I recall that it wasn’t long ago that Canadian scientists were being told not to speak up in public about their exciting research. Mmm… when did evidence-based knowledge become all of a sudden subversive? Now the Trump Administration is doing its best to erode public confidence in science by gutting the Environmental Protection Agency budget, removing all mention of climate change from US government web sites, and cutting money from other science-based programs. By rolling back environmental regulations are they betting that society will be grateful for a few dollars saved while the earth becomes increasingly unlivable? This seems so myopic to me, but I digress. Reviewing recently published scientific books, I am amazed at the quality and quantity of what is coming to our shelves (and e-readers). Apparently scientific learning has not stopped, and the following titles are proof that at least some of us are hopelessly curious at deepening our knowledge of the world we live in, and us who live in it.
Neil DeGrasse Tyson, the inspirational popularizer of modern science, spoke about the importance of never giving up our desire to understand: “During our brief stay on planet Earth, we owe ourselves and our descendants the opportunity to explore — in part because it’s fun to do. But there’s a far nobler reason. The day our knowledge of the cosmos ceases to expand, we risk regressing to the childish view that the universe figuratively and literally revolves around us.” Well put.
Here are those promised titles:
Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli
“… a book about the joy of discovery. Carlo Rovelli brings a playful, entertaining, and mind-bending introduction to modern physics, offering surprising–and surprisingly easy to grasp–explanations of Einstein’s general relativity, quantum mechanics, elementary particles, gravity, black holes, the complex architecture of the universe and the role humans play in this weird and wonderful world. He takes us to the frontiers of our knowledge: to the most minute reaches of the fabric of space, back to the origins of the cosmos, and into the workings of our minds. ‘Here, on the edge of what we know, in contact with the ocean of the unknown, shines the mystery and the beauty of the world,’ Rovelli writes. ‘And it’s breathtaking.'”
Why Time Flies by Alan Burdick
“In this witty and meditative exploration, award-winning author and New Yorker staff writer Alan Burdick takes readers on a personal quest to understand how time gets in us and why we perceive it the way we do. In the company of scientists, he visits the most accurate clock in the world (which exists only on paper); discovers that ‘now’ actually happened a split-second ago; finds a twenty-fifth hour in the day; lives in the Arctic to lose all sense of time; and, for one fleeting moment in a neuroscientist’s lab, even makes time go backward. Why Time Flies is an instant classic, a vivid and intimate examination of the clocks that tick inside us all.” (Publisher summary)
“In 1917, working alone in a remote Swiss asylum, psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach devised an experiment to probe the human mind: a set of ten carefully designed inkblots. For years he had grappled with the theories of Freud and Jung while also absorbing the aesthetic movements of the day, from Futurism to Dadaism. A visual artist himself, Rorschach had come to believe that who we are is less a matter of what we say, as Freud thought, than what we see.” (Publisher summary)
Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction by Derek Thompson
“In his groundbreaking investigation, Atlantic senior editor Derek Thompson uncovers the hidden psychology of why we like what we like and reveals the economics of cultural markets that invisibly shape our lives. Shattering the sentimental myths of hit-making that dominate pop culture and business, Thompson shows quality is insufficient for success, nobody has ‘good taste,’ and some of the most popular products in history were one bad break away from utter failure. It may be a new world, but there are some enduring truths to what audiences and consumers want. People love a familiar surprise: a product that is bold, yet sneakily recognizable.” (Publisher summary)
“In this revolutionary book, Adam Alter, a professor of psychology and marketing at NYU, tracks the rise of behavioral addiction, and explains why so many of today’s products are irresistable. Though these miraculous products melt the miles that separate people across the globe, their extraordinary and sometimes damaging magnetism is no accident. The companies that design these products tweak them over time until they become almost impossible to resist.” (Publisher summary)
Climate Change and the Health of Nations: Famines, Fevers, and the Fate of Populations by Anthony J. McMichael
“When we think of ‘climate change,’ we think of man-made global warming, caused by greenhouse gas emissions. But natural climate change has occurred throughout human history, and populations have had to adapt to the climate’s vicissitudes. Anthony J. McMichael, a renowned epidemiologist and a pioneer in the field of how human health relates to climate change, is the ideal person to tell this story.” (Publisher summary)
“In Finding God in the Waves, ‘Science Mike’ draws on his personal experience to tell the unlikely story of how science led him back to faith. Among other revelations, we learn what brain scans reveal about what happens when we pray; how fundamentalism affects the psyche; and how God is revealed not only in scripture but in the night sky, in subatomic particles, and in us.” (Publisher summary)
“A sharp-eyed exploration of the promise and peril of having children in an age of genetic tests and interventions. Is screening for disease in an embryo a humane form of family planning or a slippery slope toward eugenics? Should doctors tell you that your infant daughter is genetically predisposed to breast cancer? If tests revealed that your toddler has a genetic mutation whose significance isn’t clear, would you want to know?” (Publisher summary)
Option B by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant
“Option B combines Sheryl’s personal insights with Adam’s eye-opening research on finding strength in the face of adversity. Beginning with the gut-wrenching moment when she finds her husband collapsed on a gym floor, Sheryl opens up her heart–and her journal–to describe the acute grief and isolation she felt in the wake of his death. But Option B goes beyond Sheryl’s loss to explore how a broad range of people have overcome hardships including illness, job loss, sexual assault, natural disasters, and the violence of war. Their stories reveal the capacity of the human spirit to persevere… and to rediscover joy.” (Publisher summary)
Enjoy your reading and appreciation of science in 2017!