Recent Science Books – May 2013

A small selection of the glorious new books to pass over our desks this month.

Syndetics book coverWill we ever speak dolphin? : and 130 more science questions answered : more questions and answers from the popular ‘Last Word’ column / edited by Mick O’Hare.
“Why do birds sing at dawn? What’s the slowest a plane can fly without stalling and falling out of the sky? And how long can you keep a tiger cub as a pet? Will We Ever Speak Dolphin? The eagerly-awaited new “Last Word” collection, has the answers to these questions and many more. Seven years on from “Does Anything Eat Wasps?”, the “New Scientist” series still rides high in the bestseller lists, with well over two million copies sold. Popular science has never been more stimulating or more enjoyable. Like “Why Don’t Penguins Feet Freeze?” “Do Polar Bears Get Lonely?” and “Why Can’t Elephants Jump?” this collection of wry and well-informed answers to a remarkable range of baffling questions is guaranteed to delight.” (Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverSpectrums : our mind-boggling universe, from infinitesimal to infinity / David Blatner.
“While the size of the universe can be gauged down to the level of electrons and out to unimaginable distances trillions of light-years away, most of us live within a very narrow, middle-range slice of day-to-day observation. With the aim of enhancing our appreciation for the dimensions we don’t normally perceive, prolific science writer Blatner takes a closer look at six scales of measurement, or spectrums, with which our lives are daily intertwined: numbers, size, light, sound, heat, and time. Leavened with wit and colorful anecdotes, each section reveals a wealth of astonishing and quirky details about the world around us. In Numbers, for instance, we learn that engineers could not calculate rocket trajectories without imaginary numbers. Light attempts to elucidate the mind-bending paradox that light is both a particle and a wave. Complete with illustrative charts, photos, and pithy quotes from celebrities as diverse as George Carlin and Max Planck, Blatner’s work is one of those rare nonfiction gems that make learning about science eye-opening and fun.–Hays, Carl Copyright 2010 BooklistFrom Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.” (Booklist) (Courtesy of Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverThe ten most beautiful experiments / George Johnson.The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments
“Science writer Johnson describes his choices for the ten most fascinating science experiments conducted by individuals, considering scientists such as Galileo, Harvey, and Newton in the 1600s, Lavoisier and Galvani in the 1700s, Faraday, Joule, Michelson, and Pavlov in the 1800s, and Millikan in the early 1900s. Readers learn from Galileo’s notebook, rediscovered in 1973, how he did his “dilution of gravity” experiment with a rolling ball. The book shows why Harvey had difficulties convincing others that blood circulates, and how Lavoisier convinced colleagues there is no phlogiston. As for Pavlov, his dogs could distinguish individual notes of the musical scale and ascending or descending scales, a feat more amazing than salivation at the sound of a particular note. As Johnson states, other classic science experiments might be chosen, such as Mendel’s garden experiments with sweet peas, Onnes’ discovery of superconductivity, or McClintock’s jumping genes. However, his ten are as diverse as science itself and represent the history of scientific investigation by individuals. Black-and-white photos and numerous drawings help explain the ideas. A useful index and a complete “Notes and Bibliography” section for further reference augment the text. Summing Up: Recommended. All readers/libraries. F. Potter formerly, University of California, IrvineCopyright American Library Association, used with permission.” (CHOICE) (Courtesy of Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverNaked statistics : stripping the dread from the data / Charles Wheelan.
“Wheelan (Naked Economics) offers a helping hand and a humorous perspective to everyone who’s ever felt confused, lied to, or just plain lost when it comes to statistics, those handy data sets used to determine everything from batting averages and trends on Wall Street to the quality of a school and which door you should pick if you’re playing Let’s Make a Deal. The author shows how statistics like the mean and the median are used to summarize and find patterns in large collections of data, and in later chapters he consider how statistics are used to assess large-scale economic risk and to find important connections between different sets of data, like those that allow Netflix to offer reasonable movie recommendations. Throughout, Wheelan stresses how statistics “rarely [offer] a single `right’ ” answer; indeed, when deployed carelessly or deliberately misused, they can sometimes obscure the truth. Furthermore, the author reminds readers that while data can be used to help make better decisions, “even the most precise measurements or calculations should be checked against common sense.” Wheelan’s relatively mathless real world examples (he sequesters equations in appendixes) and wry style-heavily seasoned with pop culture references-make for a fun and illuminating read. Agent: Tina Bennett, William Morris Endeavor. (Jan. 7) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved” (Publisher Weekly) (Courtesy of Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverThe life of a leaf / Steven Vogel.
“Duke University biomechanist Vogel (Cats’ Paws and Catapults) capably demonstrates how a scientist can unite micro and macro perspectives in looking at the natural world. Using the leaf of a plant as his model system of life, he explores aspects of structure, function, and physiology while embedding specific questions in a broader evolutionary context. Thus, as we learn how a leaf (and the plant to which it is attached) uses various strategies to maintain appropriate water balance, we also learn why these strategies are important. Those larger points allow Vogel and his readers to reach beyond botany to the entire natural world. He mixes the principles of biology with those of physics to great effect, demonstrating the constraints the physical world places on living organisms and the limited options available to evolution. Vogel does present a heavy dose of complex equations to support his reasoning, but they are relegated to footnotes and not essential to his message. The larger theme deals with the nature of scientific investigation: how scientists formulate and test hypotheses and the role that chance can play in those inquiries. His firsthand account of many of his own experiments, and the joy with which he recounts them, brings the scientific process to life. 47 color and 18 b&w illus. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved” (Publisher Weekly) (Courtesy of Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverThe bonobo and the atheist : in search of humanism among the primates / Frans de Waal ; with drawings by the author.
“De Waal (psychology, Emory Univ.; director, Living Links Ctr., Yerkes Primate Ctr.; The Age of Empathy) is known for his work on moral behavior in chimpanzees and bonobos. Here he explains that unlike their aggressive cousins, chimpanzees, bonobos avoid aggression when possible, employing mutual grooming and sex play instead to ease social tension. Both chimps and bonobos help others, even without hope of gain. This is evidence, de Waal argues, that morality isn’t rooted in top-down reasoning or rules but in bottom-up “gut” behavior. From these observations, de Waal segues to an intriguing but less convincing argument against dogmatic atheism (e.g., as defined by Sam Harris or Christopher Hitchins). That atheism, de Waal argues, leaves us nothing to hold on to, but we need something. VERDICT This intriguing book is a hybrid: half science, half personal speculation. Given the persistent view that all animals, even human ones, are motivated solely by self-interest (what de Waal calls “veneer theory,” i.e., moral outside, amoral inside), this is a book worth reading. It’s also exceptionally well written. It should appeal to the lay reader who enjoys keeping up with today’s scientific discussions.-David Keymer, Modesto, CA (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.” (Library Journal)(Courtesy of Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverThe year without summer : 1816 and the volcano that darkened the world and changed history / William K. Klingaman and Nicholas P. Klingaman.
“In the tradition of Krakatoa, The World Without Us, and Guns, Germs and Steel comes a sweeping history of the year that became known as 18-hundred-and-froze-to-death. 1816 was a remarkable year, mostly for the fact that there was no summer. As a result of a volcanic eruption in Indonesia, weather patterns were disrupted worldwide for months, allowing for excessive rain, frost, and snowfall through much of the Northeastern U.S. and Europe in the summer of 1816. The Year Without Summer examines not only the climate change engendered by this event, but also its effects on politics, the economy, the arts, and social structures.” (Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverLiving in a dangerous climate : climate change and human evolution / Renée Hetherington.
“In this ambitious and wide-ranging book touching on paleoclimatology, economics, biology, sociology, and anthropology, Hetherington (Canada-based natural resources consultant; coauthor with R. Reid, The Climate Connection, CH, Nov’10, 48-1452) provides a highly readable overview of how environmental change has affected humans from the time Homo species appeared in the geologic record through evolutionary changes, to the advent of civilizations, development of agriculture, and modern societies. The book begins with a summary of the climatic history of Earth along with an overview of evolutionary theory and a description of human evolution, migrations out of Africa, and ultimately the development of agriculture. The remainder of the book ties these two themes together using examples from the scientific literature to illustrate the way that environmental changes (resulting from natural phenomena or human factors) have caused humans to adapt. From these past examples, Hetherington then tackles future climate change and addresses topics such as why societies have been slow to respond to predicted threats from these climatic changes, how the economic system interferes with scientifically driven decision making, and what this means for future generations and how humanity might survive challenging climatic conditions in years to come. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower- and upper-division undergraduates, general readers, and professionals. D. Goldblum Northern Illinois UniversityCopyright American Library Association, used with permission.” (CHOICE)(Courtesy of Syndetics)