Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Fascinating World of Science

I love to read books about science, although I must admit that lately I've fallen for the lure of the novel and haven't gotten back to my non-fiction roots. While I've been away, a bunch of new books have come into the store that look quite interesting -- here's a taste of some:

  • Galapagos at the Crossroads: Pirates, Biologists, Tourists, and Creationists Battle for Darwin's Cradle of Evolution, by Carol Ann Bassett ($26, National Geographic). Bassett teaches environmental writing and literary nonfiction athe University of Oregon and directs an ongoing summer program for her students on environmental writing in the Galapagos. Her portrait of today’s Gal├ípagos depicts a deadly collision of economics, politics, and the environment that may destroy one of the world’s last Edens. Each chapter in this provocative, perceptive book focuses on a specific person or group with a stake in the Gal├ípagos’ natural resources. Told with wit, passion, and grace, the portrait is as readable as it is sensible.

  • Plan Bee: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Hardest-Working Creatures on the Plant, by Susan Brackney ($21.95, Perigee/Penguin). Brackney is a beekeeper, nature writer, and avid gardener in Bloomington, Indiana. Humble, hard-working, overtaxed, and underrecognized, the honeybee finally gets her due in this engaging, whimsical, and expertly written guided tour of the world of bees, filled with fascinating facts, inspiring insights, expert recipes (cooked bees?), and instructions.

  • Central Park in the Dark: More Mysteries of Urban Wildlife, by Marie Winn ($15, Picador). By the author of Red-Tails in Love, this new book explores a natural world that flourishes in the midst of a crowded and mechanized city. The exuberant essays lead the reader through the cycle of seasons as experienced by nocturnal beasts (raccoons, bats, black skimmers), insects (moths, wasps, fireflies, crickets), and other denizens of the park's trees and swamps and thickets. Alongside a cadre of amateur and expert naturalists, Winn reveals a world that lies hidden in the dark between the bright lights and traffic of Fith Avenue and Central Park West.

  • Deeply Rooted: Unconventional Farmers in the Age of Agribusiness, by Lisa M. Hamilton ($25, Counterpoint). Books about where our food comes from are a hugely growing section of the science-book market, and I think it's probably a good thing that we all lean more about what we eat and what factors determine what's available to us. In this book, Hamilton explores our food system through examining the stories of three unconventional farmers, and makes the argument that to correct what is wrong with the food system, we must first bring farmers back to the table.

  • Human: The Science Behind What Makes Your Brain Unique, by Michael S. Gazzaniga ($16.99, Harper Perennial). What happened along the evolutionary trail that made humans so unique? In a lively, accessible, witty narrative, Gazzaniga -- director of the SAGE Center for the Study of the Mind at UC-Santa Barbara -- pinpoints the change that made us thinking, sentient humans different from our predecessors, exploring what makes human brains special, the importance of language and art in defining the human condition, the nature of human consciousness, and even artificial intelligence.

  • Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, by Richard Wrangham ($26.95, Basic Books). In a groundbreaking theory of our origins, renowned primatologist Wrangham shows that the shift from raw to cooked foods was the key factor in human evolution. By making food more digestible and easier to extract energy from, Wrangham reasons, cooking enabled hominids' jaws, teeth and guts to shrink, freeing up calories to fuel their expanding brains. It also gave rise to pair bonding and table manners, and liberated mankind from the drudgery of chewing (while chaining womankind to the stove). Catching Fire will provoke controversy and fascinate anyone interested in our ancient origins -- or in our modern eating habits.

  • Waking Up in Eden: In Pursuit of an Impassioned Life on an Imperiled Island, by Lucinda Fleeson ($13.95, Algonquin Books). Part memoir, part nature writing, part adventure tale, Waking Up in Eden tells Fleeson's story of chucking her big-city life to move to the edge of a rainforest in Kauai. She accompanies a plant hunter in search of the last of a dying species, follows a paleontologist who deconstructs island history through fossil life, and shadows a botanical pioneer who propagates rare seeds, hoping to reclaim the landscape. Inspired by nineteenth-century travel writer Isabella Bird, Fleeson renovates a former plantation cottage, enters an outrigger canoe race, and, of course, cultivates her garden.

  • The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America's Favorite Planet, by Neil DeGrasse Tyson ($23.95, Norton). This book isn't brand-spanking new (it came out in January), but I mention it because a) it's a fascinating topic and b) the author will be in Portland July 21st at the OSMI Science Pub at the Bagdad Theater in a "Cosmic Conversation" with Paula S. Opsell, Senior Executive Producer of NOVA. Astrophysicist and Hayden Planetarium director Tyson was involved in the emotionally controversially process of demoting Pluto from planet status (in August 2006). Consequently, Pluto lovers have freely shared their opinions with him, including endless hate mail from third graders. In his typically witty way, Tyson explores the history of planet classification and America's obsession with the "planet" that's recently been judged a dwarf. This book offers a scientifically based but lighthearted look at the former planet.

  • And, lastly, a book that I actually DID read when it first came out in hardback but love so much I just must mention it here: The Animal Dialogues: Uncommon Encounters in the Wild, by Craig Childs ($14.99, Back Bay Books). Naturalist, adventurer, and NPR contributor Childs portrays the sometimes brutal beauty of the wilderness in a series of essays focusing on a variety of wild creatures. Whether recalling the experience of being chased through the Grand Canyon by a bighorn sheep, of swimming with sharks off the coast of British Columbia, of watching a peregrine falcon perform acrobatic stunts at two hundred miles per hour, or attempting to rescue an understandably cranky raccoon trapped in a water hole in the desert, Child brings the reader along for the experience. And what a great cover!

There's many more books in the store about the world around us; I've barely scratched the surface of them here. Come on down and take a peek for yourself!

1 comment:

  1. Oooh, a blog right up my alley!


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