Recent Science Book Picks – August 2014

Here are a few of the new science books that have crept their way across my desk over the last month. Topics span mathematics, animal behaviours, the fish in the Wellington harbour, and more!

Syndetics book coverThis is improbable too : synchronized cows, speedy brain extractors, and more WTF research / Marc Abrahams.
Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, offers an addictive, wryly funny expose of the oddest, most imaginative, and just plain improbable research from around the globe. (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe cartoon introduction to statistics / by Grady Klein and Alan Dabney, Ph. D.
“If one is looking for a nonthreatening introduction to the basic concepts of statistics, then this cartoon guide will serve admirably. Klein (cartoonist) and Dabney (Texas A&M) lead readers carefully through the ideas of graphical appearances, averages and spread, the central limit theorem, and inference with short descriptive captions, while the accompanying cartoons provide lighthearted background illustrations supporting the principles at hand. It is certainly fun seeing data gathering tied to truckloads of random rhinos, confidence intervals related to expressions of hatred between aliens on two neighboring planets, and hypothesis testing tied to the speed comparisons of spotted and striped flying pigs. However, accuracy is never sacrificed. In general, the book first illustrates each statistical concept by a humor-injected example, but ultimately brings the traditional vocabulary into play so that integrity is maintained.” (Adapted from CHOICE)

Syndetics book coverAtlas of the southern night sky [cartographic material] / Steve Massey, Steve Quirk.
If you ever needed a book to help you explore the wonderful night skies from down under, be it Australia, South America, South Africa or New Zealand, this is it! With hundreds of full colour star charts and maps of the Moon and planets of our Solar System, this book will ensure you get the most out of a pair of binoculars or a small telescope from suburban and dark country sky locations. Includes many new and updated images and objects to find in the night sky, several new images by southern amateur astronomers, updated star charts, updated planetary information, extended equipment and image processing information and an all-new Deep-Sky month planner. (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverOrigins of mathematical words : a comprehensive dictionary of Latin, Greek, and Arabic roots / Anthony Lo Bello.
“This fascinating work by Lo Bello (mathematics, Allegheny College) is an etymological dictionary of popular mathematical terms of Latin, Greek, and Arabic origin. The language of mathematics is an important instructional component in elementary and secondary schools, and in colleges and universities. Scholars have claimed that students may have difficulty reading, understanding, and discussing mathematical ideas if they are not familiar with the words used in mathematics. When students do not know the meaning of mathematical terms such as “perpendicular,” “derivative,” and “asymptote,” they have difficulties grasping the deeper structures of mathematical concepts. Teaching the origins of mathematical words helps bridge the gap between everyday language and mathematical language.” (Adapted from CHOICE)

Syndetics book coverArt and architecture of insects / David M. Phillips.
“Former virologist Phillips collects dynamic, creepy, and starkly beautiful electron micrographs of insects to bring out the gorgeous, detailed structures imperceptible to the naked eye. Phillips’s love of both entomology and photography comes through clearly in what he describes as a retirement project after ending his career as a biomedical researcher at New York City’s Population Council, and though the text rambles from topic to topic without obvious breaks, the material is still clear, informative, and surprisingly entertaining. Though most of the black and white photos are of entire insect bodies, chapters are divided by body part-eyes, antennae, wings, etc.-and focus largely on functional anatomy, detailing how body structures make each insect well-suited for its ecological role and biological needs.” (Adapted from Publisher Weekly)

Syndetics book coverThe secret language of animals : a guide to remarkable behavior / Janine M. Benyus ; illustrations by Juan Carlos Barberis ; foreword by Alexandra Horowitz.
“Humans have always pondered what makes us different from animals. After all, many species exhibit behaviors that resemble our own (or is it the other way around?). This informative volume covers 20 of the world’s most well-known animals, including African elephants, flamingos, giant pandas, Nile crocodiles, and polar bears. Divided by geographical regions (African Jungles, Plains, and Waterways ; Asian Forests ; Warm Oceans ; North America ; and The Poles), the chapters cover some of the basic habits and behaviors of a particular animal, such as elimination, self-grooming, and sleeping. Social behaviors, from friendly to threatening, are discussed, as are sexual and parental interactions. Numerous sidebars showcase vital stats on each animal, quirky facts, and trivia. Each chapter ends with a list of behaviors for readers to look for at the zoo or in the wild.” (Adapted from Booklist)

Syndetics book coverWellington down under / Stephen Journée ; edited by Lorraine Olphert.
Stephen Journee, a skilled diver and photographer, gives a rare insight into the world below and brings to life all the fish varieties and other forms of marine life that have made the Wellington harbour and the surrounding coastal bays their home over the centuries. From the unbelievable colour of the sea sponges, sea squirts, jewel anemones, blue and red moki, triplefins, seahorses and jellyfish, to schools of jack mackerels and spotties, to dolphins and the occasional visit by pods of orcas – all feature between these covers. Stephen also takes the reader on a tour of famous shipwrecks of the 19th and 20th centuries, a look back in time and what remains from past tragedies; wharves and slipways from yester-year. (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe melting world : a journey across America’s vanishing glaciers / Christopher White.
“Whenever global warming and rising sea levels are mentioned in the same breath, the presumed source of the extra water is usually the polar ice caps. Yet according to nature writer and frequent National Geographic contributor White, melting mountaintop snow and ice will have just as much of an impact on environmental decline as shrinking coastlines. In the late summer of 2008, White joined a team of government-funded ecologists, led by veteran earth scientist Dan Fagre, to chart the rapid disappearance of alpine ice in Montana’s Glacier National Park. Here White eloquently describes the scores of breathtaking views he enjoyed during his five seasons with Fagre, even as the team grappled with many disturbing findings. White’s account is both an urgent wake-up call to nations across the globe that share responsibility for climate change and a heartbreaking elegy to a vital component of Earth’s ecology that may soon be gone forever.” (Adapted from Booklist)