New science books

This month we have a wealth of new books ranging from viruses to lights from space, and the origins of humans.

Syndetics book coverLights of mankind : the Earth at night as seen from space / L. Douglas Keeney.
“A new book collects images that offer a different look at the Earth from space, when sunlight is replaced by the lights of human civilization. Lights of Mankind provides a sampling of some of the best such nighttime imagery from six continents. Many cities are visible in sharp detail, revealing their network of roads and patterns of development, from grids to hubs-and spokes to more irregular patterns, that are much harder to see during the day. Keeney matches the images with brief captions describing the images and including in many cases capsule histories of those cities. Included in the book are several essays from astronauts who have flown on the ISS, providing their views of what it was like to view, and photograph, the Earth at night.” – (adapted from Space Review via

Syndetics book coverThe field guide to New Zealand geology : an introduction to rocks, minerals and fossils / Jocelyn Thornton.
“This is the first field guide written for the general public and beginners in geology in New Zealand. Now fully revised and updated, it shows travellers in New Zealand something of the tremendous variety of our rocks, minerals and fossils and describes what to look for in many areas where rock formations are prominent. It covers the history of New Zealand from its beginnings on the sea floor some 600 million years ago to its present patchwork landscape of volcano, range and plain. This land was formed from many different layers of rock – volcanic flows, forest debris, ocean mud. All these have special characteristics, which are explained and illustrated to enable readers to find the layers and understand their origins and what they can tell us about the landscapes of the past. The crystals that grew in the rocks and the remains of living creatures that were preserved are also illustrated and described.” – (adapted from Publisher’s summary)

Syndetics book coverThe origin of our species / Chris Stringer.
“In this ground-breaking book Chris Stringer sets out to answer all the big questions in the debate about our origins. How can we define modern humans, and how can we recognise our beginnings in the fossil and archaeological record? How can we accurately date fossils, including ones beyond the range of radiocarbon dating? What do the genetic data really tell us? Were our origins solely in Africa? Are modern humans a distinct species from ancient people such as the Neanderthals? And what contact did our ancestors have with them? How can we recognise modern humans behaviourally, and were traits such as complex language and art unique to modern humans? What forces shaped the origins of modern humans – were they climatic, dietary, social, or even volcanic? What drove the dispersals of modern humans from Africa, and how did our species spread over the globe? How did regional features evolve, and how significant are they? What exactly was the ‘Hobbit’ of the island of Flores, and how was it related to us? Has human evolution stopped, or are we still evolving? What can we expect from future research on our origins? This book will make every reader think about what it means to be human.” – (adapted from summary)

Syndetics book coverThe science delusion : freeing the spirit of enquiry / Rupert Sheldrake.
“We must somehow find different, more realistic ways of understanding human beings – and indeed other animals – as the active wholes that they are, rather than pretending to see them as meaningless consignments of chemicals. Rupert Sheldrake, who has long called for this development, spells out this need forcibly in his new book. He shows how materialism has gradually hardened into a kind of anti-Christian principle, claiming authority to dictate theories and to veto inquiries on topics that don’t suit it, such as unorthodox medicine, let along religion. He shows just how unworkable the assumptions behind today’s fashionable habits have become. The ‘science delusion’ of his title is the current popular confidence in certain fixed assumptions – the exaltation of today’s science, not as the busy, constantly changing workshop that it actually is but as a final, infallible oracle preaching a crude kind of materialism… His insistence on the need to attend to possible wider ways of thinking is surely right.” – (Mary Midgley, The Guardian via

Syndetics book coverThe wild life of our bodies : predators, parasites, and partners that shape who we are today / Rob Dunn.
“In this snappy, popular science look at the human condition, North Carolina State biologist Dunn (Every Living Thing) argues that our lives and our bodily functions (including the immune system) are intimately linked to species that live on and around us. Dunn offers lots of eye-popping biological tidbits-such as how worms may set you free if you suffer from a variety of stomach disorders; or the supposedly useless appendix actually helps the microbes in our guts; and scary movies satisfy our brain parts that still tell us we’re being chased by predators. Ticks and lice may have triggered our relatively hairless evolution. Yet there’s far more than fun facts; Dunn begs us to look toward a future in which we interact more with the species we have moved away from. Dunn challenges us to view a “web of life in which we evolved, that once shaped us and whose rediscovery could benefit our bodies and our health.” (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved” – (adapted from Publisher Weekly summary)

Syndetics book coverFree radicals : the secret anarchy of science / Michael Brooks.
“This is a bold expose of science’s mavericks. For more than a century, science has cultivated a sober public image for itself. But as bestselling author Michael Brooks explains, the truth is very different: many of our most successful scientists have more in common with libertines than librarians. This thrilling exploration of some of the greatest breakthroughs in science reveals the extreme lengths some scientists go to in order to make their theories public. Fraud, suppressing evidence and unethical or reckless PR games are sometimes necessary to bring the best and most brilliant discoveries to the world’s attention. Inspiration can come from the most unorthodox of places, and Brooks introduces us to Nobel laureates who get their ideas through drugs, dreams and hallucinations. Science is a highly competitive and ruthless discipline, and only its most determined and passionate practitioners make headlines – and history. To succeed, knowledge must be pursued by any means: in science, anything goes.” – (adapted from summary)

Syndetics book coverA planet of viruses / Carl Zimmer.
“Zimmer, popular science writer and author of “Discover” magazine’s award-winning blog The Loom, takes readers on an eye-opening tour through the frontiers of biology as he explores the hidden world of viruses.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)