Here a few of the pulchritudinous new science books that have filtered their way over my desk in the last month.
Lucky planet : why Earth is exceptional, and what that means for life in the Universe / David Waltham.
“Science tells us that life elsewhere in the Universe is increasingly likely to be discovered. But in fact the Earth may be a very unusual planet – perhaps the only one like it in the entire visible Universe. In this book, David Waltham asks why, and comes up with some surprising and unconventional answers.” (Library Catalogue)
What is relativity? : an intuitive introduction to Einstein’s ideas, and why they matter / Jeffrey Bennett.
“*Starred Review* Doubtful in 1919 that even three scientists fully understood Einstein’s theory of relativity, the astrophysicist Arthur Eddington would marvel at this book. For in its relatively few pages, Bennett explains relativity to ordinary readers. Applying two simple principles the uniformity of natural law and the invariance of the speed of light readers conduct thought experiments that fuse time and space into a single concept. Armed with this concept, readers see why time slows down for space-travelers streaking across the cosmos, their spaceship growing more massive but shorter. Similarly, as they plunge into a black hole, doomed but enlightened readers can at least congratulate themselves on comprehending how extreme gravitation creates inescapably lethal tidal forces. Still, a perplexing mystery remains. Why does the singularity at the center of a black hole look irreconcilably different when viewed through quantum physics than it does when viewed through relativity? Undaunted, Bennett views this conundrum as the stimulus for scientific progress that will resolve it. Indeed, in the very fact that one man could formulate a theory as powerful as relativity, Bennett sees reason to hope that the entire human species can ultimately conquer stubborn nonscientific problems social, political, even metaphysical. An impressively accessible distillation of epoch-making science.” (Booklist)
Physics in minutes / Giles Sparrow ; consultant, David W. Hughes.
“‘Physics in Minutes’ covers everything you need to know about physics, condensed into 200 key topics. Each idea is explained in clear, accessible language, building from the basics, such as mechanics, waves and particles, to more complex topics, including neutrinos, string theory and dark matter. Based on scientific research proving that the brain best absorbs information visually, illustrations accompany the text to aid quick comprehension and easy recollection. This convenient and compact reference book is ideal for anyone interested in how our world works.” (Library Catalogue)
A little course in… astronomy / written by Robert Dinwiddie.
“Ever wanted to learn more about astronomy but don’t know where to begin? This book takes you from beginner to being able to identify stars, planets and other objects in space. It helps you study the Moon, build on your skills to find constellations and observe the solar system to see the Milky Way, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.” (Library Catalogue)
Are we being watched? : the search for life in the cosmos / Paul Murdin.
“Is there life out there? The short answer is probably not. The shorter and more intriguing answer. maybe. In this beguiling and accessible book, the man responsible for finding the first black hole in our galaxy roams the universe looking for life-from Earth to Mars and beyond. Though he writes that his head is telling him one thing, astronomer Murdin (Secrets of the Universe) admits that his heart is telling him another, and he’s hopeful that life out there exists. One encouraging sign comes from the moon missions-bacteria normally found in the human mouth survived for over two years in Surveyor 3 equipment, which was later collected by astronauts aboard Apollo 12. But in order for life to flourish, Murdin explains, you need water, energy, and atmosphere. He goes on to explore possible combinations of these critical elements on neighboring planets, while also interweaving accounts of relevant discoveries and the scientists that made them, from Aristotle to Darwin to contemporary researchers, as well as the debates that continue to confound them. Murdin’s enthusiasm and fascination with the subject matter is palpable throughout, and he deftly manages to inform without boring knowledgeable readers or dumbing it down for lay folk. Photos, illus., and tables.” (Publisher Weekly)
Plants for a changing climate / Trevor Nottle.
“The global warming trend is expected to result in a warmer, drier climate. In this updated edition of Plants for Mediterranean Climate Gardens (2004), an Australian horticulturalist discusses the impact of climate change on gardening practices. Rather than lament what may be lost, Nottle touts expanding opportunities for growing everything from shade-making plants to more exotic drought tolerant ornamental and edible species and cultivars. The book includes color photographs of his favorites and recommended reading.” (Syndetics summary)
Scatter, adapt, and remember : how humans will survive a mass extinction / Annalee Newitz.
“”Earth has been many different planets with dramatically different climates and ecosystems,” says Newitz, journalist and founding editor of io9.com. Finding a common ground between climate change arguments Newitz found a thread of hope while researching mass extinctions: that life has survived at least six such events thus far. Without addressing the cause of the current shift, she cites data that indicates we may already be in the midst of another period of mass extinction. Guiding readers through the science of previous mass extinctions, Newitz summarizes the characteristics that enabled species to survive: variable diet and habitat, and ability to learn from the past. “The urge to survive, not just as individuals but as a society and an ecosystem, is built into us as deeply as greed and cynicism are.” She reviews theories of how Homo sapiens survived while Neanderthals did not, discusses how science may one day enable a disaster-proof city, and advocates geoengineering and research for eventual moves to other planets. “We’ll strike out into space…. And eventually we’ll evolve into beings suited to our new habitats among the stars.” Newitz voice is fervent and earnest, and despite her gloomy topic, she leaves readers with hope for a long future.” (Publisher Weekly)
Last ape standing : the seven-million-year story of how and why we survived / Chip Walter.
“‘Last Ape Standing’ is evocative science writing at its best – a witty, engaging and accessible story that explores the evolutionary events that molded us into the remarkably unique creatures we are; an investigation of why we do, feel, and think the things we do as a species, and as people – good and bad, ingenious and cunning, heroic and conflicted.” (Library Catalogue)