The life of New Zealand’s extraordinary scientists

Read stories of New Zealand’s own prominent scientists who changed our lives, from diet to DNA, and from environment patriot to expert witness. Some of their contributions we have taken for granted today, but were revolutionary at the time.

The unconventional career of Dr Muriel Bell / Brown, Diana
“Appointed New Zealand’s first state nutritionist in 1940, Muriel Bell was behind ground-breaking public health schemes such as milk in schools, iodised salt, and water fluoridation. The first woman in New Zealand to be awarded the research degree of Doctor of Medicine, in 1926, her pioneer research on vitamins and minerals helped to prevent deficiency diseases. Her early research into fats and cholesterol tackled the complexity of nutrition-related aspects of coronary heart disease. (Adapted from the Catalogue)

Peter Snell : from Olympian to scientist / Snell, Peter
“Peter Snell has won three gold medals and was named New Zealand Sportsman of the year in 1960 and 1964, and New Zealand Order of Merit in 2002, and became Sir Peter Snell in 2009. He then moved to US and pursued a successful career in exercise physiology. This biography is the full account of Peter Snell’s life as sensational athlete and respected scientist and academic. It picks up the story from Peter’s first biography No Bugles, No Drums, which was published in 1965.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

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Nobel Prizes 2023: Science and behind the scenes stories

Winners of the 2023 Nobel Prizes have been announced! Here are a few related books that may interest you, whether you’re interested in the technical stuff, the behind-the-scenes science or medical stories.  Read on!

Losing the Nobel Prize : a story of cosmology, ambition, and the perils of science’s highest honor / Keating, Brian
“In 2014, astronomers wielding BICEP2(Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization), the most powerful cosmology telescope ever made, thought they’d glimpsed the spark that ignited the Big Bang. Millions around the world tuned in to the announcement, and Nobel whispers began to spread. But had these cosmologists truly read the cosmic prologue or had they been deceived by a galactic mirage? Cosmologist Brian Keating tells the inside story and the ensuing scientific drama.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

The incidental tourist : on the road with a globetrotting Nobel Prize winner / Doherty, P. C.
“Join Nobel Prize winner Peter Doherty on his extraordinary adventures around the globe. Doherty has kept a journal about the far-flung destinations his work has taken him to for more than thirty years. His observations and discoveries in The Incidental Tourist make for perfect armchair travel. Peter Doherty shared the 1996 Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology for discovering the nature of the cellular immune defence. He wrote 6 books for general readers, one being The Beginner’s Guide to Winning the Nobel Prize. (Adapted from the Catalogue)

A beautiful mind : the life of mathematical genius and Nobel laureate John Nash / Nasar, Sylvia
“”In this biography, Sylvia Nasar re-creates the life of a mathematical genius whose brilliant career was cut short by schizophrenia and who, after three decades of devastating mental illness, miraculously recovered and was honored with a Nobel Prize. At twenty-one, the handsome, ambitious, eccentric graduate student invented what would become the most influential theory of rational human behavior in modern social science, was offered a dream job in MIT. (Adapted from the Catalogue)

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Controversy in the Science World: New Science Books

Books on Erebus, octopuses and paleoanthropology, superimposed over a watery ocean background

In amongst our new science books this month, is Lee Berger’s new book Cave of Bones — which follows the discovery of thousands of bones of a new hominin species, Homo naledi, in a cave deep underground in South Africa. This book is sending waves through the scientific world and not just for its exciting new discoveries. It is causing controversy for a variety of reasons; these include the speed the team worked to publish their findings and the involvement of the media through the making of a documentary for Netflix. Nevertheless, Berger has made his findings accessible to others allowing for discussion and analysis. If you want to hear more about both sides of the story, check out the episode covering this controversy on the Science Vs podcast or make up your own mind by reading the book yourself – link below!

Check out our new science books:

Cave of bones : a true story of discovery, adventure, and human origins / Berger, Lee R | Audiobook Available for Cave of bones
“Deep in the dark, stalactite-filled chambers of South Africa’s Rising Star cave system, internationally acclaimed paleoanthropologist Lee Berger and his intrepid team of explorers have found thousands of fossil bones from Homo naledi. It’s a tale rife with determination and discovery, challenging long-held assumptions about our evolutionary past and offering astounding implications poised to overturn the very definition of what it means to be human.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Many things under a rock : the mysteries of octopuses / Scheel, David
“Of all the creatures of the deep blue, none captivates us quite like the octopus. Marine biologist David Scheel’s lifelong preoccupation with octopuses has led to a career of groundbreaking research, from finding previously unknown species to the discovery of signalling communication among octopuses. The octopus is sometimes called the most alien animal on the planet, but here we learn just how much the octopus is like us. And how much we are like the octopus.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

The swimmer : the wild life of Roger Deakin / Barkham, Patrick
“Roger Deakin is best known for his modern classic of nature writing, Waterlog, which frog-kicked the wild swimming movement into existence with wit, politics and poetry. But he was not simply a dazzling writer and eccentric Englishman. Barkham draws from notebooks, diaries, letters, recordings, published work and early drafts, to conjure his voice back to glorious life in these pages. Barkham’s biography follows Roger Deakin’s tree of life, from roots to fruits, revealing the inner life of an extraordinary man.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Erebus the ice dragon : a portrait of an Antarctic volcano / Monteath, Colin
“Haunting and searingly beautiful, Erebus has attracted explorers, mountaineers, artists and scientists; each drawn to the mountain by their own particular vision or curiosity. Antarctica veteran Monteath weaves history, science, art and adventure into a compelling tale, supported by superb images selected from his lifetime of working and voyaging in the area.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

The heat will kill you first : life and death on a scorched planet / Goodell, Jeff | Audiobook Available
“The Heat Will Kill You First is about the extreme ways in which our planet is already changing. As an award-winning journalist who has been at the forefront of environmental journalism for decades, Goodell’s new book may be his most provocative yet, explaining how extreme heat will dramatically change the world as we know it.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Demystifying orchid pollination : stories of sex, lies and obsession / Karremans, Adam P.
Demystifying Orchid Pollination explores the fascinating natural history of orchids and the extraordinary means by which they reproduce. With sections named after famous songs and quotes sprinkled throughout the text, this is a truly engaging and fascinating read, leaving no stone unturned when it comes to the fertilization of orchid flowers.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Better living through birding : notes from a Black man in the natural world / Cooper, Christian
“Christian Cooper is a self-described Blerd (Black nerd), an avid comics fan, and an expert birder who devotes every spring to gazing upon the migratory birds that stop to rest in Central Park, just a subway ride away from where he lives in New York City. Better Living Through Birding is Cooper’s invitation into the wonderful world of birds, and what they can teach us about life, if only we would stop and listen.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Around the ocean in 80 fish & other sea life / Scales, Helen
“Dive beneath the waves to meet 80 of the ocean’s strangest and most surprising inhabitants. This beautifully illustrated aquatic world tour tells the fascinating stories of beguiling sea creatures and their ingenious feats of survival – from producing anti-freeze to enduring boiling temperatures – revealing the ways in which these seemingly remote creatures have shapes our own lives, whether through medicine, culture or folklore.” (Catalogue)

Music and the brain

Music is more than just entertainment. These leading brain research authors deep dive into the fascinating connection between music and neurological science. There are also interesting facts behind being tone deaf, ear worms, and other elements relevant to music. Whether you are a fan of music or science, you will find a new interesting book to enjoy!

Musicophilia : tales of music and the brain / Sacks, Oliver W
“Music can move us to the heights or depths of emotion. It can lift us from depression or us dancing to its beat. But the power of music goes much, much further. Indeed, music occupies more areas of our brain than language does. Oliver Sacks’s compassionate, compelling tales of people struggling to adapt to different neurological conditions have fundamentally changed the way we think of our own brains. Here, he examines the powers of music through the individual experiences of patients, musicians, and everyday people. Music is irresistible, haunting, and unforgettable. ” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

The jazz of physics : the secret link between music and the structure of the universe / Alexander, Stephon
“More than fifty years ago, John Coltrane drew the twelve musical notes in a circle and connected them by straight lines, forming a five-pointed star. Inspired by Einstein, Coltrane had put physics and geometry at the core of his music. Following the great minds that first drew the links between music and physics, a list including Pythagoras, Kepler, Newton, Einstein, and Rakim, The Jazz of Physics revisits the ancient realm where music, physics, and the cosmos were one.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

Bad singer : the surprising science of tone deafness and how we hear music / Falconer, Tim
“In the tradition of Daniel Levitin’s This Is Your Brain on Music and Oliver Sacks’ Musicophilia, Bad Singer follows the delightful journey of Tim Falconer as he tries to overcome tone deafness–and along the way discovers what we’re really hearing when we listen to music. A work of scientific discovery, musicology, and personal odyssey, Bad Singer is a fascinating, insightful, and highly entertaining account from an award-winning journalist and author.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

Hearing Beethoven : a story of musical loss and discovery / Wallace, Robin
“We’re all familiar with the image of a fierce and scowling Beethoven, struggling doggedly to overcome his rapidly progressing deafness. Beethoven continued to play and compose for more than a decade after he lost his hearing. The author explored through his own experience of deafness, suggested that instead of overcoming deafness, creating music for Beethoven became a visual and physical process, emanating from visual cues and from instruments that moved and vibrated. His deafness may have slowed him down, but it also led to works of unsurpassed profundity.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)


Dive Deep Into Our New Science Books

3 new oceanic science book covers silhouetted against a backdrop of a wave crashing on the shore

With scientists discovering around 2,000 new marine species every year, the science world is ripe with new knowledge about our oceans. Even so, they still hold so many unanswered mysteries — from strange bioluminescent creatures, to the ocean itself and the impact it has on the rest of the world.

In these new science books we can start to illuminate the unknown. We can follow ocean-obsessed individuals like Al Anderson in Kings of Their Own Ocean: Tuna, Obsession, and the Future of Our Seas (Al tagged and tracked over 60,000 fish), or we can go on adventures all around the world with Kennedy Warne in Soundings: Diving for Stories in the Beckoning Sea. We can also learn how to look after our world — either by looking back to ancient times in Against the Seas: Saving Civilizations from Rising Waters, or by learning about how the ocean works in Blue Machine: How the Ocean Shapes our World. Have a browse!

The underworld : journeys to the depths of the ocean / Casey, Susan
“From New York Times bestselling author Susan Casey, an awe-inspiring portrait of the mysterious world beneath the waves, and the men and women who seek to uncover its secrets. The Underworld is Susan Casey’s most beautiful and thrilling book yet, a gorgeous evocation of the natural world and a powerful call to arms.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Kings of their own ocean : tuna, obsession, and the future of our seas / Pinchin, Karen
“Over his fishing career, Al marked more than sixty thousand fish with plastic tags. His quest landed him in the crossfire of an ongoing fight between a booming bluefin tuna industry and desperate conservation efforts. Kings of Their Own Ocean is an urgent investigation that combines science, business, crime, and environmental justice.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Soundings : diving for stories in the beckoning sea / Warne, K. P | eBook Availablefor Soundings : diving for stories in the beckoning sea
“Perhaps the closest a human being comes to visiting another planet is to descend into the sea. In Soundings, Kennedy Warne connects his lifelong exploration of the underwater world with a global story of humanity’s relationship with the sea. From a myriad underwater encounters a wider conversation emerges about human engagement with the sea.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

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Brilliant discoveries, stray specimens and starry skies: New science books

This month’s recent picks of the new science books feature a ‘biography’ of the Higgs boson particle — tracing the pathway to its discovery across the course of twentieth century physics. Plus, discover the world as it’s perceived by other animals, read Neil deGrasse Tyson’s latest, and follow dauntless explorers through the centuries as they discover and illustrate botanic specimens. Plus, what happens when science and the media collide. Have a browse!

Elusive : how Peter Higgs solved the mystery of mass / Close, F. E
“In the summer of 1964, a reclusive young professor at the University of Edinburgh wrote two scientific papers which have come to change our understanding of the most fundamental building blocks of matter and the nature of the universe. Peter Higgs posited the existence an almost infinitely tiny particle – today known as the Higgs boson. […] This revelatory book is ‘not so much a biography of the man but of the boson named after him’. It brilliantly traces the course of much of twentieth-century physics from the inception of quantum field theory to the completion of the ‘standard model’ of particles and forces, and the pivotal role of Higgs’s idea in this evolution.” (Catalogue)

Starry messenger : cosmic perspectives on civilisation / Tyson, Neil deGrasse
“Bringing his cosmic perspective to civilization on Earth, Neil deGrasse Tyson shines new light on the crucial fault lines of our time: war, politics, religion, truth, beauty, gender, race, and tribalism in a way that stimulates a deeper sense of unity for us all. This book reveals just how human the enterprise of science is. Far from a cold, unfeeling undertaking, scientific methods, tools, and discoveries have shaped modern civilisation and created the landscape we’ve built for ourselves on which to live, work, and play. […] From lessons on resolving global conflict to reminders of how precious it is to be alive, Tyson reveals, with warmth and eloquence, ten surprising, brilliant, and beautiful truths of human society, informed and enlightened by knowledge of our place in the universe.” (Catalogue)

An immense world : how animal senses reveal the hidden realms around us / Yong, Ed
“The Earth teems with sights and textures, sounds and vibrations, smells and tastes, electric and magnetic fields. But every animal is enclosed within its own unique sensory bubble, perceiving only a tiny sliver of an immense world. This book welcomes us into previously unfathomable dimensions – the world as it is truly perceived by other animals.” (Catalogue)

The plant hunter’s atlas : a world tour of botanical adventures, chance discoveries and strange specimens / Edwards, Ambra
“Circling the globe from Australia’s Botany Bay to the Tibetan Plateau, from the deserts of Southern Africa to the jungles of Brazil, this books presents an incredible cast of characters — dedicated researchers and reckless adventurers, physicians, lovers and thieves. Meet dauntless Scots explorer David Douglas and visionary Prussian thinker Alexander von Humboldt, the ‘Green Samurai’ Mikinori Ogisu and the interpid 17th century entomologist Maria Sibylla Merian — the first woman known to have made a living from science. Beautifully illustrated with over 100 botanical artworks from the archives of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, this absorbing book tells the stories of how plants have travelled across the world — from the missions of the Pharaohs right up to 21st century seed-banks and the many new and endangered species being named every year.” (Catalogue)

Breathless : the scientific race to defeat a deadly virus / Quammen, David
“Here is the story of SARS-CoV-2 and its fierce journey through the human population, as seen by the scientists who study its origin, its ever-changing nature, and its capacity to kill us. David Quammen expertly shows how strange new viruses emerge from animals into humans as we disrupt wild ecosystems, and how those viruses adapt to their human hosts, sometimes causing global catastrophe. […] Breathless takes us inside the frantic international effort to understand and control SARS-CoV-2 as if peering over the shoulders of the brilliant scientists who led the chase.” (Catalogue)

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