We also like … – Review

we also like … – Review – book review

Eric Powell

EXTINCT HUMANS Ian Tattersall and Jeffrey Schwartz Westview Press, $50.

DAWN OF MAN: THE STORY OF HUMAN EVOLUTION Robin McKie DK Publishing, $30.

Keeping up with the dizzying pace of fossil finds and their impact on theories of human evolution can be difficult these days. These two new books promise to bring you up to speed. Anthropologists Tattersall and Schwartz take a fossil-by-fossil approach to telling the story of our purported ancestors. Science writer McKie covers much the same ground but weaves the paleontologists’ tales together in a strong narrative.

HIDDEN EVIDENCE David Owen Firefly Books, $24.95.

Not for the faint of heart, this book showcases 40 high-profile crimes and the science used to crack them. With the help of lavish (and sometimes grisly) illustrations, Owen discusses everything from matching dental records and DNA to performing autopsies and gas chromatography studies. Once you’re finished you’ll understand the telltale marks of drowning or bombing, but you won’t want to eat for a while.

BANANAS: AN AMERICAN HISTORY Virginia Scott Jenkins Smithsonian Institution Press, $16.95.

Americans eat an average of 75 bananas a year, yet before 1880 the fruit was almost unknown in this country. In a vivid and often funny history, Jenkins charts how shifting diets and nutritional standards at the turn of the century as well as more recent changes in food marketing and distribution propelled the Caribbean fruit to widespread popularity and iconic stature in American culture.

ARCHIMEDES’ BATHTUB: THE ART AND LOGIC OF BREAKTHROUGH THINKING David Perkins W. W. Norton and Company, $24.95.

Perkins finds common cognitive principles underlie the innovative thinking of the world’s foremost scientists through the ages and offers up puzzles and exercises to hone readers’ creativity. By the end of this book, you may not be thinking exactly like Archimedes, but you’re sure to be ready to experience your own “Eureka!” moment.

VOLCANO COWBOYS: THE ROCKY EVOLUTION OF A DANGEROUS SCIENCE Dick Thompson St. Martin’s Press, $26.95.

Journalist Thompson takes readers on a harrowing ride with the scientists who study the world’s most dangerous natural event. Dropping into craters of active volcanoes, they measure gases and monitor seismographs in an effort to predict when eruptions will occur.

SEXING THE PARROT: CHANGING THE WORLD WITH DNA Wilson Hall Cassell, $27.95.

With Human Genome Project gathering speed, don’t be left behind the genetics curve. Hall, a geneticist, uses simple, lively prose to explain the intricacies of DNA developments, including gene therapy and genetically modified food. He also examines their enormous ethical implications. As a bonus, you’ll learn how geneticists can now more easily determine the sex of parrots, sparing the birds from invasive (and potentially fatal) endoscopy.

SUPERSYMMETRY: UNVEILING THE ULTIMATE LAWS OF NATURE Gordon Kane Perseus Publishing, $26.

Particle physicist Kane elegantly makes the case for a theory that, if confirmed, could alter our understanding of how matter works. Supersymmetry posits that every particle has a “superpartner” that can be detected only when the two are smashed together at very high energy levels. Quarks have “squarks,” electrons have “selectrons,” and so on. Kane guides us through this often bewildering subatomic world and its implications. A glossary helps readers who have trouble telling a muon from a gluon.

THE EIGHT CONTINENT: LIFE, DEATH, AND DISCOVERY IN THE LOST WORLD OF MADAGASCAR Peter Tyson William Morrow, $27.50.

Part field report, part travelogue, part ecological history, Tyson’s book is an engrossing testament to one of the planet’s most astonishing places. His tales from the field, by turns moving and hilarious, are interwoven with descriptions of the island’s bizarre wildlife–from screaming geckos to upside-down trees–and their uncertain future at the hands of the Malagasy, who are desperate for fuel wood and farmland. Read this book to get a sense of what the future generations may be missing.

STINGING TREES AND WAIT-A-WHILES: CONFESSIONS OF A RAINFOREST BIOLOGIST William Laurance University of Chicago Press, $25.

For an unusually candid look at the tribulations of fieldwork, pick up ecologist Laurance’s firsthand account of his 18 months in northeastern Australia’s fragmented tropical rain forest. The ardent conservationist must conted with hostile loggers as well as suspicious farmers, unruly volunteers, and resistant government officials.

HENRY NORRIS RUSSELL: DEAN OF AMERICAN ASTRONOMERS David H. DeVorkin Princeton University Press, $49.50.

Known as the “General,” Henry Norris Russell transformed American astronomy from a simple observation of the stars into a quest to understand the origins of the universe. This meticulous, scholarly biography traces Russell’s development into an innovative astrophysicist even as he clung fiercely to his Presbyterian faith.

–Compiled by Eric Powell

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