall: The Booming Business of Global Warming by McKenzie Funk (Feb. 1, hardcover, $27.95, ISBN 978-1594204012). A fascinating investigation into how people around the globe are cashing in on a warming world.
Princeton Univ. Press
The Cosmic Cocktail: Three Parts Dark Matter by Katherine Freese (May 4, hardcover, $29.95, ISBN 978-0691153353) is the inside story of the epic quest to solve one of the most compelling enigmas of modern science—what is the universe made of?—told by one of today’s foremost pioneers in the study of dark matter.
The Extreme Life of the Sea by Stephen R. Palumbi and Anthony R. Palumbi (Feb. 23, hardcover, $27.95, ISBN 978-0691149561). The ocean teems with life that thrives under difficult situations in unusual environments. This father-son team takes readers to the absolute limits of the aquatic world—the fastest and deepest, the hottest, and oldest creatures of the oceans.
Tambora: The Eruption That Changed the World by Gillen D’Arcy Wood (Apr. 27, hardcover, $29.95, ISBN 978-0691150543). When Indonesia’s Mount Tambora erupted in 1815, it unleashed the most destructive wave of extreme weather the world has witnessed in thousands of years. Here, for the first time, Wood traces Tambora’s full global and historical reach.
Faraday, Maxwell, and the Electromagnetic Field: How Two Men Revolutionized Physics by Nancy Forbes andBasil Mahon (Mar. 11, hardcover, $25.95, ISBN 978-1616149420) is the lively story of how two of the boldest and most creative scientists of all time discovered the source of many of the technological innovations we take for granted today.
It Started with Copernicus: Vital Questions about Science by Keith Parsons (June 3, paper, $19.95, ISBN 978-1616149291) presents a unique approach to the philosophy of science that focuses on its liveliest and most important controversies. Rigorous yet highly readable, Parsons makes a convincing case that understanding the nature of science is essential for understanding life itself.
On the Cancer Frontier: One Man, One Disease, and a Medical Revolution by Paul Marks and James Sterngold ((Mar. 11, hardcover, $26.99, ISBN 978-1610392525) is the story of one man’s career combating mankind’s most persistent disease, and the groundbreaking effects his work had on people’s lives in the U.S. and around the world.
The Thing with Feathers: The Surprising Lives of Birds and What They Reveal About Being Human by Noah Strycker (Mar. 20, hardcover, $27.95, ISBN 978-1594486357). From birder and naturalist Strycker comes an entertaining and profound look at the lives of birds, illuminating their surprising world—and deep connection with humanity.
The Age of Radiance: The Epic Rise and Dramatic Fall of the Atomic Era by Craig Nelson (Mar. 25, hardcover, $29.99, ISBN 978-1451660432). A riveting narrative of the Atomic Age—from X-rays and Marie Curie to the Nevada Test Site and the 2011 meltdown in Japan—written by the prizewinning and bestselling author of Rocket Men.
Simon & Schuster
Animal Madness: How Anxious Dogs, Compulsive Parrots, and Elephants in Recovery Help Us Understand Ourselves by Laurel Braitman (June 10, hardcover, $28, ISBN 978-1451627008). For the first time, a historian of science draws on extensive evidence to show how humans and other animals are astonishingly similar when it comes to their feelings and the ways in which they lose their minds.
Gotham Unbound: The Ecological History of Greater New York by Ted Steinberg (June 3, hardcover, $32, ISBN 978-1476741246) is the story of the monumental struggle between New York City and the natural world, from Henry Hudson’s arrival in Mannahatta to Hurricane Sandy, a sweeping ecological history of one of the most man-made spots on earth.
Mother Nature Is Trying to Kill You: A Lively Tour Through the Dark Side of the Natural World by Dan Riskin (Mar. 4, hardcover, $24.99, ISBN 978-1476707549). A fun exploration of the darker side of the natural world reveals the fascinating, weird, often perverted ways that Mother Nature fends only for herself.
Univ. of Chicago Press
Hope on Earth A Conversation by Paul R. Ehrlich Michael Charles Tobias , and John Harte (Apr. 21, hardcover, $20, ISBN 978-0226113685). A freewheeling conversation between prominent ecologist Ehrlich and Forbes science columnist Tobias, in which they cover the myriad problems facing the planet, and the ways we can change to solve them.
Snakes, Sunrises, and Shakespeare How Evolution Shapes Our Loves and Fears by Gordon H. Orians (Apr. 4, hardcover, $30, ISBN 978-0226003238) offers a fascinating account of how evolution can explain our loves and fears—from what we find beautiful to what appalls us.
Consciousness and the Brain: Deciphering How the Brain Codes Our Thoughts by Stanislas Dehaene (Jan 30, hardcover, $27.95, ISBN 978-0670025435) describes the pioneering work his lab and the labs of other cognitive neuroscientists worldwide have accomplished in defining, testing, and explaining the brain events behind a conscious state.
Nature’s Nether Regions: What the Sex Lives of Bugs, Birds, and Beasts Tell Us About Evolution, Biodiversity, and Ourselves by Menno Schilthuizen (May 1, hardcover, $28.95, ISBN 978-0670785919). The story of evolution as you’ve never heard it before, Schilthuizen uncovers the ways the shapes and functions of genitalia have been molded by complex Darwinian struggles.
Yale Univ. Press
Madness and Memory: The Discovery of Prions—A New Biological Principle of Disease by Stanley B. Prusiner (Apr. 29, hardcover, $30, ISBN 978-0300191141). A first-person account of a revolutionary scientific discovery that is now helping to unravel the mysteries of brain diseases.
(dist. by MIT)
Synthetic Aesthetics: Investigating Synthetic Biology’s Designs on Nature by Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg, Jane Calvert, Pablo Schyfter, Alistair Elfick, and Drew Endy (Feb. 14, hardcover, $34.95, ISBN 978-0262019996). For synthetic biologists, living matter is programmable material. Ride along as artists, designers, and social scientists investigate how synthetic biology manipulates the stuff of life.