This is a short list of science books that came out over the last year that I’ve reviewed, and thought you might do well to be reminded of. Since your holiday shopping list surely includes targets with a range of demographics interests, I made this a diverse list. Continue reading Gift Guide: Science and technology books for adults and kids
I remember reading Living Fossil: The Story of the Coelacanth by Thomson when it first came out. There actually were not a lot of science for the masses books back then, or should I say, the rate of production was low compared to recent decades. It is an interesting story.
In the winter of 1938, a fishing boat by chance dragged from the Indian Ocean a fish thought extinct for 70 million years. It was a coelacanth, which thrived concurrently with dinosaurs and pterodactyls—an animal of major importance to those who study the history of vertebrate life.
Living Fossil describes the life and habitat of the coelacanth and what scientists have learned about it during fifty years of research. It is an exciting and very human story, filled with ambitious and brilliant people, that reveals much about the practice of modern science.
Some day over a beer I can tell you my coelocanth-Stephen Jay Gould story. Good beer story, not a good writing story.
Anyway, at that link, the book is $1.99 in Kindle format.
Not strictly science but skepticism, so I thought it might be of interest, is Talking to the Dead: Kate and Maggie Fox and the Rise of Spiritualism by Barbara Weisberg.
A fascinating story of spirits and conjurors, skeptics and converts in the second half of nineteenth century America viewed through the lives of Kate and Maggie Fox, the sisters whose purported communication with the dead gave rise to the Spiritualism movement – and whose recanting forty years later is still shrouded in mystery.
In March of 1848, Kate and Maggie Fox – sisters aged 11 and 14 – anxiously reported to a neighbor that they had been hearing strange, unidentified sounds in their house. From a sequence of knocks and rattles translated by the young girls as a “voice from beyond,” the Modern Spiritualism movement was born.
Talking to the Dead follows the fascinating story of the two girls who were catapulted into an odd limelight after communicating with spirits that March night. Within a few years, tens of thousands of Americans were flocking to seances. An international movement followed. Yet thirty years after those first knocks, the sisters shocked the country by denying they had ever contacted spirits. Shortly after, the sisters once again changed their story and reaffirmed their belief in the spirit world. Weisberg traces not only the lives of the Fox sisters and their family (including their mysterious Svengali–like sister Leah) but also the social, religious, economic and political climates that provided the breeding ground for the movement. While this is a thorough, compelling overview of a potent time in US history, it is also an incredible ghost story.
An entertaining read – a story of spirits and conjurors, skeptics and converts – Talking to the Dead is full of emotion and surprise. Yet it will also provoke questions that were being asked in the 19th century, and are still being asked today – how do we know what we know, and how secure are we in our knowledge?
I’m not sure if this is a good find or not, but have a look. You will be out $1.99 for the Kindle version.
Bill Nye’s Everything All at Once: How to unleash your inner nerd, tap into radical curiosity, and solve any problem on Kindle is available for 2.99.
Everyone has an inner nerd just waiting to be awakened by the right passion. In Everything All at Once, Bill Nye will help you find yours. With his call to arms, he wants you to examine every detail of the most difficult problems that look unsolvable–that is, until you find the solution. Bill shows you how to develop critical thinking skills and create change, using his “everything all at once” approach that leaves no stone unturned.
Whether addressing climate change, the future of our society as a whole, or personal success, or stripping away the mystery of fire walking, there are certain strategies that get results: looking at the world with relentless curiosity, being driven by a desire for a better future, and being willing to take the actions needed to make change happen. He shares how he came to create this approach–starting with his Boy Scout training (it turns out that a practical understanding of science and engineering is immensely helpful in a capsizing canoe) and moving through the lessons he learned as a full-time engineer at Boeing, a stand-up comedian, CEO of The Planetary Society, and, of course, as Bill Nye The Science Guy.
This is the story of how Bill Nye became Bill Nye and how he became a champion of change and an advocate of science. It’s how he became The Science Guy. Bill teaches us that we have the power to make real change. Join him in dare we say it changing the world.
I’m not endorsing the following book because I don’t know much about it, and I’m not that big on behavioral economics or listening to them. Too risky. But, I thought some of you might want to know because it is cheap. Thus, being misinformed is not as bad if you pay less for it!
But seriously, this might be a great book, I really don’t know. Have a look: The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone–Especially Ourselves.
I’ve always been interested in canals, and I’m actually one of the few archaeologists in North America who has worked on them. They tend to contain either very little else but water, or a lot of trash (depending on if they are in use or not) and always contain very interesting fish.
Anyway, Wedding of the Waters: The Erie Canal and the Making of a Great Nation is about the builiding of the Erie Canal and the meaaning of that event. I’m looking forward to reading this, and it is only $1.99!
CheMystery authored by C. Al Preece is a graphic superhero novel, drawn by Josh Reynolds, that teaches — wait for it — Chemistry!
A radiation accident transforms two youngsters into superheros, and simultaneously creates an evil villain for them to fight. The graphic novel covers that story and is indurated with frequent cleverly placed molecule size chemistry lessons.
Teachers need to know that this book complies with Next Gen science standards and is very classroom friendly. Indeed, author Preece is a chemistry and physical science teacher (and a trained chemist).
It is a great read, an engaging story, and the lessons are informative and easy on the eyes. I recommend it for the youth in your life who is into science. Teachers should have a look at it!
Some potentially interesting science related books cheap now in Kindle format:
We know it simply as “the pill,” yet its genesis was anything but simple. Jonathan Eig’s masterful narrative revolves around four principal characters: the fiery feminist Margaret Sanger, who was a champion of birth control in her campaign for the rights of women but neglected her own children in pursuit of free love; the beautiful Katharine McCormick, who owed her fortune to her wealthy husband, the son of the founder of International Harvester and a schizophrenic; the visionary scientist Gregory Pincus, who was dismissed by Harvard in the 1930s as a result of his experimentation with in vitro fertilization but who, after he was approached by Sanger and McCormick, grew obsessed with the idea of inventing a drug that could stop ovulation; and the telegenic John Rock, a Catholic doctor from Boston who battled his own church to become an enormously effective advocate in the effort to win public approval for the drug that would be marketed by Searle as Enovid.
Spanning the years from Sanger’s heady Greenwich Village days in the early twentieth century to trial tests in Puerto Rico in the 1950s to the cusp of the sexual revolution in the 1960s, this is a grand story of radical feminist politics, scientific ingenuity, establishment opposition, and, ultimately, a sea change in social attitudes. Brilliantly researched and briskly written, The Birth of the Pill is gripping social, cultural, and scientific history.
Weaponized Lies: How to Think Critically in the Post-Truth Era by Daniel J. Levitin
Investigating numerical misinformation, Daniel Levitin shows how mishandled statistics and graphs can give a grossly distorted perspective and lead us to terrible decisions. Wordy arguments on the other hand can easily be persuasive as they drift away from the facts in an appealing yet misguided way. The steps we can take to better evaluate news, advertisements, and reports are clearly detailed. Ultimately, Levitin turns to what underlies our ability to determine if something is true or false: the scientific method. He grapples with the limits of what we can and cannot know. Case studies are offered to demonstrate the applications of logical thinking to quite varied settings, spanning courtroom testimony, medical decision making, magic, modern physics, and conspiracy theories.
This urgently needed book enables us to avoid the extremes of passive gullibility and cynical rejection. As Levitin attests: Truth matters. A post-truth era is an era of willful irrationality, reversing all the great advances humankind has made. Euphemisms like “fringe theories,” “extreme views,” “alt truth,” and even “fake news” can literally be dangerous. Let’s call lies what they are and catch those making them in the act.
Dear Data by Giorgia Lupi, Stefanie Posavec, Maria Popova.
Equal parts mail art, data visualization, and affectionate correspondence, Dear Data celebrates “the infinitesimal, incomplete, imperfect, yet exquisitely human details of life,” in the words of Maria Popova (Brain Pickings), who introduces this charming and graphically powerful book. For one year, Giorgia Lupi, an Italian living in New York, and Stefanie Posavec, an American in London, mapped the particulars of their daily lives as a series of hand-drawn postcards they exchanged via mail weekly—small portraits as full of emotion as they are data, both mundane and magical. Dear Data reproduces in pinpoint detail the full year’s set of cards, front and back, providing a remarkable portrait of two artists connected by their attention to the details of their lives—including complaints, distractions, phone addictions, physical contact, and desires. These details illuminate the lives of two remarkable young women and also inspire us to map our own lives, including specific suggestions on what data to draw and how. A captivating and unique book for designers, artists, correspondents, friends, and lovers everywhere.
Let’s start with CheMystery.
This is a fun graphic novel mystery book by C.A. Preece and Josh Reynolds. Two cousins experience an incident that would make a physicist cry, but that works in a chemistry book because they now have the ability to observe and change matter. So this is a superhero book, designed to teach chemistry. The story is great, the science is great, and the pedagogy is well suited for kids and adults that like graphic novels.
Preece is the chem teacher (high school) and Reynolds is the artist.
This is written for grades 7 through 10 (ages 8-12) but some younger kids will do fine with it.
This book is pretty new, but I think it is available.
Here are some books that are currently available cheap on Kindle, for anywhere from free to two bucks, that are either science or otherwise, I suspect, of interest to readers of this blog:
I know some of you cheapskates will want to pick up these books … well, not really pick them up, but rather, instantiate them on your eReader. These are all 2 bucks or less for the Kindle version, at the moment, price presumably subject to change at any moment.
How the mind might or might not work
This is a collection of writings by various experts on how the mind works. They are not all right, but they are all intertesting. Includes Pinker, Lakoff, etc. Personally, I think there is a bit of a bias in the listing of authors towards a certain school of thought that I don’t personally think nails the mind down very well, but most of these essays are worth reading even if it is just to yell at them: The Mind: Leading Scientists Explore the Brain, Memory, Personality, and Happiness
A book by Sean B. Carrroll
The never-before-told account of the intersection of some of the most insightful minds of the 20th century, and a fascinating look at how war, resistance, and friendship can catalyze genius.
In the spring of 1940, the aspiring but unknown writer Albert Camus and budding scientist Jacques Monod were quietly pursuing ordinary, separate lives in Paris. After the German invasion and occupation of France, each joined the Resistance to help liberate the country from the Nazis and ascended to prominent, dangerous roles. After the war and through twists of circumstance, they became friends, and through their passionate determination and rare talent they emerged as leading voices of modern literature and biology, each receiving the Nobel Prize in their respective fields.
Drawing upon a wealth of previously unpublished and unknown material gathered over several years of research, Brave Genius tells the story of how each man endured the most terrible episode of the twentieth century and then blossomed into extraordinarily creative and engaged individuals. It is a story of the transformation of ordinary lives into exceptional lives by extraordinary events–of courage in the face of overwhelming adversity, the flowering of creative genius, deep friendship, and of profound concern for and insight into the human condition.
It might too late for this one
I don’t know anything about this book, so I’m not really recommending it, but it is only 2 bucks.
We live in complicated, dangerous times. Present and future presidents need to know if North Korea’s nascent nuclear capability is a genuine threat to the West, if biochemical weapons are likely to be developed by terrorists, if there are viable alternatives to fossil fuels that should be nurtured and supported by the government, if private companies should be allowed to lead the way on space exploration, and what the actual facts are about the worsening threats from climate change. This is “must-have” information for all presidents—and citizens—of the twenty-first century.
How to talk to Rick Perry about climate change
How to Change Minds About Our Changing Climate dismantles all the most pernicious misunderstandings using the strongest explanations science has to offer. Armed with airtight arguments, you’ll never be at a loss for words again—no matter how convincing or unexpected the misconception you’re faced with. And with our planet’s future in our hands, the time to change minds is now: The sooner we can agree, once and for all, that climate change is a significant threat to our well-being, the sooner we can start to do something about it.
How to Change Minds About Our Changing Climate: Let Science Do the Talking the Next Time Someone Tries to Tell You…The Climate Isn’t Changing; Global Warming … Other Arguments It’s Time to End for Good
Now for something entirely different
I’ve not read these, though I’ve got them on my eShelf, but I know most of you have either read them or plan on doing so. These are the “golden compass” books. I don’t know much about them but I know they are popular among non-believers/atheists/scientists/nerds/geeks, and they happen to have gotten suddenly cheap.
Here I have just a few suggestions for science books for the kiddos. See this post for the adult version.
Treecology is also a science activity book that people seem to love. Chance are you already have it. Obviously, it focuses on trees, but that does not stop it from being year round, and there are, of course, many non-tree things that relate to trees, and that stuff is covered as well. My review.
Electronics for Kids and The Arduino Project Handbook are great DIY books, the first explicitly for kids, and the second for older kids or adults, or younger kids working with older kids. Click the links to see my reviews.
For kids into math and related fields, check out the Manga guides. Here, I review the latest one on Regression Analysis, and in that post, I’ve got a list of the others.
For smaller kids, there is a new (early last year) David Macaulay book on machines. The book itself is, in fact, a machine.
Here is my selection of the top science books from 2016, excluding those mainly for kids. Also, I don’t include climate change related books here either. (These will both be covered in separate posts.)
The number of books on this list is not large, and I think this was not the most prolific year ever for top science books. But, the ones on the list are great! For brevity, I’m mostly using the publisher’s info below. Where I’ve reviewed the book, there is a link to that review. Click through to the reviews if you want to read my commentary, but in most cases, you can judge these books by their covers.
The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars by Dava Sobel
In the mid-nineteenth century, the Harvard College Observatory began employing women as calculators, or “human computers,” to interpret the observations their male counterparts made via telescope each night. At the outset this group included the wives, sisters, and daughters of the resident astronomers, but soon the female corps included graduates of the new women’s colleges—Vassar, Wellesley, and Smith. As photography transformed the practice of astronomy, the ladies turned from computation to studying the stars captured nightly on glass photographic plates.
The “glass universe” of half a million plates that Harvard amassed over the ensuing decades—through the generous support of Mrs. Anna Palmer Draper, the widow of a pioneer in stellar photography—enabled the women to make extraordinary discoveries that attracted worldwide acclaim. They helped discern what stars were made of, divided the stars into meaningful categories for further research, and found a way to measure distances across space by starlight. Their ranks included Williamina Fleming, a Scottish woman originally hired as a maid who went on to identify ten novae and more than three hundred variable stars; Annie Jump Cannon, who designed a stellar classification system that was adopted by astronomers the world over and is still in use; and Dr. Cecilia Helena Payne, who in 1956 became the first ever woman professor of astronomy at Harvard—and Harvard’s first female department chair.
In short chapters filled with intriguing historical anecdotes, personal asides, and rigorous exposition, readers learn the difference between how the world works at the quantum level, the cosmic level, and the human level—and then how each connects to the other. Carroll’s presentation of the principles that have guided the scientific revolution from Darwin and Einstein to the origins of life, consciousness, and the universe is dazzlingly unique.
Carroll shows how an avalanche of discoveries in the past few hundred years has changed our world and what really matters to us. Our lives are dwarfed like never before by the immensity of space and time, but they are redeemed by our capacity to comprehend it and give it meaning.
Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World by Rachel Ignotofsky
A charmingly illustrated and educational book, New York Times best seller Women in Science highlights the contributions of fifty notable women to the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) from the ancient to the modern world.
Full of striking, singular art, this fascinating collection also contains infographics about relevant topics such as lab equipment, rates of women currently working in STEM fields, and an illustrated scientific glossary.
The trailblazing women profiled include well-known figures like primatologist Jane Goodall, as well as lesser-known pioneers such as Katherine Johnson, the African-American physicist and mathematician who calculated the trajectory of the 1969 Apollo 11 mission to the moon.
Women in Science celebrates the achievements of the intrepid women who have paved the way for the next generation of female engineers, biologists, mathematicians, doctors, astronauts, physicists, and more!
Every animal, whether human, squid, or wasp, is home to millions of bacteria and other microbes. Ed Yong, whose humor is as evident as his erudition, prompts us to look at ourselves and our animal companions in a new light—less as individuals and more as the interconnected, interdependent multitudes we assuredly are.
The microbes in our bodies are part of our immune systems and protect us from disease. In the deep oceans, mysterious creatures without mouths or guts depend on microbes for all their energy. Bacteria provide squid with invisibility cloaks, help beetles to bring down forests, and allow worms to cause diseases that afflict millions of people.
Many people think of microbes as germs to be eradicated, but those that live with us—the microbiome—build our bodies, protect our health, shape our identities, and grant us incredible abilities. In this astonishing book, Ed Yong takes us on a grand tour through our microbial partners, and introduces us to the scientists on the front lines of discovery. It will change both our view of nature and our sense of where we belong in it.
The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate—Discoveries from a Secret World by Peter Wohlleben
Are trees social beings? In this international bestseller, forester and author Peter Wohlleben convincingly makes the case that, yes, the forest is a social network. He draws on groundbreaking scientific discoveries to describe how trees are like human families: tree parents live together with their children, communicate with them, support them as they grow, share nutrients with those who are sick or struggling, and even warn each other of impending dangers. Wohlleben also shares his deep love of woods and forests, explaining the amazing processes of life, death, and regeneration he has observed in his woodland.
After learning about the complex life of trees, a walk in the woods will never be the same again.
Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
An illuminating debut memoir of a woman in science; a moving portrait of a longtime friendship; and a stunningly fresh look at plants that will forever change how you see the natural world
Acclaimed scientist Hope Jahren has built three laboratories in which she’s studied trees, flowers, seeds, and soil. Her first book is a revelatory treatise on plant life—but it is also so much more.
Lab Girl is a book about work, love, and the mountains that can be moved when those two things come together. It is told through Jahren’s remarkable stories: about her childhood in rural Minnesota with an uncompromising mother and a father who encouraged hours of play in his classroom’s labs; about how she found a sanctuary in science, and learned to perform lab work done “with both the heart and the hands”; and about the inevitable disappointments, but also the triumphs and exhilarating discoveries, of scientific work.
Yet at the core of this book is the story of a relationship Jahren forged with a brilliant, wounded man named Bill, who becomes her lab partner and best friend. Their sometimes rogue adventures in science take them from the Midwest across the United States and back again, over the Atlantic to the ever-light skies of the North Pole and to tropical Hawaii, where she and her lab currently make their home.
This book is an interesting idea. Never mind the field guide part for a moment. This isn’t really set up like a field guide, though it is produced by the excellent producers of excellent field guides at Princeton. But think about the core idea here. Take every group of mammal, typically at the level of Order (Mammal is class, there are more than two dozen living orders with about 5,000 species) and ask for each one, “what does the fossil record look like.” In some cases, a very few living species are related to a huge diversity of extinct ones. In some cases, a highly diverse living fauna is related to a much smaller number of extinct ones. And each of these different relationships between the present and the past is a different and interesting evolutionary story.
If you looked only at the living mammals, you would miss a lot because there has been so much change in the past.
The giant sloths may be extinct, but Don Prothero himself is a giant of our age among fossil experts. His primary area of expertise includes the fossil mammals (especially but not at all limited to rhinos). I believe it is true that he has personally handled more fossil mammalian material, in terms of taxonomic breath and time depth, across more institutional collections, than anyone.
Venomous: How Earth’s Deadliest Creatures Mastered Biochemistry by Christie Wilcox
Christie Wilcox’s book is one of the better science books I’ve read in some time. This is an area I should know something about, as a biological scientist, and as a person who has lived for years in the venom-rich rain forest. But I still found myself learning something new with every page turn. Wilcox has studied venom for years — this is her area of specialty — and her text is enriched with well placed and well told stories of her own sometimes harrowing experiences.
The book is very well written and very well documented with copious notes.
A fascinating subtext has to do with human evolution and experience. There is a theory that primates generally are tuned to venomous creatures, especially snakes, and some of the key primate evolutionary adaptations are shaped by the experience of living in trees where large venomous snakes hunt. In the present day, there is what looks to me almost like a cult of self envenomation, found among people who keep venomous snakes (mainly), who inject themselves with venom regularly in order to stay, maybe, immune in case of an accidental bite. But they seem to be doing something more than this, almost using the venom as a sort of drug or, fascinatingly, as an elixir to extend life. On top of this, there is even an expanding practice of using snake bites, or ingesting the powdered form of snake venom, as a recreational drug. This set of not too unrelated human stories sits intriguingly amid myriad stories of venom use among a wide range of animals, including several mammals, fish, cone snails, snakes and lizards, etc.
Some Other Books
There are a few other books that I want to mention, that are not strictly science books, or that are great but that would appeal to a narrower audience.
The first is a book you should buy instead of a science book, this year, if you are only going to buy one book. This is Shawn Otto’s “The War On Science.” I’ve written a review of it here. Please follow through to the review, look it over, then get yourself a copy of this important book.
Howard Wainer’s “Truth or Truthiness” appeals to people who consider themselves skeptics, but may not be as much interest to a wider audience. But if you call yourself a Skeptic and have not seen it yet, have a look it!
Earthquake Time Bombs is an important book to read if you live in an earthquake area and care that YOU ARE ALL GONNA DIE!!! No, but seriously, Robert Yeats is THE expert on earthquake risk and hazard, and I loved this book even though I don’t live in an earthquake prone area. But, I’m really into geology. Are you? If so, check it out.
Anyone interested in, or engaged in, the Evolution-Creation discussion should have a copy of THe Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth on their shelf. Check out my review to see why.
I’ve reviewed, researched, and generally looked around for a selection of gifts that could work for kids ranging from very small to High School (and beyond!?!?) that are science oriented.
The best kids coding books these days are probably those that use scratch. Before suggesting a couple, though, consider, especailly for older kids (middle and high school) this fairly recent Python language book that focuses on Minecraft: Learn to Program with Minecraft: Transform Your World with the Power of Python HERE is my review.
These are my suggestions, mostly books, for holiday gifts that have some sort of science relevance. See this guide for gift ideas for kids. (There is a pretty good chance that there is an idea or two in the Kids Guide for the adult in your life, depending on the adult.)
For your Uncle Bob
Get ready for your favorite science-denying uncle, whom we all know of as “Uncle Bob” (though he goes by many different names) with these two important books related to climate change.
If your Uncle Bob is an Evangelical Christian.
Or, really, any kind of Christian.
My friend Paul Douglas has co-authored a book on climate change written specifically for Evangelicals: Caring for Creation: The Evangelical’s Guide to Climate Change and a Healthy Environment.
The book’s structure swaps back and forth between science (the parts written by Paul Douglas) and scripture (the parts written by co-author Mitch Hescox). I don’t know Mitch, but from the blurb I learn: “Mitch Hescox leads the Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN), the largest evangelical group dedicated to creation care (www.creationcare.org). He has testified before Congress, spoken at the White House, and is quoted frequently in national press. Prior to EEN, he pastored a church for 18 years and worked in the coal industry. Mitch and his wife live in Pennsylvania.”
Now, you might think that the chances of an Evangelical Christian reading my blog is about zero. This is not true. Many Christians, ranging from Evangelical to less-than-angelical read this blog, they just don’t say much in the comments section. Except those who do, mainly those denying the science of climate change. Well, this book is for all of you, especially the Evangelical deniers, because here, the case is made on your terms and in your language, in a very convincing way, and, including the science. It turns out that, according to the Bible, you are wrong on the Internet.
Let’s say that you are a fairly active atheist who likes to annoy your Christian relatives at holidays. If that is the case, then this book is for you!! This is the book to give to your Uncle Bob.
I can’t attest to the scriptural parts of this book. This is not because I’m unfamiliar with Scripture or have nothing to say about it. Both assumptions would be highly erroneous. But, in fact, I did not explore those parts of this book in much detail, just a little. But I am very familiar with the science in this book, I’ve delved deeply into it, and I can tell you that Paul has it right, and it is very current.
If Your Uncle Bob is Investment Savvy
Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know® by Joe Romm is the ideal climate change book for the person who is always checking their stock portfolio or watching the real estate market, or, simply, planning on moving or retiring soon. It is is also a very up to date examination of climate change science, the effects of climate change on humans, policy related problems, and energy-related solutions. Everyone should read this book, and if you teach earth system sciences you should consider using this book as a guide in your teaching, or in some cases, assigning it in class. The book is written to be read by general audiences, so it would work well in a high school or college setting.
As Romm points out, climate change will have more of an impact on humans, including you, than even the Internet. It is an existential issue. Romm acknowledges that some of these impacts are already happening, but that future impacts are likely to be very significant. Over the last 10 years or so, we have seen remarkable superstorms, significant drought, notable wildfires, and killer heat waves. These events have made people sit up and take notice. For this reason, more people want to know more about climate change, and indeed, everyone should know something about this problem. Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know® is an effort to provide that information to the average person.
While we are on the subject of Climate Change, here are must have, must read titles that are not necessarily new, but always worth mentioning. I’m giving you links to my reviews so you can find out more.
<li><a href="http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2016/08/24/mad-about-science-denial-this-book-is-for-you-and-your-uncle-bob/">The Madhouse Effect</a>, by Michael Mann and Tom Toles, is an excellent holiday gift. Not only is it a festive red in color, but it is full of cartoons. It is current, forceful, an excellent choice given the current political circumstances. </li> <li><a href="http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2015/04/30/dire-predictions-understanding-climate-change-must-read-book/">Dire Predictions: Understanding Climate Change</a>, by Michael Mann. This is the IPCCC "Scientific Basis" report converted into a very readable and illustration rich format. This is the book I give to science teachers. </li> <li><a href="http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2015/03/11/climatology-versus-pseudoscience-exposing-the-failed-predictions-of-global-warming-skeptics/">Climatology Versus Pseudoscience: Exposing the Failed Predictions of Global Warming Skeptics</a>, by Dana Nuccitelli. This book proves that climate skeptics are FOS. </li>
Science skepticism and denial
The War on Science: Who’s Waging It, Why It Matters, What We Can Do About It, by Shawn Otto is one of the most important science books to come out in several years.
This is not Yet Another Popular Book on how people don’t get science. This is a very well written, accessible, thoughtful analysis of the history of science vs. anti-science from the beginning of modern science itself, but focusing on the recent and current anti-science effort. Why is this happening? Who is doing it? What can be done about it?
This and much more is all covered. Also, since the book has been out for a few months now, the price has dropped so get a copy cheap!
I’ve written a detailed review with extensive commentary HERE.
A second book I’ll mention in this category is “Truth or Turthiness” by Howard Wainer. I wrote a review of that book here. Give this to your favorite skeptic so they can hone their skills.
The giant sloths may be extinct, but Don Prothero himself is a giant of our age among fossil experts. His primary area of expertise includes the fossil mammals (especially but not at all limited to rhinos). I believe it is true that he has personally handled more fossil mammalian material, in terms of taxonomic breath and time depth, across more institutional collections, than anyone.
A typical entry focuses on an order, and the orders are arranged in a taxonomically logical manner. A living or classic fossil representative is depicted, along with some boney material, in the form of drawings. Artist’s reconstructions, photographs, maps, and other material, with phylogenetic charting where appropriate, fills out the overview of that order.
The text is expert and informative, and very interesting. the quality of the presentation is to notch. The format of the book is large enough to let the artistry of the production emerge, but it is not a big too heavy floppy monster like some coffee table books are. This is a very comfortable book to sit and read, or browse.
I should also mention Don Prothero’s other book, just out at the end of last year so maybe you already have this, “The Story of Life in 25 Fossils.” I reviewed it here.
“The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth is an excellent geological overview of that amazing place. But it is also, explicitly, extensively and intensively, an exploration of the creationist view of the Grand Canyon, and the Canyon’s role in proving that evolution is not real.
It turns out that Evolution is real, the canyon is amazing, and this book is another excellent choice of a volume to pass on to a teacher in your local middle school or high school. I review it here.
Here is a list of general science books that I regard as excellent. Where I’ve written a review, I’ll link you through to that review, where I’ve not yet posted a review, I’ll link you through to the book itself on Amazon.
<li><a href="http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2016/07/15/venomous-how-the-earths-deadliest-creatures-mastered-biochemistry/">Venomous: How the Earth’s Deadliest Creatures Mastered Biochemistry</a>, by Christie Wilcox is just plain fun. And, disturbing at many levels. A great read. You won't be able to put it down, but if you do put it down, check for scorpions first!</li> <li><a href="http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2016/02/11/the-serengeti-rules-the-quest-to-discover-how-life-works-and-why-it-matters-book-review/">The Serengeti Rules: The Quest to Discover How Life Works and Why It Matters</a> by Sean (The <strong>B</strong>iologist) Carroll uses the key principle of homeostasis to explore complex biological systems. Very readable, fascinating. </li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0062368591/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0062368591&linkCode=as2&tag=grlasbl0a-20&linkId=ae6dda6c59963fb2a33896f24ee7adcb">I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life</a><img src="//ir-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/ir?t=grlasbl0a-20&l=am2&o=1&a=0062368591" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" /> by Ed Yong is about the gazillion cells that live in and on you, and how they are really, well, you. This book is about what is regarded by many as another revolution in thinking about how life works. Great read. </li> <li>Do not. I repeat do not. Do not bring this book on your next airplane flight. You will learn things from <a target="_blank" href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0143127322/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0143127322&linkCode=as2&tag=grlasbl0a-20&linkId=f36c25867554f9981edfaa2f5ade91bc">The Crash Detectives: Investigating the World's Most Mysterious Air Disasters</a><img src="//ir-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/ir?t=grlasbl0a-20&l=am2&o=1&a=0143127322" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" /> that will amaze you and, frankly, freak you out. </li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1623493870/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=1623493870&linkCode=as2&tag=grlasbl0a-20&linkId=7a055e283bdd1e4337ab8502a03ff7c9">Alligators of Texas (Gulf Coast Books, sponsored by Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi)</a><img src="//ir-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/ir?t=grlasbl0a-20&l=am2&o=1&a=1623493870" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" /> by Louise Hayes (Photos by Philippe Henry) may be of local interest, but I include it here because it is an excellent monograph on this particular animal. If you live anywhere near the Gulf Coast, but especially Texas, this book needs to be near your back door. </li>
I have a handful of super excellent bird books that are new and should be of interest to anyone with a science bent, not just bird people.
Bird Brain: An Exploration of Avian Intelligence was written by Nathan Emery, who is a Senior Lecturer (that’s like a Professor of some sort, in America) at Queen Mary University, London. He researches the evolution of intelligence in animals, including primates and various birds, and yes, including the crows!
He and his team “…have found striking similarities in the behaviour, ecology, neurobiology and cognitive mechanisms of corvids (crows, rooks, jackdaws and jays) and apes. [Suggesting that] these similarities are adaptations for solving similar social and ecological problems, such as finding, protecting and extracting food and living in a complex social world.”
The book is really great, the best book out there right now on animal intelligence, possibly the best book so far this year on birds. This is the kind of book you want laying around the house or classroom to learn stuff from. If you are writing or teaching about anything in evolution or behavior, this is a great way to key into the current work on bird intelligence.
HERE is my full review of this book, including musings about the subject matter.
Another bird book, that I’ve also labeled as the best bird book of the year, is What the Robin Knows: How Birds Reveal the Secrets of the Natural World by Jon Young. This is an exploration of nature based on this premise: the robin knows everything about its environment, and this information is regularly conveyed via the bird’s call, or its behavior. By observing that behavior or understanding the robin’s vocalizations, you can poach that information and also know a lot about the immediate environment, which may be your own back yard, the area near your camping site, the wooded gully the enemy may approach you by, or a nearby park. (My full review is HERE.)
And, of course, it isn’t just the robin, it is all the animals including birds, insects, and everything else. But Young is talking about birds, and it is certainly true that in most or possibly all habitats, it is the birds that, owing to their diurnal and highly visible and sound oriented nature, are telling you all this information about your mutual surroundings as well as about the bird itself.
To me, birding (and nature watching in general) is not so much about lengthening one’s list (though that is always fun) but, rather, about observing and understanding behavior. Young explores this, teaches a great deal about it, and places this mode of observation in the context of countless stories, or potential stories, about the world you are sharing with the birds you are watching.
This is a four or five dimensional look at a multidimensional world. Lucky for us humans, as primates, we share visual and audio modalities, and mostly ignore odor, and we have overlapping ranges in those modalities (to varying degrees). But birds fly (most of them, anyway) and are small and fast and there are many of them. In many places we live, we are the only diurnal visually-oriented non-bird. Indeed, while I’m sure my cat communes with the rabbits at a level I can’t possibly understand, I’m pretty sure I get the birds in ways she could not possibly get her paws around. (Which is why we don’t let her out of the house. She would prefer to eat them, rather than appreciate them!)
This title is more for those specifically interested in birds. It is one of those books that looks at an entire category of birds over a large area. The title of Waterfowl of North America, Europe, and Asia: An Identification Guide, by Sébastien Reeber could be rewritten to say “Temperate and Subtropical Waterfowl of the Northern Hemisphere,” though that would be a bit misleading because a large percentage of these birds migrate long distances, so really, it is more like “Waterfowl of the world except the ones that stay in the tropics or otherwise don’t migrate north of the tropics,” but that would be a silly title.
Waterfowl of North America, Europe, and Asia: An Identification Guide is large format. The up and down and back and forth dimensions are not as large as Crossley’s bird guides, but it is way bigger than a field guide, and thick … 656 pages. The plates start on page 32 and the detailed text and photograph rich species accounts run from pages 177 to 616, to give you an idea of the balance and expansiveness found in this volume.
This book is organized in a unique way. There are two main parts. First, 72 plates show peterson-style drawings of all of the birds that are covered, with the drawings arranged on the right side, with basic ID information, range maps, and references to other parts of the book on the left side. This allows the user to find a particular bird fairly quickly. Importantly, the pictures cover both sex and age variations.
The second part of the book significantly expands on the plates, and is cross referenced by plate number, with extensive text and multiple photographs to add very rich detail.
So, when it comes to your preference for drawings vs. photographs, you can have your cake and eat it too. Also, when it comes to your need for a basic field guide vs. a more in depth discussion, you can have your cake and eat it too there as well.
This is really an idea gift book for a bird lover. Chances are they don’t have it, chances are, they’ll love it. Write a nice inscription in it.
We went to the local library the other day to find books in the range appropriate for Huxley to read. It isn’t sufficient to say he’s in the first grade. Between preschool and second grade, there are (in English, anyway) probably about four or five levels of reading ability, and kids move through them fast. In addition to that, there are who the heck knows how many different scales, developed by various individuals and organizations, to reflect reading levels. It is so complicated that there is actually a company that you can pay to tell you what reading level a book is.
So we asked the librarian to help. I should mention that this is a good library and the librarian seemed generally competent. But she wasn’t able to help much. It turns out that reading level is not part of the Library of Congress system. Or so I surmise.
Personally, I think this confusion stems from the apparent fact I noted above. Kids, when they start reading, go from chimpanzee to NYT reader in a couple/few years. There are many levels of ability in there, and really, of course they are not levels but rather arbitrary stages imposed on a continuum. Or a set of continua. The problem of categorizing early reading books is so difficult because all the different systems that attempt this run aground at the early end of the scale, and thus, so many different appearing systems. This is why, when you put tile on a wall, you don’t start on the bottom. You start a few rows up, and work your way down and up from there. That way you will not be foiled by the lack of level at the base, and your only cost is having to cut every one of the bottom tiles. This may seem like a digression but some day you will thank me for that information.
Anyway, I recently got a good look at a sample of DK Publisher’s “Learn To Read” books, which are have six categories, pr-1, 1, 2, 3, 4, and “Adventures.” OK, that’s a bit clumsy, but the key point here is that the numbered levels, 1 through 4, are consistent and meaningful categories.
Let me give you some examples of the text by reading level, followed by links to a selection of the more science oriented books. There are many books at each level, dealing with LEGO themes, super heroes, and other things.
A butterfly flits from leaf to leaf.
On each little leaf she lays one or two eggs.
She squeezes the eggs out of her body.
Level 2: Beginning to read alone
The air ambulance plane rescues injured people from places that are difficult to reach.
It can deliver people to the hospital much faster than an ordinary ambulance can
Emergency dispatchers often stay on the phone until help arrives. They talk to callers to keep them calm. Most importantly, they tell the caller what to do until the emergency services arrive.
Level 4: Proficient readers
Ride the little train that climbs high into the Alps in Switzerland, and you will be treated to some of the finest mountain scenery in the world. From a small alpine town, the red train makes a steep climb up the Jungfrau mountain and past a famous peak called the Eiger. Many climbers dies on the sheer north face of the Eiger before it was finally scaled in 1938.
You can see changes in vocabulary, sentence structure, tone, topic, etc. Not visible in these samples are change in typeface (larger to smaller) and the overall structure of the books. The lower levels tend to have pictures and words. The higher levels add captions to the pictures, sidebars, etc.
DK books are always good, and they do a pretty good job with science. I won’t quibble with details on little kids books (such as the lack of attention to biogeography and central evolutionary paradigms). These are a far sight better than the science books I had access to when I was a kid!