Category: Recent picks

Natural History Selections : December

A wealth of new books have arrived in time for the festive season holiday break, with many warmly recommended. There’s a strong ornithological theme but plenty of other offerings – from giraffes to gender differences – to choose from.

Syndetics book coverAnimal Earth : the amazing diversity of living creatures, by Ross Piper.
If you already had an inkling that life on earth is diverse, still prepare to be amazed. This book is packed with breath-taking photographs of mostly marine or microscopic creepy-crawlies. I never thought I would find worms and slugs interesting and beautiful, but this has changed my mind.

Syndetics book cover“Birds and people, by Mark Cocker and David Tipling ; with specialist research by and the support of Jonathan Elphick and John Fanshawe.
“There are approximately 10,500 bird species in the world, and many of them have significant relationships to people food, recreation, art, origin stories, research, and religion, to name a few. Hundreds of birders from around the world flocked together to assist Cocker via stories and observations, building this fascinating compilation of significant human-bird relationships. Entries represent 146 bird families, while another 59 families with no known cultural importance are listed in an appendix. Tipling’s photographs (and others) supplement the text with beautiful images and informative content. This is both a reference book and a book to be read for enjoyment.” (drawn from Booklist, courtesy of Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverSeeing flowers : discover the hidden life of flowers, by photography by Robert Llewellyn ; text by Teri Dunn Chace.
“Seeing Flowers is a visual feast that gloriously highlights 343 popular garden flowers. Using a unique photo process that includes stitching together large macro photographs, Robert Llewellyn reveals details that few have ever seen: the amazing architecture of stamens and pistils; the subtle shadings on a petal; the secret recesses of nectar tubes. Teri Dunn Chace’s lyrical and illuminating essays complement these images and offer insights on each flower, by exploring its distinguishing characteristics and sharing fascinating tidbits, tales, and lore.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverGreen equilibrium : the vital balance of humans & nature, by Christopher Wills.
“*Starred Review* In his latest popular science book, an encompassing work of fresh and realigning perspectives and discoveries enlivened by his wildlife photographs, Wills explores how ecosystems are shaped by evolution and how we are shaped by evolution and the ecosystems we inhabit. To define his concept of green equilibrium, Wills describes how one such ecological balancing act in Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater went awry when park rangers suppressed grassland fires: disease-bearing ticks thrived, killing many of the big cats. … Demanding science alternates with anecdotal profiles of local people, park rangers, and scientists and cautionary tales of tragedies and triumphs, paradoxes and ironies. … as Earth’s ruling predator we must become fluent in green equilibriums, learn to be less exploitive, and harness the accumulated knowledge of indigenous people to restore and protect the living world”.–Seaman, Donna Copyright 2010 BooklistFrom Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission. (Booklist)

Syndetics book coverTop 100 birding sites of the world, by Dominic Couzens.
Even if you have no intention of visiting these 100 sites, this book is a visual delight. His criteria for selection include bird (or species) numbers, amazing migration events, or rare or unusual species. Very little information about the sites is provided, but the photographs of stunning landscapes are worth a gander alone.

Syndetics book coverGiraffe reflections, text by Dale Peterson ; photographs by Karl Ammann.
This book is the perfect accompaniment to feeding the giraffes at Wellington Zoo these school holidays. Although magnificiently illustrated, it is more than just a collection of fantastic photographs – with a lot of interesting facts and information to satisfy the armchair zoologist. Recommended for both young and old who enjoy learning about African wildlife.

Syndetics book coverPenguins : close encounters / David Tipling.
The vibrant and exciting world of penguins is shown in all its glory in this new book from renowned wildlife photographer David Tipling, who has trekked to remote and beautiful locations to capture birds in their natural habitat going about their daily lives. Moments rarely caught by humans have been preserved on film and reproduced in full-colour.

Syndetics book coverChasing Doctor Dolittle : learning the language of animals, by Con Slobodchikoff.
“Focusing on important issues such as eating, danger, love, protection, and initial interactions, Slobodchikoff puts the world of animal communication into a realm that readers can readily understand, appreciate, and marvel at. Highly recommended for general readers interested in the complexities of language across species.” (Library Journal verdict, courtesy of Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverThe drunken botanist : the plants that create the world’s great drinks, by Amy Stewart.
“…so rich in details, little-known facts, and actual science, that readers won’t even notice they are reading an encyclopedia. Each plant description includes history, propagation, and usage details. Stewart includes sidebars with recipes, field guides, planting instructions, a description of the role of bugs in getting from seed to plant to table, and in-depth historical details. She includes archaeological finds such as the presence of barley beer on clay pot fragments dated to 3400 B.C.E. …. Highly recommended.” (drawn from Library Journal, courtesy of Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverOdd couples : extraordinary differences between the sexes in the animal kingdom, by Daphne J. Fairbairn.
“Through colorful descriptions, we imply that animals and humans, especially in gender roles, can be quite alike. Fairbairn shows us just a bit of the much greater complexity that exists in the natural world. She highlights seven examples of differences between the males and females of a species, ranging from the more familiar (elephant seals) to the unfamiliar (giant sea devils) to the downright creepy (bone-eating worms).” (drawn from Library Journal, courtesy of Syndetics) Summary : suitable both for general and more advanced readers.

Syndetics book coverDolphins down under : understanding the New Zealand dolphin, by Liz Slooten & Steve Dawson.
“Intended for readers of all ages. It includes information that would fit neatly into a school project as well as in-depth information for university students and other interested readers. It is written for people seriously interested in biology, as well as for those simply captivated by dolphins” (p. 4).

Syndetics book coverBirds of New Zealand : a photographic guide, by Paul Scofield, Brent Stephenson.
“[An] introduction to the identification and behaviour of this country’s extraordinary avian life. From the Kermadecs to Campbell Island, from beloved endemics to passing vagrants, from albatrosses and shearwaters to kiwi and kākā, the book ranges widely. Key features include: expert and up-to-date information on the 345 bird species found in New Zealand ; almost 1000 new photographs illustrating key identification characteristics and variation by age and sex ; authoritative text covering identification, behaviour, distribution and taxonomy ; Māori, English and scientific names”–Publisher information.

Other recent bird books :
Tui : a nest in the bush, by Meg Lipscombe.
Penguins : their world, their ways, by Tui De Roy, Mark Jones, Julie Cornthwaite.
Where to watch birds in Canterbury, by Nick Allen.
Call of the kōkako, by Jeff Hudson.
Shorebirds of New Zealand : sharing the margins, by Keith Woodley.

Recent Science Books… sorry it’s been awhile

These are some of the new books that have been stacking up on my desk in the last wee while:

Syndetics book coverStar-craving mad : tales from a travelling astronomer / Fred Watson.
“Watson, Australia’s most popular astronomer, offers a lighthearted excursion into the history of mankind’s understanding of the universe. The subtitle refers to the astronomy tours he leads, which also inform the book’s structure, and the book is a combination of travelogue-incorporating time spent aboard an astronomy cruise-and popular science, as it explores several continents, eras, and scientists of historic note. Colloquial riffs on cell phone coverage, bad acronyms in science organizations, and commercial space flight’s “well-heeled joy-riders hooning [sic] into space,” keep the tone light. While the conversational, anecdotal voice conveys Watson’s personality, the scientific material suffers, as it is only broadly summarized; the result is somewhat shallow. Limited to introductions to the most famous breakthroughs in astronomy and physics, Watson offers little to readers already familiar with the development of telescopes, Newtonian physics, relativity, Copernicanism, or quantum mechanics. ” (Adapted from Publisher Weekly)

Syndetics book coverSeven elements that have changed the world / John Browne.
“‘The progress and prosperity that humanity has achieved …’, writes John Browne, ‘is driven by people – scientists, business people and politicians’. The author has the rare distinction of having wide and deep experience of all three fields, and this is what makes Seven Elements such a fascinating and enjoyable book. Part popular science, part history, part memoir, these pages are infused with insight, shaped by the experience of a FTSE 100 Chief Executive and lifted by the innate optimism of a scientist. — Brian Cox Seven Elements is a boon for those, like me, who gave up science much too soon in our teens. John Browne has found a fascinating way of helping us break through the crust of our ignorance. The scientific literate too will relish his personal mix of historical knowledge and technical prowess with his gift for making the complicated understandable. — Peter Hennessy The human quest for knowledge and insight has led to extraordinary progress. It has transformed the lives we lead and the world we live in. But that onward march has also thrown us huge challenges about how we treat each other and the planet on which we live. This book forces us to confront these realities and does it in a unique and fascinating way. It weaves science and humanity together in a way that gives us new insight. This is an expertly crafted book by a unique thinker and talented engineer and businessman. — Tony Blair John Browne uses seven elements, building blocks of the physical world, to explore a multitude of worlds beyond. From the rise of civilizations, to some of today’s most important challenges and opportunities, to the frontiers of research, he weaves together science, history, politics and personal experience. Browne tells a lively story that enables us to see the essential elements of modern life in a new, original and highly engaging way. — Daniel Yergin, Pulitzer Prize Winning Author Of The Quest: Energy, Security And The Making Of The Modern World And The Prize.” (

Syndetics book cover30-second astronomy : the 50 most mindblowing discoveries in astronomy, each explained in half a minute / editor, Francois Fressin ; foreword by Martin Rees ; contributors, Darren Baskill … [et al.].
“How hot is Venus? Can you distinguish between a pulsar and a quasar? Is there a universe or a multiverse? Where do we fit into the infinitely grand scheme of things? How do we map the Cosmic Microwave Background? Most tantalizing of all: Is there anyone out there? The answers to these and many other far-out questions lie in your hands. Everyone’s gazing at the heavens, but a voyage through the star-studded contents of this book will blow your mind. Astronomy encapsulates the terrifying hugeness of the cosmos into bite-size particles that mere earthlings can understand: 50 incredible discoveries brought down to Earth using no more than two pages, 300 words, and a picture. This one small volume takes you on a cosmic tour, shedding light on the most awesome of objects and places, explaining some very big ideas, concepts, and discoveries, and presenting the scientists and observers who have done so much to crack Life, the Universe, and Everything. Welcome aboard.” (

Syndetics book coverMaths 1001 / Richard Elwes.
The ultimate smart reference to the world of mathematics from quadratic equations and Pythagoras’ Theorem to chaos theory and quantum computing. (Library catalogue)

Syndetics book coverThe universe in the rearview mirror : how hidden symmetries shape reality / Dave Goldberg.
“A Drexel University physics professor offers readers an informative, math-free, and completely entertaining look at the concept of symmetry in physics. Goldberg begins by explaining that for something to be considered symmetrical, it must look the same after undergoing a transformation-whether being flipped over, spun around, or reflected in a mirror. Sounds simple enough, but Goldberg insists that symmetries reveal some compelling rules of the universe. For example, CPT symmetry (or charge, parity, and time symmetry, the kind found when all particles and antiparticles have been turned into the opposite of themselves, everything has been flipped in a mirror, and the flow of time has been reversed-basically the ultimate transformation) suggests that “the universe is more or less the same in all directions and in all places.” Throughout his fascinating discussion, Goldberg’s writing remains accessible and full of humor. Intriguing asides cover topics like the veracity of Star Trek (it “could totally happen”), how black holes shrink the more matter they consume, and why you should never teleport a teaspoon of material from a neutron star into the cargo hold of your starship. Seasoning his expose with pop culture references that range from Doctor Who to Lewis Carroll to Angry Birds, Goldberg succeeds in making complex topics clear with a winning style.” (Publisher Weekly)

Syndetics book coverGenes, cells, and brains : the Promethean promises of the new biology / Hilary Rose and Steven Rose.
“Although biotechnology has become a multibillion dollar business, the actual benefits to individuals have been surprisingly rare, according to the Roses (Alas Poor Darwin), she a sociologist and he a biologist in England. They do an impressive job of providing brief histories of the rise of the Human Genome Project, stem-cell research, and the field of neuroscience, documenting the claims proponents of each have made about the way medicine would be transformed and arguing that virtually none of the promised benefits have come to pass. They offer both scientific and sociological explanations for the lack of results. On the scientific front, they explain how the underlying biology is far more complex than originally thought while, from a sociological perspective, they posit a business model that privileges the wealthy and disregards important issues associated with race and class. Their political perspective is clear: “Since the banking meltdown of 2007-08, the neoliberal leaders of Europe and the U.S. are agreed that the welfare of the majority, above all the most vulnerable, must be replaced by welfare payments to bankers.” Some will find this argument powerful, others strident, but many will find much to consider.” (Adapted from Publisher Weekly)

Syndetics book coverThe universe within : discovering the common history of rocks, planets, and people / Neil Shubin.
“University of Chicago paleontologist Shubin wrote about the fishy origins of humanity in 2009′s Your Inner Fish. In his new book, he goes farther back and further out, explaining how humans bear the markings of cosmic phenomena; as he puts it, “Written inside us is the birth of the stars.” Here, the author surveys everything from glints in “Greenlandic rocks” to the spreading signs of supernovae to reveal “deep ties to the forces that shaped our bodies.” He demonstrates how mammals owe their “high-energy lifestyle[s]” to oxygen released hundreds of millions of years ago as continents spread apart, and how color vision arose after continental drift cooled the planet, diversified flora, and resulted in biological competition that favored those organisms who could identify nutritious plants according to hue (“Every time you admire a richly colorful view, you can thank India for slamming into Asia”). Shubin is a leading proponent of the fusion of paleontology, developmental genetics, and genomics, and the result of his efforts is a volume of truly inspired science writing. Appropriately vast in scope, Shubin deftly balances breadth and depth in his search for a “sublimely beautiful truth.”” (Adapted from Publisher Weekly)

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)

Syndetics book coverPolar bears : the natural history of a threatened species / Ian Stirling.
“Stirling (scientist, emeritus, Canadian Wildlife Svc.; biology, Univ. of Alberta) has studied polar bears for over 40 years. In this highly readable natural history of the polar bear in a nontechnical reference format, he presents the basic facts about polar bears in response to the general public’s heightened awareness of the species because of climate change. As polar bears rely on an ice-based environment, global warming is a serious threat to their existence. In this book, readers learn about polar bears’ distribution, evolution, feeding habits, morphology, physiology, reproduction, conservation, behavior, and threats to their survival. Stirling draws extensively from his own research as well as from traditional knowledge from different groups of native peoples, such as the Inuits, who have interacted with polar bears for thousands of years. Verdict? Not just for mammalogists, this title will appeal to readers with an interest in arctic ecology or the effects of global warming.” (Library Journal)

Syndetics book coverA photographic guide to fossils of New Zealand / Hamish Campbell … [et al.].
“A new addition to the popular New Holland series of natural history and science photographic guides, the thirteenth title focuses on plant and animal fossils commonly found in New Zealand. Fossils are the preserved remains of past life and are very much part of the natural environment in this country. The range of fossils described covers the geological time-scale of Paleozoic, Mesozoic and Cenozoic periods. The younger Cenozoic rocks are especially widespread in New Zealand and for this reason Cenozoic fossils are the most common. Readers will learn to recognise the distinctive features of each group of fossils – shape, size, texture, colour and type of preservation – that serve as clues to the identity of any individual fossil organism. Excellent photographs provide a visual reference and individual entries provide essential geological information, along with biological and environmental detail about what fossils ate and where they lived. Written and researched by an expert team of paleontologists and geologists from GNS Science in Wellington, the authority of this guide is undeniable, but it is presented in a highly readable format.” (

New science books: Near-Earth Objects, J. Robert Oppenheimer, & science before Galileo

We’ve had some highly interesting new science books cross our desk in the last month. Here are our picks of the best of the best:

Syndetics book coverInside the centre : the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer / Ray Monk.
“Robert J. Oppenheimer is among the most contentious and important figures of the twentieth century. As head of the Los Alamos Laboratory, he oversaw the successful effort to beat the Nazis to develop the first atomic bomb – a breakthrough which was to have eternal ramifications for mankind, and made Oppenheimer the ‘father of the Bomb’.” (Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverSymmetry and the monster : one of the greatest quests of mathematics / Mark Ronan.
“This is the story of a mathematical quest which began with a pistol duel two hundred years ago in revolutionary France, and may yet end with a deep new insight into the very fabric of our Universe. It is a story that introduces the ‘Monster’ – not monstrous at all, but a vast structure of exquisite beauty and complexity – and whose discovery involved determined characters, breakthroughs in mathematics, and curious number ‘coincidences’. And even today, it seems, the tale of the Monster is not yet over: for in its extraordinary structure we are just beginning to glimpse tantalizing hints of connections with the deep physical nature of the Universe.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverMy beloved Brontosaurus : on the road with old bones, new science, and our favorite dinosaurs / Brian Switek.
“In this revealing work of pop paleontology, Switek (Written in Stone) travels across America to visit dinosaur fossils, but don’t let the subtitle and descriptions of stunning scenery and trips down gravel roads mislead you-this isn’t really a travelogue: each stop serves as but a jumping-off point for an examination of our changing understanding of dinosaurs. As a child, Switek learned that his beloved Brontosaurus had been denounced as a distinct species and relabeled Apatosaurus; in the course of his travels, he learns that other dinosaurs have met a similar fate-but he doesn’t see this as something to be mourned. In fact, it’s proof of the great strides being made in the science of dinos. Along the way, Switek describes a host of colorful characters, including Heinrich Mallison, who uses digital modeling software to figure out how certain dinosaurs-particularly the troublingly spiky-tailed Kentrosaurus-had sex. He also demonstrates that contrary to the relatively dowdy dinos of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, new science suggests many were feathered, and colorfully at that” (Publisher Weekly)

Syndetics book coverNear-Earth objects : finding them before they find us / Donald K. Yeomans.
“Humans may fret over earthquakes, nuclear meltdown, and heart attacks, but only collision with a near-Earth object has ‘the capacity to wipe out an entire civilization with a single blow.’ Balancing the wonders of astronomy with the looming potential for an epic, planetwide disaster, Yeomans, a fellow and research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, explores the origins of near-Earth objects-asteroids, comets, meteors, and meteoroids-and the threat they can pose to our planet.” (Publisher Weekly)

Syndetics book coverPaleofantasy : what evolution really tells us about sex, diet, and how we live / Marlene Zuk.
“In thoroughly engaging and witty prose, Zuk (Sex on Six Legs), a biologist from the University of California at Riverside, dismantles the pseudoscience behind nostalgic yearnings for our caveman days. As she so well notes, “Paleofantasies call to mind a time when everything about us-body, mind, and behavior-was in sync with the environment.” Zuk makes it clear that no such time ever existed – that’s simply not how evolution works. Whether she’s shredding the underlying premises of the paleo diet, the paleo exercise regimen, or the structure of the paleo family, she does so via cogent discussions of the nature of evolution and accessible elucidations of cutting-edge science.” (Publisher Weekly)

Syndetics book coverEarthquake / Andrew Robinson.
“Despite advances in both science and engineering, and improved disaster preparedness, earthquakes continue to cause immese loss of life and damage. The Haiti earthquake of 2010 took some quarter of a million lives. No one will ever forget the catastrophic tsunami unleashed in 2011 by a magnitude-9 earthquake off the east coast of Japan – a crisis described by Japans’ prime minsiter as the most disastrous nationa l event since the atomic bomb strikes in 1945. Tokyo was largely unaffected in 2011, unlike in 1703, 1855 and 1923 when earthquakes ravaged the capital. How ling will it be bfoe the next big Tokyo earthquake? Written by a highly experienced science writer, journalist and scholar, Earthquake will appeal as much to general readers of popular science as it will to experts in many fields ” (Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverIslands beyond the horizon : the life of twenty of the world’s most remote places / Roger Lovegrove.
“A bit of a geography nut, Lovegrove (former director, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds; Silent Fields), has an affinity for obscure islands. For his latest book, he chose 20 of them to write about, spread across five oceans and spanning pole to pole. Some names (e.g., Guam, Ascension, Tristan da Cunha, the San Blas) will be recognizable to most readers, but many more will leave them without a clue. Who among us can easily pick out Wrangel, Mykines, St. Kilda, Halfmoon, and Great Skellig on a map? In each easy-to-digest chapter, Lovegrove paints a geological and historical picture of the island then provides a thorough description of its flora and fauna, both current and extinct. (Remember the dodo?) One island is so herpetologically beset that it makes Snakes on a Plane seem like a Disney movie.” (Library Journal)

Syndetics book coverBefore Galileo : the birth of modern science in medieval Europe / John Freely.
“Freely writes here of the people who sought explanations of happenings in the natural world, as well as the works they wrote about what they found, from roughly 400 BCE to CE 1700. He charts the path of scientific movements among cultures (primarily Christian Europe and the Muslim Mediterranean and Middle East) depending on extant information of historical events and individuals, and the translations thereof. Among the small but significant events Freely discusses is how something as relatively simple as understanding and explaining the shape, angle, and colors of rainbows could prompt European science to leap radically forward.” (Library Journal)

Syndetics book coverThe cosmic tourist : vist the 100 most awe-inspiring destinations in the universe! / [Brian May, Patrick Moore, Chris Lintott].
“This tour of the universe takes in 100 sights. The authors explain each one, what it is, and how it fits into the astronomical zoo of familar and curious objects and phenomena.” (Syndetics)

New Science books

Just a few of the shiny new items that have graced my desk this month.

Syndetics book coverHubble’s universe : greatest discoveries and latest images / Terence Dickinson.
“The Hubble Space Telescope, which prolific astronomy writer Dickinson calls a remarkable discovery machine, has been orbiting the earth since 1990, inspiring many a book showcasing its astrophotography. What makes this superbly well-produced volume unique is its presentation of 300 images that have never been made public before. Dickinson’s expert and enthusiastic commentary also makes the Hubble wondrous all over again. He explains the 2009 reboot and how astronomers use a process called drizzling to create Hubble’s astonishingly sharp images, such as a staggering two-page look at a small segment of the night sky the size of a period in this book held at arm’s length, filled with thousands of galaxies, each containing billions of stars. Dickinson elucidates Hubble’s top discoveries, from proof that supermassive black holes are common in galaxies to success in measuring the universe’s expansion rate. With images of the birth and death of stars and the marvelous shapes nebulae take, reflected in such names as Helix, Jewel Box, Loch Ness, and Cat’s Eye, any engagement with this cosmic portfolio, from picture gazing to deep reading, is grandly rewarded.–Seaman, Donna Copyright 2010 BooklistFrom Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.” (Booklist) (Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverThis explains everything : deep, beautiful, and elegant theories of how the world works / edited by John Brockman.
“In this latest volume of erudition from founder John Brockman (This Will Make You Smarter), the question “What is your favorite deep, elegant, or beautiful explanation?” serves as the prompt for over a hundred concise essays. The topics cover the gamut of the sciences while also including answers from other realms including economics and the arts. Darwin and Einstein, while not the precise subject of many answers, feature prominently as do ideas of human consciousness and cognition. As with other collections of this ilk, the essays widely vary in ease of comprehension and level of profundity. While there is no structure beyond the individual essays, occasionally a few essays in close proximity will touch on similar matters, as when Nicholas Christakis’s essay on why the sky is blue is followed by Philip Campbell’s on “The Beauty in a Sunrise”, each referencing the work of Lord Rayleigh on the scattering of light. … this collection will satisfy anyone who is looking to stretch his thinking. (adapted from the Syndetics review)

Syndetics book coverHow to build a habitable planet : the story of Earth from the big bang to humankind.
“Geochemist Langmuir (Harvard) and earth scientist Broecker (Columbia) attempt to squeeze all of natural history between two covers in this enlarged new edition (1st ed., 1985). They strike a nice balance with roughly an equal number of chapters devoted to life, earth, and extraterrestrial processes. After outlining their systems approach, they move rapidly from the formation of matter and galaxies through the formation of rocky planets like Earth and the appearance of human-like life. Chapter topics include the internal differentiation of the Earth, human resource exploitation, and detecting exoplanets with atmospheres like ours. What makes it work is the authors’ admirable job of focusing tightly on how the many processes they outline feed into life’s makeup or systems needed to support it. This necessitates summaries of subjects ranging from nuclear physics and organic chemistry to asteroid impacts. They turn many pieces of conventional wisdom on their heads along the way, e.g., arguing entropy helps explain the appearance of life rather than making it improbable. Their explanations are elegant but very terse, so readers not already well read in these fields may be challenged. The book includes several general readings after each chapter and a glossary but no detailed bibliography for further investigation. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. B. M. Simonson Oberlin CollegeCopyright American Library Association, used with permission.” (CHOICE) (Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverHeart of darkness : unraveling the mysteries of the invisible universe / Jeremiah P. Ostriker and Simon Mitton.
“For Conrad, it was the Congo; for Ostriker (Formation of Structure in the Universe) and Mitton (The Young Oxford Book of Astronomy), it’s deep space, dark matter, and dark energy. In this stimulating study, the Princeton astrophysics professor and University of Cambridge scholar offer a compelling insider’s take on how astronomers have worked to reveal the mystery that is our universe. After a quick review of the long history of astronomy, the duo dive headlong into the 20th century and Einstein’s paradigm-crushing work on relativity, gravity, and time, which-coupled with technological improvements-laid the foundations for a modern cosmology based on “expansion-of vision, mind-set, and of the physical universe itself.” Indeed, the Big Bang sent galaxies racing outward, and the resulting universe is a “quantum soup” riddled with ” ‘holes,’ ‘filaments,’ and ‘walls.’ “… Ostriker and Mitton’s knowledge is vast, and while they acknowledge that our understanding of the universe is far from complete, this thought-provoking presentation is as accessible as it is exciting. (adapted from the Syndetics review)

Syndetics book coverThe where, the why, and the how : 75 artists illustrate wondrous mysteries of science / by Jenny Volvovski, Julia Rothman, and Matt Lamothe ; foreword by David Macaulay.
“Scientists and artists take on, answer, and illustrate some of the most intriguing and baffling questions in the sciences, a majority of which likely do not ever occur to most people, such as “What triggers reversals of earth’s polarity?” Readers may need a refresher on basic high school biology or chemistry, but that’s a good thing and, really, a minor distraction from what this book actually is: a work of art. The 75 illustrations that accompany each question are rich and stylistically diverse enough that the book can be read either as a well-written mini-textbook or a coffee table-worthy compendium. The authors set out to challenge our overly Wikipedi-ized minds less by explaining answers as by opening them to theorizing and wondering; it’s clear that the point is to pique curiosity and delight with beautiful visuals. Pop-science buffs will find the subject matter intriguing, and those who admire graphic novels or comic art will find a plethora of eye candy. To the book’s further credit, each artist’s website is listed opposite his or her artwork, allowing for further engagement each one’s work. (Oct.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.” (Publisher Weekly) (Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverInto great silence : a memoir of discovery and loss among vanishing orcas / Eva Saulitis.
“This sensitively written memoir chronicles the 25 years poet and scientist Saulitis (Leaving Resurrection) spent as a field biologist in Prince William Sound, AK. She observed a specific group of transient orcas, also known as killer whales, as they traveled through the area, photographing them, observing and recording their behavior, and listening to their vocalizations. The meticulous, detailed, even tedious nature of such work is apparent, yet Saulitis conveys her deep appreciation for the whales and their surroundings. Unfortunately, the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill fouled this environment and contributed to the premature deaths of several of the orcas. A list of books about the spill, a map, a family tree of the whale population under study, and several photographs are included.” (adapted from the Syndetics review)

Syndetics book coverWonders of life / Brian Cox & Andrew Cohen.
“This is the story of the amazing diversity and adaptability of life told through the fundamental laws that govern it. Through his voyage of discovery, Brian will explain how the astonishing inventiveness of nature came about and uncover the milestones in the epic journey from the origin of life to our own lives.”–publisher website. (Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverRHS Latin for gardeners : over 3000 plant names explained and explored / Lorraine Harrison.
“This illustrated guide unlocks the mysteries of botanical Latin, explaining what plant names mean and the descriptive clues they conceal.” (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.
“The violent eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia, almost unnoticed by the Western world when it happened, had an enormous global impact. As much as a hundred cubic kilometers of material was ejected, creating a world-girdling cloud that reflected sunlight and changed weather everywhere. Famines and food riots spread across North America and Europe. Thousands of New England farmers, ruined by snow in June, migrated west. Irish peasants starved. The end of the world was repeatedly prophesied; religious revivals multiplied; governments tottered. Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein during a rainy, cold July at a Swiss resort. J.M.W. Turner painted the spectacular sunsets created by stratospheric dust. In a world unfamiliar with climate change, where news traveled at the pace of a sailing ship, the phenomena were mysterious, seemingly God-driven, portentous, and terrifying. Popular historian William K. Klingaman and meteorologist Nicholas P. Klingaman have combined scientific and social narratives to good effect.”  (adapted from the Syndetics review)

New Science Books – February 2013

These are just a few of the lovely new items that have come across my desk in the last month.

Syndetics book coverThe pocket book of weather : entertaining and remarkable facts about our weather / Michael Bright.
“A concise but comprehensive guide to the world’s weather featuring 3,000 remarkable facts and figures that show how the weather shapes the planet and affects all of our lives. Featuring 3,000 essential facts and figures, this entertaining and informative guide to the world’s weather explains how the weather shapes our planet and affects all our lives. From sandstorms to monsoons, avalanches to solar storms, rainbows to tornadoes, this concise but comprehensive book explores the whats, whys, wheres, hows and whens.- How do clouds form?- What makes the wind blow?- Why are no two snowflakes the same?- What causes tornadoes?- Why are deserts so dry and rainforests so wet?- What is the El Nino effect? After marvelling at lightning, understanding thunder and finding there is no end of the rainbow, Mike Flynn investigates how weather will become even more important in the future, both as a result of climate change, and because of new ways of harnessing the awesome power of nature to generate energy. Uncovering the amazing truth behind our weather and exploring the intriguing mysteries of weather phenomena, The Pocket Book of Weather is a fascinating compendium of useful and entertaining information.” (Catalogue description)

Syndetics book coverBirds of New Zealand, Hawaii, Central and West Pacific : text and illustrations by Ber van Perlo / by Ber van Perlo.
“Featuring over 1,500 species, Birds of New Zealand, Hawaii, Central and West Pacific is the only field guide to illustrate and describe every species of bird you may see in the area, from Australia, New Zealand and New Guinea to Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia. • Text gives information on key identification features, habitat, and songs and calls • All plumages for each species are illustrated, including those of males, females and juveniles The stunning 95 colour plates appear opposite their relevant text for quick and easy reference. Distribution maps are included, showing where each species can be found and how common it is, to further aid identification. This comprehensive and highly portable guide is a must for all birdwatchers visiting the region.” (Publisher Description)

Syndetics book coverCoastal fishes of New Zealand / Malcolm Francis.
“Coastal Fishes of New Zealand provides a comprehensive, informative and up-to-date identification guide to the fishes likely to be encountered by New Zealand divers and fishers. Illustrated with over 275 superb colour photographs of live fish in their natural habitats, this book includes all of New Zealand’s common reef fishes, and also many of those that live in other habitats. Using the latest research, marine scientist Malcolm Francis also provides a wealth of other information about identifying features, geographical distribution, habitat and size for 221 species of fish. Other interesting biological features, such as feeding, growth, spawning and behaviour are also discussed. If you were to have one book on the abundant fish life found around our coasts, this is the one to own.” (Catalogue description)

Syndetics book coverSaltpeter : the mother of gunpowder / David Cressy.
“The story of the science, the technology, the politics and the military applications of saltpeter, the vital but mysterious substance that governments from the Tudors to the Victorians regarded as an ‘inestimable treasure.’ Derived from soil enriched with dung and urine, saltpeter provided the heart or ‘mother’ of gunpowder, without which no musket or cannon could be fired. National security depended on control of this organic material that had both mystical andmineral properties. The quest for it caused widespread ‘vexation’ in Tudor and Stuart England, as crown agents dug in homes and barns and even churches. Huge imports of saltpeter from India relieved this social pressure, and by the eighteenth century positioned Britain as a global imperial power. Only with the development of chemical explosives in the late Victorian period did dependency on this much treasured substance decline. Previously untold, the story of saltpeter is not only lively andentertaining in its own rightSaltpeter, the Mother of Gunpowder tells this previously untold story, one which is not only lively and entertaining in its own right, but which also has far wider implications, helping to explain the connections between the military, scientific, and political ‘revolutions’ of the seventeenth century, as well the formation of the centralized British state and its eventual dominance of the waves in the eighteenth and nineteenthcenturies.” (Catalogue description)

Syndetics book coverThe visioneers : how a group of elite scientists pursued space colonies, nanotechnologies, and a limitless future / W. Patrick McCray.
“In his fascinating new book (after 2008′s Keep Watching the Skies!), McCray profiles the larger-than-life characters and ideas that changed science and technology in the second half of the 20th century and beyond. The author describes the titular visioneers as “hybrids”-creative combinations of futurist, scientist, and charismatic promoter. At the center of this story are physicist Gerard O’Neill and biotech pioneer K. Eric Drexler. The former’s rigorously realistic designs for space habitats, along with his optimistic dream of regular humans living and working in space, were a vivid antidote to the “widespread pessimism” surrounding the end of the Vietnam War, growing stockpiles of nuclear weapons, and environmental concerns. McCray, a professor of history at UC Santa Barbara, discusses how O’Neill’s vision of space as a tabula rasa for the human race spurred the formation of grassroots groups like the L5 Society and captured the imaginations of many young scientists and engineers like Drexler, as well as influential figures like Stewart Brand and Timothy Leary. Considered together, they “took speculative ideas out of the hands of sci-fi writers” and had an enormous impact on generations of people, science, and political policy. Photos, illus. (Jan. 13) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved” (Publisher Weekly, courtesy of syndetics)

Recent Science Books

A few of the new items that have come across my desk over the last month.

Syndetics book coverThe science magpie : a hoard of fascinating facts, stories, poems, diagrams and jokes, plucked from science and its history / Simon Flynn.
“Science, humankind’s greatest intellectual achievement, is capable equally of delight and amusement as much as learning and the advancement of knowledge. ‘The Science Magpie’ brings together a hugely diverse collection of classic, common and unusual titbits from across science and its history”. (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe secret lives of numbers : the curious truth behind everyday digits / Michael Millar ; illustrated by Louise Morgan.
“This is a book for the observant and the curious. A book for people who take in their surroundings and wonder at the smallest detail: why? Above all, it’s a book about numbers – those that surround us every day, and the intriguing stories behind them. From the 7-day week to 24-carat gold, Chanel No. 5 to five-star luxury, The Secret Lives of Numbers figures out the mysterious background to the numbers we encounter on a daily basis. Revealing the facts behind those figures, author Michael Millar outlines where to spot each digit, what it means and how it came to be in meticulously researched and entertaining entries, creating an absorbing and intelligent book that’s perfect for any numbers fan. It’s as easy as 1, 2, 3…” (

Syndetics book coverCollins field guide to New Zealand wildlife / Terence Lindsey and Rod Morris.
“First published in 2000, the Collins Field Guide to New Zealand Wildflife quickly became a classic of its kind. Familiar to both national and international travellers keen to identify the birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, freshwater fish and invertebrates commonly encountered in this country, its combination of authoritative yet clear and precise textual descriptions and stunning photographs proved an instant winner. Now, more than 10 years on, this classic field guide has been updated and extended to make it even more useful to travellers with an interest in natural history and ecology. Retaining its useful glovebox-friendly format, the significantly expanded text will also include the latest research findings and changes in classification and nomenclature that have occurred in the past 10 years, along with new photographs where appropriate. Including both native and introduced species, each entry succinctly describes both habits and habitats, distribution, classification, breeding patterns, food and recognition tips to assist amateur identification. A wonderful addition to any natural history collection”. (

Syndetics book coverThe joy of X : a guided tour of math, from one to infinity / Steven Strogatz.
“In 2010, award-winning professor Steven wrote a series for the New York Times online called “The Elements of Math.” It was hugely popular: Each piece climbed the most emailed list and elicited hundreds of comments. Readers begged for more, and has now delivered. In this fun, fast-paced book, he offers us all a second chance at math. Each short chapter of The Joy of X provides an “Aha!” moment, starting with why numbers are helpful, and moving on to such topics as shapes, calculus, fat tails, and infinity. explains the ideas of math gently and clearly, with wit, insight, and brilliant illustrations. Assuming no knowledge, only curiosity, he shows how math connects to literature, philosophy, law, medicine, art, business, even pop culture and current events. For example, did O.J. do it? How should you flip your mattress to get the maximum wear out of it? How does Google search the Internet? How many people should you date before settling down? is the math teacher you wish you’d had, and The Joy of X is the book you’ll want to give to all your smart and curious friends. “– Provided by publisher.

Syndetics book coverEvolving : the human effect and why it matters / Daniel J. Fairbanks.
“This is a compelling exploration of how our understanding of evolution is key to the future of our planet. When Charles Darwin started writing his work On “Origin of Species”, he could hardly have envisioned how much we would discover about the origin of life over the next 150 years. Today’s evidence points to an inescapable and simple conclusion – we evolved and we are still evolving. This persuasive and elegant book, argues that understanding evolution has never mattered more in human history. It explains in detail how health, food production, and human impact on the environment are dependent on our knowledge of evolution.” (

Syndetics book coverThe stardust revolution : the new story of our origin in the stars / Jacob Berkowitz.
“Three great scientific revolutions have shaped our understanding of the cosmos and our relationship to it. The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries witnessed the Copernican Revolution, which bodychecked the Earth as the pivot point of creation and joined us with the rest of the cosmos as one planet among many orbiting the Sun. Three centuries later came the second great scientific revolution: the Darwinian Revolution. It removed us from a distinct, divine biological status to place us wholly in the ebb and flow of all terrestrial life. Now, science author Jacob Berkowitz describes how we’re in the midst of a third great scientific revolution, five centuries in the making: the Stardust Revolution. It is the merging of the once-disparate realms of astronomy and evolutionary biology, and of the Copernican and Darwinian Revolutions, placing life in a cosmic context. The Stardust Revolution takes readers on a grand journey that begins on the summit of California’s Mount Wilson, where astronomers first realized that the universe is both expanding and evolving, to a radio telescope used to identify how organic molecules{u2014}the building blocks of life{u2014}are made by stars. It’s an epic story told through a scientific cast that includes some of the twentieth century’s greatest minds{u2014}including Nobel laureate Charles Townes, who discovered cosmic water{u2014}as well as the most ambitious scientific explorers of the twenty-first century, those racing to find another living planet. Today, an entirely new breed of scientists{u2014}astrobiologists and astrochemists{u2014}are taking the study of life into the space age. Astrobiologists study the origins, evolution, and distribution of life, not just on Earth, but in the universe. Stardust science is filling in the missing links in our evolutionary story, ones that extend our family tree back to the stars.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe whispering land / Gerald Durrell ; with illustrations by Ralph Thompson.
“Gerald Durrell and his wife are the proud owners of a small zoo on the island of Jersey. But there’s one thing that’s better than a small zoo – a bigger one! So Durrell heads off to South America to collect more animals. Along windswept Patagonian shores and in Argentine tropical forests, he encounters a range of animals from penguins to elephant seals. But as always, he is drawn to those rare and interesting creatures which he hopes will thrive and breed in captivity . . .
Told with enthusiasm and without sentimentality, Gerald Durrell’s The Whispering Land is an often hilarious but always inspiring foray into the South American wilds”. (

Recent Science Books

A few more books that have sidled their way across my desk.

Syndetics book coverThe ultimate book of Saturday science : the very best backyard science experiments you can do yourself / Neil A. Downie.
“The Ultimate Book of Saturday Science is Neil Downie’s biggest and most astounding compendium yet of science experiments you can do in your own kitchen or backyard using common household items. It may be the only book that encourages hands-on science learning through the use of high-velocity, air-driven carrots.Downie, the undisputed maestro of Saturday science, here reveals important principles in physics, engineering, and chemistry through such marvels as the Helevator–a contraption that’s half helicopter, half elevator–and the Rocket Railroad, which pumps propellant up from its own track. The Riddle of the Sands demonstrates why some granular materials form steep cones when poured while others collapse in an avalanche. The Sunbeam Exploder creates a combustible delivery system out of sunlight, while the Red Hot Memory experiment shows you how to store data as heat. Want to learn to tell time using a knife and some butter? There’s a whole section devoted to exotic clocks and oscillators that teaches you how.The Ultimate Book of Saturday Science features more than seventy fun and astonishing experiments that range in difficulty from simple to more challenging. All of them are original, and all are guaranteed to work. Downie provides instructions for each one and explains the underlying science, and also presents experimental variations that readers will want to try”–Provided by publisher.

Syndetics book coverThe day the world discovered the sun : an extraordinary story of scientific adventure and the race to track the transit of Venus / Mark Anderson.
“In 1769, in one of the earliest examples of “team science,” expeditions were organized to collect observational data of the transit of Venus-which occurs when the planet’s orbit crosses between the Sun and Earth-from several points on the globe. Spurred by the data from Venus’s 1761 transit, the natural philosophers of the day knew that the 1769 transit measurements were key to calculating with greater accuracy the distance between Earth and the Sun as well as to better determining longitude for ship navigation. Anderson (“Shakespeare” by Another Name) tells the stories of three research voyages: James Cook’s to Tahiti on the British Endeavour, French astronomer Jean-Baptiste Chappe d’Auteroche’s on La Concepcion to the Gulf of California, and the Hungarian Jesuit scientist Maximilian Hell’s to the Arctic Circle on the Urania. Their experiences are woven into an adventure tale informed by diary entries of the time. Astronomers today are preparing for a June 6, 2012, transit, which like the 18th-century transit is the second within a decade; the last was in 2004 and the next will be in 2117. VERDICT Recommended for casual students of history and astronomy.-Sara Rutter, Univ. of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu (c) Copyright 2012. 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)

Syndetics book coverGravity’s engines : how bubble-blowing black holes rule galaxies, stars, and life in the cosmos / Caleb Scharf.
“We’ve long understood black holes to be the points at which the universe as we know it comes to an end. Often billions of times more massive than the Sun, they lurk in the inner sanctum of almost every galaxy of stars in the universe. They’re mysterious chasms so destructive and unforgiving that not even light can escape their deadly wrath. Recent research, however, has led to a cascade of new discoveries that have revealed an entirely different side to black holes. As the astrophysicist Caleb Scharf reveals in Gravity’s Engines, these chasms in space-time don’t just vacuum up everything that comes near them; they also spit out huge beams and clouds of matter. Black holes blow bubbles. With clarity and keen intellect, Scharf masterfully explains how these bubbles profoundly rearrange the cosmos around them. Engaging with our deepest questions about the universe, he takes us on an intimate journey through the endlessly colorful place we call our galaxy and reminds us that the Milky Way sits in a special place in the cosmic zoo–a “sweet spot” of properties. Is it coincidental that we find ourselves here at this place and time? Could there be a deeper connection between the nature of black holes and their role in the universe and the phenomenon of life? We are, after all, made of the stuff of stars”–Provided by publisher.

Syndetics book coverFor the love of physics : from the end of the rainbow to the edge of time– a journey through the wonders of physics / Walter Lewin with Warren Goldstein.
“This largely autobiographical account reveals the author to be one who fell in love first with physics and then with teaching physics to students.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverIt’s not rocket science / Ben Miller.
Black holes. Global warming. The Hadron Collider. Ever had that sinking feeling that you really should know about these things, but somehow never quite grasped them? Don’t worry – you’re not alone. Before Ben Miller was a comedian, he used to be a physicist, working towards a PhD in Novel Quantum Effects in Quasi-Zero-Dimensional Electron Systems. But then he woke up twenty years later and realised he didn’t know any of this stuff either. And so he set out on a mission. He worked out the ten most vital things in science – the things you really need to know. He talked to experts, he visited research labs, he went to see the Hadron Collider in action… And then he wrote this book.

Syndetics book coverThe complete world of human evolution / Chris Stringer, Peter Andrews.
“Although the title of this book suggests that it is about human evolution, it is really a bit of a misnomer. In fact, Stringer and Andrews (both, Natural History Museum, London, UK) present a nice introductory discussion that encompasses the much broader picture of primate evolution in general–surveying some 30 million years of primate evolution and 5 million years of human evolution in the process. In this regard, the authors emphasize the progressive changes that have occurred in the anatomical, behavioral, and cultural development of modern humans, as well as in the evolutionary relatedness of humans and our nearest living relatives, the great apes. This new edition (1st ed., CH, Sep’05, 43-0409) presents the most up-to-date views on humanity’s ancestral lineage. In addition, the book briefly considers the many long-standing controversies that remain sources of contentious debate among today’s paleoanthropologists. The well-written book is largely accessible to general interest readers. The authors discuss select topics in short, two-to-four-page chapters; hence, only the most basic information is provided. The volume is nicely illustrated with a good selection of black-and-white and full-color photographs and drawings. Overall, a useful supplementary resource for undergraduate students taking introductory courses in anthropology and/or evolution. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-division undergraduates and general readers. D. A. Brass independent scholarCopyright American Library Association, used with permission.” (CHOICE)

New Science Books

This is just a small selection of some of the new science material that has crossed my desk recently. Enjoy!!

Syndetics book coverScience set free : 10 paths to new discovery / Rupert Sheldrake.
“In Science Set Free, Dr. Rupert Sheldrake, one of the world’s most innovative scientists, shows the ways in which science is being constricted by assumptions that have hardened into dogmas that are not only limiting, but also dangerous for the future of humanity” — Front jacket flap.

Syndetics book coverAbout time : from sun dials to quantum clocks, how the cosmos shapes our lives, and we shape the cosmos / Adam Frank.
From a Palaeolithic farmer living by the sun and stone plinths to the factory worker logging into an industrial punch clock to the modern manager enslaved to Outlook’s 15-minute increments, our relationship with time has constantly evolved alongside our scientific understanding of the universe. And the latest advances in physics string-theory branes, multiverses, “clockless” physics are positioned to completely rewrite time in the coming years. Weaving cosmology with day-to-day chronicles and a lively wit, astrophysicist Adam Frank tells the dazzling story of humanity’s invention of time and how we will experience it in the future.

Syndetics book coverHow to live forever : and 34 other really interesting uses of science / by Alok Jha.
How to Live Forever is the essential survival guide for anyone who has ever been baffled by science. In a series of intriguing, entertaining and often extraordinary scenarios Alok Jha brings to life 35 key science ideas in a way that anyone can understand. From the microscopic to the cosmic, this book takes you on a glorious tour of the known universe and beyond, taking in cloned sheep, alien worlds, bizarre life forms, quantum weirdness, parallel dimensions and dissected brains along the way. You’ll discover how to travel through time, how to start (and cure) a plague, how the mind works, how to turn sunbeams into oak trees, how to boil a planet, how to turn invisible and much, much more. Both informative and enjoyable, this is a rip-roaring introduction to the wonders of modern science. (

Syndetics book coverThe rocks don’t lie : a geologist investigates Noah’s flood / David R. Montgomery.
“Many theologians and scientists within the Christian tradition have long interpreted the biblical story of Noah’s flood as a worldwide event and a foundation for determining the geological age of the earth. In this rich, animated narrative, geologist Montgomery points out that theologians have often bent an amazing array of geological evidence to support a literal interpretation of Noah’s flood. But what does the Earth itself tell us? Using the evidence he finds in the various strata of rocks in a roadbed in Kentucky, Montgomery contends that the “440 million-year-old, trilobite-bearing limestone” is clearly not a chaotic, mixed-up product of an earth-churning flood. The rocks formed when an ancient “proto-Atlantic Ocean” led to the formation of a thick pile of sediment that gradually accumulated layer by later-stretching from Newfoundland to Alabama. Moreover, plate tectonics shatters the myth of a global flood by explaining the sequences, ages, and assemblages of rocks we find throughout the world, as well as the global distribution of topography. Brilliant and provocative, Montgomery’s exploration of scientific and theological understandings of Noah’s flood vibrantly opens our eyes to the marvels of ancient rocks that are far grander than ourselves. 20 illus., maps. Agent: Elizabeth Wales, Wales Literary Agency. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved” (Publisher Weekly)

Syndetics book coverRocks and minerals / Ronald Louis Bonewitz.
The new DK Nature Guides form a comprehensive, accessible, and informative series of illustrated reference books that tackle key natural history subjects in DK’s uniquely visual style. Produced in collaboration with expert consultants at the Smithsonian Institution, each guide is expertly written and will give you knowledge of the natural world at your fingertips. (

Syndetics book coverGlobal weirdness : severe storms, deadly heat waves, relentless drought, rising seas, and the weather of the future / [produced by] Climate Central.“We hear so much about climate change, but do we really know all the facts? Climate Central, Inc., a nonprofit, nonpartisan science and journalism organization founded in 2008, is here to help. Instead of long, discursive explanations, the book offers 50 entries that aim to be accessible. Is climate ever normal? What has caused climate change in the past? Find out here; looks to be a great resource for high school papers, too. In clear, accessible prose, a fascinating new book that explains climate change–its implications for the future and what we can and cannot do to avoid further change–to the layperson produced by a highly regarded independent, non-profit journalism and research organization.” (Library catalogue)

Syndetics book coverThe God problem : how a godless cosmos creates / Howard Bloom.
“How does the cosmos do something it has long been thought that only gods could achieve? How does an inanimate universe generate stunning new forms and unbelievable new powers without a Creator? How does the cosmos create?” (Annotation, Library Catalogue)

A smorgasbord of new science books

This month we have a smorgasbord of Biology, Geology and Physics books on offer. Everything from Spider silk to Elephants!!

Syndetics book coverThe elegant universe : superstrings, hidden dimensions, and the quest for the ultimate theory / Brian Greene.
“Greene, one of the world’s leading string theorists, peels away the layers of mystery to reveal a universe of 11 dimensions where the fabric of space tears and repairs itself, in this “New York Times” bestseller that features a new Preface and Epilogue.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverSpider silk : evolution and 400 million years of spinning, waiting, snagging, and mating / Leslie Brunetta, Catherine L. Craig.
“This well-received book is the wonderfully entertaining product of a collaboration between Brunetta, a freelance journalist and former Fulbright scholar, and Craig, a respected evolutionary biologist and author of Spiderwebs and Silk (2003). As the book delves into the evolution, properties, and multiple uses of spider silk, it takes the reader on brief forays into Greek mythology, paleontology, the foundations of Darwinian theory, Mendelian genetics, the Watson-Crick model of DNA structure, and protein chemistry. Modern spiders produce six or more different silks, and the changes in the structure of these fibrous proteins allow them to function as glues, water-repellent packaging, rappelling ropes, snares, and trip lines. The scattering of light by protein droplets in the silk even helps to obscure spider webs from flying insects, thus aiding their capture. The authors offer a fascinating look into how modifications of the strength, stickiness, and appearance of the silk used to make trip lines or webs allow spiders to extend their senses and physical reach. Silken webs can provide a spider with a home, a fortress, and a snare, whereas lines allow it to balloon on air currents for hundreds of kilometers.” – (adapted from CHOICE summary)

Syndetics book coverThe elephant’s secret sense : the hidden life of the wild herds of Africa / Caitlin O’Connell.The Elephant’s Secret Sense: The Hidden Life of the Wild Herds of Africa
“While observing a family of elephants in the wild, Caitlin O’Connell noticed a peculiar listening behavior in which the matriarch lifted her foot and scanned the horizon, causing the other elephants to follow suit, as if they could “hear” the ground. The Elephant’s Secret Sense is O’Connell’s account of her pathbreaking research into seismic listening and communication, chronicling the extraordinary social lives of elephants over the course of fourteen years in the Namibian wilderness.This odyssey of scientific discovery is also a frank account of fieldwork in a poverty-stricken, war-ravaged country. In her attempts to study an elephant community, O’Connell encounters corrupt bureaucrats, deadly lions, poachers, farmers fighting for arable land, and profoundly ineffective approaches to wildlife conservation. The Elephant’s Secret Sense is ultimately a story of intellectual courage in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverKeeper of the nuclear conscience : the life and work of Joseph Rotblat / Andrew Brown.
“Physicist Joseph Rotblat was a Polish Jew who emigrated to England in early 1939 to work in Chadwick’s cyclotron laboratory. He left behind his family and wife with the intention of returning at the conclusion of his internship. Weeks prior to his departure, Curie reported her discovery of nuclear fission and, just after he left, the Nazis invaded Poland. While in Liverpool, Rotblat recognized the military implications of nuclear fission. He was one of the first people to do so and began quietly but reluctantly informing certain people of this realization. Subsequently he worked on the Manhattan Project, where he contributed to the development of nuclear data that were key to designing an atomic bomb. Rotblat’s moral concerns about nuclear weapons caused him to leave Los Alamos before the first nuclear test and return to England, where he began a lifelong effort to control the spread of nuclear weapons. He was an organizer of the Pugwash conferences and an activist for nuclear disarmament. In this well-written biography, Brown (Harvard; The Neutron and the Bomb, CH, Apr’98, 35-4552) does justice to the legacy of Rotblat, whose concern about the implications of a world full of nuclear-armed countries evolved into a personal crusade.” – (adapted from CHOICE summary)

Syndetics book coverWhy geology matters : decoding the past, anticipating the future / Doug Macdougall.
“Writing for the popular reader, Macdougall (emeritus, earth sciences, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, U. of California, San Diego) offers a clear description of geology and its study. The volume is filled with fascinating accounts of early scientists and their discoveries, described in connection with specific cases and questions of interest to us all, including what happens when an asteroid hits the Earth, how the geologist Brian Atwater recognized the history of massive earthquakes in the Pacific Northwest, what we know about ice ages, and what brought on the catastrophic warming of the Paleocene. Filled with recent examples of geologic events, and written in an accessible personal style, the book provides an excellent overview of one of the most relevant of all the sciences.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverGravity : how the weakest force in the universe shaped our lives / Brian Clegg.Gravity: How the Weakest Force in the Universe Shaped Our Lives
“Clegg (How To Build a Time Machine: The Real Science of Time Travel) acquaints readers with a very familiar force in their lives: gravity. To most people, gravity seems awfully powerful since it keeps them (and everything else) attached to Earth. As Clegg explains, however, gravity is, in fact, one of the weakest forces of nature, as he indicates in his subtitle. He takes readers on a delightful conversational tour of how gravity works and how humanity came to understand it. He brings to life household names like Newton and Einstein and the scientific circles in which they worked and lived. Explanations of giant stars and atomic nuclei demonstrate aspects of gravity most people don’t think about, which makes this book all the more fascinating. VERDICT Lovers of science who are not well versed in its mechanics will find this book absorbing.” – (adapted from Library Journal summary)

Syndetics book coverPlanet dinosaur : the next generation of giant killers / Cavan Scott ; palaeontology specialist Darren Naish.
“The companion book to the upcoming Discovery Channel television series, Planet Dinosaur is an introduction to the latest and most exciting dinosaur discoveries. The last decade has been particularly fruitful in the study of dinosaurs, with more new species found than were discovered in the preceding 200 years. Many of these discoveries easily eclipse previously known species and are rewriting what we know about dinosaurs. Planet Dinosaur is a global survey of the 30 most thrilling dinosaur species found in recent years. It provides a new global perspective on dinosaurs, revealing which species lived at the same time on different continents and how the Earth looked in each time period. Specimens in China, the Sahara, the Arctic, Antarctica and North America are especially exciting. The deadly predator, Giganotosaurus, outsized T-Rex. Dracorex hogwartsia lived in North America 70 million years ago and resembled a real-life dragon.” – (adapted from summary)

Syndetics book coverThe last lost world : ice ages, human origins, and the invention of the Pleistocene / Lydia V. Pyne and Stephen J. Pyne.
“Daughter-and-father historians of science pretty fully justify their profession in this brilliant explanation of the most recent geological epoch, which, depending on how current debate within the paleontological community over such things as whether the Pleistocene-defining cycle of ice formation and melting is really over, and whether H. sapiens continues to evolve naturally is resolved, may or may not have concluded with the rise of civilization and the proposed Holocene epoch. Their exposition is highly dialectical, for while the Pleistocene is a scientific concept collocating hard facts and materialist theories, it is fundamentally a cultural creation, a thing of the mind shaped by scientifically untestable assumptions about the importance of humanity in the story of Earth’s development. Indeed, the Pynes point out, discussion of and contention over the Pleistocene seem to swirl around whether it is presented as a chronicle a record of things or as a narrative of related and directional events. So-called hard science, rejecting mind, rather favors the chronicle; history, embracing mind, the narrative. For science mavens of a philosophical bent, this may be the book of the year, a font of knowledge and, what’s more and better, intellectual exercise.” – (adapted from Booklist summary)

New on the science shelves

Make sense of the world with the ideas and views contained within these new science picks. The impact of shrimp farming, lessons we can learn from rats, the shapes and patterns of nature, and more …

Syndetics book coverLet them eat shrimp : the tragic disappearance of the rainforests of the sea / Kennedy Warne.
“When a book’s preface is a fictional account of a crab harvester shot to death by rifle-toting guards of a shrimp farm, readers can only guess that they are not going to find stupefying statistics in the pages that follow. Journalist Warne (founding editor, New Zealand Geographic) has produced a personal account of the results of converting mangrove forests into shrimp farms around the world. Telling the stories of people displaced by intensive shrimp farms in Asia, Africa, Australia, and the Americas, Warne provides evocative tales of economic disparities and disruption of local tradition, but little on the benefits of intensive investment in mangrove forest management. The bibliography lists only 18 references, although it also includes 8 websites that give entry points to a more extensive literature. While inspiring to those interested in participatory journalism, science writing, and the human side of economic development, this book should not be considered a reference work for advanced scientific study or economic analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of intensive shrimp farming. Summing Up: Recommended. General readers and undergraduate students. G. C. Stevens formerly, University of New MexicoCopyright American Library Association, used with permission.” – (adapted from CHOICE summary)

Syndetics book coverWar of the worldviews : science vs. spirituality / Deepak Chopra, Leonard Mlodinow.
“Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Hawking have had a major impact on the loud and popular debate between ‘aggressive atheists’ and religion. The huge sales of their bestselling books show just how much interest people have in their ideas. Now ‘the rock star of the new spirituality’, Deepak Chopra, is entering this debate, sparring with leading physicist, Professor Leonard Mlodinow (the co-author, with Stephen Hawking, of “The Grand Design”). In “War of the Worldviews”, Chopra argues that there is design in our universe and a deep intelligence behind life. Without defending organised religion, he debunks randomness as an explanation for how Nature evolves and shows how consciousness comes first and matter second. On the other side, Mlodinow argues the viewpoint of science, specifically what modern quantum physics can tell us about our world. In his view, physics, genetics and cosmology will shed far more light on the big questions than rethinking ancient spiritual concepts can ever do. A major work of our time, “War of the Worldviews” will not only offer more food for thought for those fascinated by the two sides of this modern conundrum – it will also place Deepak Chopra firmly in the ring of some of the most remarkable, and bestselling, thinkers of our era.” – (adapted from summary)

Syndetics book coverThe lab rat chronicles : a neuroscientist reveals life lessons from the planet’s most successful mammals / Kelly Lambert.
“What can the common laboratory rat tell us about being human? According to behavioral neuroscientist Kelly Lambert, a whole lot. Her twenty-five-year career conducting experiments that involve rats has led her to a surprising conclusion: Through their adaptive strategies and good habits, these unassuming little animals can teach us some essential lessons about how we, as humans, can lead successful lives. From emotional resilience and a strong work ethic to effective parenting and staying healthy, the lab rat is an unlikely but powerful role model for us all. Book jacket.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverNonsense on stilts : how to tell science from bunk / Massimo Pigliucci.
“Nonsense on Stilts is a very interesting, useful compendium of thinking about and within science. Science has become more and more a part of daily life, and Pigliucci (philosophy, CUNY; Making Sense of Evolution, coauthor with C. Kaplan, 2006; Denying Evolution, CH, Jan’03, 40-2755) points out the need to differentiate between “good” science and pseudoscience and all shades in between (e.g., “almost” science). Topics discussed cover the nature and limits of science, the psychology of belief, philosophy of science, tools of critical thinking, differentiation between “hard” and “soft” science, historical science, randomness, and causation. Specific examples include AIDS denial, astrology, ESP/paranormal, (pseudo)journalism, climate change, evolution versus creationism, and expertise. The author also describes the evolution of scientific thinking. Although Fuller does not propose a litmus test for scientific boundaries, he advocates the use of a “baloney detector.” Naturalism, theory, and empiricism/testability are key criteria for scientific findings. Valuable as a reference for courses in science, philosophy, political science, and journalism, as well as a handbook for the public. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All libraries. R. E. Buntrock formerly, University of MaineCopyright American Library Association, used with permission.” – (adapted from CHOICE summary)

Syndetics book coverThe watchman’s rattle : thinking our way out of extinction / Rebecca Costa.
“Explains why the human brain has such difficulty dealing with complex global problems, and provides a method for surmounting these limitations in order to end the blights of worldwide recession, global warming, fast-spreading viruses, famine and poverty.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverShapes : nature’s patterns : a tapestry in three parts / Philip Ball.
“Nature is a self-made tapestry, weaving its patterns in space and time. Patterns make themselves from the interplay of physical and chemical forces on materials living and non-living. The result is an ever-changing, kaleidoscopic array of forms. In this, the first of three books exploring nature’s patterns, Philip Ball describes patterns of shape and makes us look at the world with fresh eyes, seeing order and form in everything from crystals and chemical reactions, to butterfly wings, leopard skins, and even entire ecosystems. Ball’s exploration of shapes ranges over all the sciences and links with art and design, taking in the exquisite architecture of coccoliths alongside the stability of bubble rafts.” – (adapted from Syndetics summary)

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