Archive for the ‘Science’ Category
There is a little geek in all of us. I was a liberal arts major who did the happy dance when that last required physics class was over, but Randall Munroe’s What if? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions (HMH; Blackstone Audio; 9/2/14) is so laugh aloud funny, I almost did a spit take with my coffee while reading it this morning.
The book is a collection of the most popular answers to crazy science questions posed by readers of Munroe’s XKCD webcomic, with additional new “out of the box” questions.
For example “What would happen if the Earth and all terrestrial objects suddenly stopped spinning, but the atmosphere retained its velocity?”
Munroe’s answer begins, “Nearly everyone would die. Then things would get interesting,” and leads us through the science of the situation in cartoon format, interrupted occasionally by a wise-cracking stick figure.
Published as an adult book What if? is the very definition of the crossover. I can imagine an 8th grade teacher posing one of these questions a day, using them to lead humorously engaging discussions that help to develop critical thinking.
Check your holds; you will probably find you need more copies.
Note: Cory Doctorow is also a fan and notes on BoingBoing that What If? is available as an audiobook, “which is a weird idea, given how much the explanations rely on Munroe’s charming diagrams. But the book is read by Wil Wheaton, who is, for my money, the best audiobook narrator working today, and it was produced by Blackstone audio and recorded at Skyboat in Los Angeles, who do outstanding work, and they all labored mightily with Munroe to turn the diagrams into spoken word (and there’s an accompanying PDF, which also helps).”
The Fox/National Geographic reboot of the 1980 PBS phenomenon, Cosmos, has plenty of star power to bring to its goal of “making science cool again.” Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane is behind it along with the “Hollywood cool” astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, who is also the host. The first episode on Sunday was introduced by President Obama. It even got the ultimate in cool promotions, its own Superbowl commercial.
Reviews of the first show are mixed, but cautiously optimistic for the rest of series. Unfortunately, as the L.A. Times reports, the ratings indicate that it drew “only” 6 million viewers and was “trounced by ABC’s premiere of Resurrection,” (reminder: that series is based on the book The Returned by Jason Mott, Harlequin/MIRA).
The original series made a best seller of Sagan’s tie-in. With twelve more episodes to go, the new one could still do the same for the revised tie-in (RH/Ballantine).
A new book by Elizabeth Kolbert, a staff writer for the New Yorker, examines mass extinctions, like that of the dinosaurs caused by asteroids, and particularly the one we are going through now, which is caused by us and may lead to our own demise. The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, (Macmillan/Holt; S&S Audio), arrives next week.
The author is scheduled to appear on several shows:
2/10 — CBS This Morning
2/10 or 2/11 — NPR All Things Considered
2/11 — The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
There will also be print coverage in the NYT Science Section, the NYT Book Review, and New York Magazine.
Scientific studies indicate that “when it comes to sex, monogamy may be more of a problem for women than men,” Daniel Bergner told Stephen Colbert on his show last night. The author of What Do Women Want?: Adventures in the Science of Female Desire (HarperCollins/Ecco) noted that the generally accepted view of women as naturally monogamous has been promulgated because it is “convenient and comforting to men.”
Colbert’s reactions proved Bergner’s point.
The book is rising on Amazon’s sales rankings. Library holds are also growing.
Her latest, Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal (Norton; Tantor Audio), was released on Monday. The interview begins with the question of why your stomach doesn’t digest itself (hint; it’s a trick question).
After the appearance, Gulp rose to #3 on Amazon sales rankings.
Sheryl Sandberg, author of Lean In, will appear on the show tonight. That appearance is unlike to result in a rise on Amazon’s sales rankings, however. The book has held the #1 spot for most of the last month.
Below is part one of the interview; part two is here (warning: it features nutrient enemas).
Statistician Nate Silver has become the media’s go-to guy for election predictions, based on his NYT blog, “FiveThirtyEight.”
His book, The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail-but Some Don’t (Penguin Press) rose to #5 on the NYT Hardcover Nonfiction Best Seller list this week. He is scheduled to appear on the Colbert Show tonight and on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on Wednesday.
Will interest continue in the book after tomorrow’s election? Sunday’s NYT Book Review says it will, and that it “could turn out to be one of the more momentous books of the decade” because Silver previously “took aim mostly at sports pundits and political handicappers. But the book hints at his ambitions to take on weightier questions. There’s no better example of this than his chapter on climate change…That Silver is taking this on is, by and large, a welcome development. Few journalists have the statistical chops; most scientists and social scientists are too abstruse.”
Big names in fiction returning next week include Barbara Kingsolver, Ellen Hopkins and Caleb Carr, along with notable novels by Lydia Millet, Whitney Otto and James Kimmel. The final volume of William Manchester‘s Churchill bio also arrives, written posthumously by Paul Reid, while Larry McMurtry weighs in on General Custer, Sean Carroll explores a new landmark in physics, and Oliver Sacks explores hallucinations.
Magnificence by Lydia Millet (Norton; Dreamscape Audio; Center Point Large Print) concludes the trilogy that began with How the Dead Dream (2008) and Ghost Lights (2011). This one is the story of a woman who comes to terms with her life and adulterous affairs when she suddenly becomes a widow. Kirkus says, “The deeply honest, beautiful meditations on love, grief and guilt give way to a curlicued comic-romantic mystery complete with a secret basement and assorted eccentrics.” The response on GalleyChat was unmitigated; “Magnificence was magnificent. What an amazing writer. Love her unsentimental style.”
Eight Girls Taking Pictures by Whitney Otto (S&S/Scribner; Thorndike Large Print) fictionalizes the lives of eight women photographers as they intersect – including icons like Imogen Cunningham, Lee Miller and Sally Mann, as well as lesser known figures. By the author of How to Make an American Quilt, it was a BEA librarians’ Shout ‘n’ Share Pick. Kirkus says, “although overly schematic, Otto makes these eight women and the differing lenses through which they view the 20th century hard to forget.”
The Trial of Fallen Angels by James Kimmel, Jr. (Penguin/Amy Einhorn; Dreamscape Audio) is a debut novel about an ace lawyer who dies and becomes a defender of the souls of the dead on Judgement Day. Early reviews are mixed: Kirkus says it’s heavy on the spiritualism side, but still intriguing. PW says it fails as a page-turner, but Booklist gives it a starred review, calling it fascinating.
Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver (Harper; HarperAudio; HarperLuxe) may be the first novel about the effects of climate change. It arrives with uncanny timing, the week after Hurricane Sandy. In this instance, the evidence is dramatic but not devastating. A vast flock of monarch butterflies descends on a Bible Belt community in what seems like a religious miracle, but turns out to be a more disquieting displacement. It’s a People Pick in the magazine this week, with 4 of 4 stars. Says the reviewer, Kingsolver, “brings the complexities of climate change to her characters’ doorstep, illustrating with rich compassion how they … must find their new place on shifting ground.” The author’s previous, The Lacuna, was a best seller and won the Orange Prize.
Collateral by Ellen Hopkins (S&S; Atria) is the second adult novel by this YA author, about two best friends and the military men they love, and are separated from, written in the author’s signature poetic verse style. PW says, ” clear narrative that is uplifting and heartbreaking, but also familiar and a little too easy, featuring characters grappling with the serious issues of our time.”
The Legend of Broken by Caleb Carr (Random House; S&S Audio) finds the author of the Alienist turning his sights on the medieval era, where invaders and internal tensions roil a fortress. LJ has a wait-and-see attitude toward this one’s commercial prospects.
Infinity Ring Book 2: Divide and Conquer by Carrie Ryan (Scholastic) is the second in a middle grade series about two fifth-grader geniuses who live in an alternate universe and travel back in time to fix various “breaks” in history. Like the 39-Clues, this planned seven-volume series, with six authors, was devised in-house at Scholastic and comes with links to an interactive Web Site. The titles will be released in quick succession, with this one arriving just three months after the first, Infinity Ring Book 1: A Mutiny in Time, by the Maze Runner’s James Dashner. Rick Riordan, who wrote the prototype, 39-Clues, was given the unenviable task of reviewing Book 1 for the the NYT Book Review. His reaction was mixed, concluding that it is, “vivid, intriguing, not fully realized but hinting at a larger story that feels right.” This second volume is by the author of The Forest of Hands and Teeth, an ALA Best Book for Young Adults. Kirkus, the only source to review it so far, doesn’t buy it, saying, “It’s hard to go wrong with Vikings. But if you asked a classroom full of students to write about a Viking and a time machine, most of them would come up with something more inventive.”
The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm, 1940–1965 by William Manchester and Paul Reid (Hachette/Little, Brown; Blackstone Audio) is the final volume in this biographical trilogy. The New York Times Magazine heralds it this Sunday by calling its release, “one of the longest waits in publishing history” and explains how the little-known Paul Reid, who had never written a book before, ended up tackling this project, based on Manchester’s sketchy and often illegible notes. It ended up taking so long that Reid was forced to sell his house, use up his savings and live on credit cards. It may have been worth it. Says the NYT Magazine, it is “more of a stand-alone book than a continuation of the first and second volumes.” PW says it “matches the outstanding quality of biographers such as Robert Caro and Edmund Morris.” 200,000 copies.
Custer by Larry McMurtry (Simon & Schuster) is not quite a biography, more of an “informed commentary” on one of American history’s great military blunderers by this respected novelist, according to Kirkus, which also calls it “distilled perceptions of a lifetime of study, beautifully illustrated.” USA Today puts it simply, “This ‘Custer’ cuts through all the Bull.”
The Particle at the End of the Universe: How the Hunt for the Higgs Boson Leads Us to the Edge of a New World by Sean Carroll (RH/Dutton) is the story of how science history was made with the search for the Higgs Boson, part of the Higgs field that gives atomic particles their mass – finally discovered earlier this year. PW says, “whether explaining complex physics like field theory and symmetry or the workings of particle accelerators, Carrollas clarity and unbridled enthusiasm reveal the pure excitement of discovery as much as they illuminate the facts.” UPDATE: We jumped the gun; this title is actually coming out on Nov. 13.
Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks (RH/Knopf; RH Audio; BOT Audio) finds this bestselling neurologist revealing that hallucinations are actually normal aspects of human experience during illness or injury, intoxication or sensory deprivation, or simply falling asleep. Kirkus says, “A riveting look inside the human brain and its quirks.”
The Hobbit (Movie Tie-In) by J.R.R. Tolkien (HMH/Mariner trade pbk; RH/Del Rey mass market) are the tie-in editions of the novel. Also coming are various behind-the scenes books for both adults and children. For the full list, check our Upcoming Movies with Tie-ins).
Jack Reacher’s Rules, with introduction by Lee Child (RH/Delacorte) is a 160-page hardcover compilation of Reacher wisdom and lore; a single quote printed on each page. It arrives, as the publisher puts it, “just in time for [Reacher’s] first movie,” starring Tom Cruise, which lands in theaters on 12/21. It was a drop-in title that hasn’t been reviewed and thus, most libraries have not ordered it. Those that have it are showing holds (Hennepin County has 50 on 9 copies). The tie-in of One Shot, which the movie is based on, also arrives next week, in both mass market and large print.
In a profile in the New York Times, David Quammen’s new book, Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic, (Norton) is called “scary but hard-to-put-down,” featuring real-life scientists who “become as vivid as characters in a Michael Crichton scientific thriller.”
In reviewing the book in the same publication, Dwight Garner calls the author “not just among our best science writers but among our best writers, period.” Indeed, Quammen cites Faulkner as the greatest influence on his writing.
Libraries in many areas are showing heavy holds
Simon Winchester has covered many broad sweeping subjects in his writing career, but in his latest book, he focuses on a single collection.
Of course, it is a pretty remarkable collection; thousands of skulls, from the smallest, that of a wren, up to a hippopotamus skull, housed, improbably in the owner’s bedroom.
Skulls: An Exploration of Alan Dudley’s Curious Collection, is featured in the NYT Science section today. It wasn’t reviewed prepub, so few libraries have ordered it.
The new book, Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic by David Quammen (Norton), featured on NPR’s Weekend Edition yesterday, is so frightening that the interviewer asked how people can continue with their lives once they learn that a virus far worse than SARS is in our future. Some may take solace in another new book, Regenesis, by George M. Church (Perseus/Basic Books), which gets the Colbert treatment on Thursday. The author claims that, because of “synthetic biology,” we can look forward to “a future in which human beings have become immune to all viruses, in which bacteria can custom-produce everyday items, like a drinking cup, or generate enough electricity to end oil dependency.”
Tonight, on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Arnold Schwarzenegger continues his media blitz for his memoir, Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story by Arnold Schwarzenegger (S&S; Thorndike Press; S&S Audio). He appeared on Sixty Minutes last night. The book is reviewed by Janet Maslin in the New York Times today.
Anxiety can be a healthy reaction to stress, but Daniel Smith suffered anxiety attacks so severe that he was unable to leave his house.
He writes about his experience in Monkey Mind, a memoir that has been called a classic in the making by the Psychiatric Times, and named a People pick. It’s been moving up best seller lists (currently at #6 on the Indie Hardcover Non-fiction list. Curiously, Los Angeles seems to be a more anxious place than New York; it reached #5 on the L.A. Times’ list, but only #21 on the N.Y. Times‘).
Smith appeared on The Today Show yesterday.
Libraries in areas of high anxiety (you know who you are, Hennepin!) are showing heavy holds.
After he appeared on NPR’s Fresh Air yesterday, Thumb rose from #248 to #43 and Spoon from #886 to #228 on Amazon’s sales rankings.
More media and librarian favorites land next week, as the summer reading season swings into gear. Some familiar names deliver new novels with big potential, including Alan Furst, Mark Haddon, Jess Walter, John Lanchester, and Robert Goolrick. There are also debuts to watch from Claire McMillan, Benjamin Wood, Maggie Shipstead. Usual suspects include Robert Dugoni, Dorothea Benton Frank, Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus. And in nonfiction, there’s an intriguing look at what humans and animals have in common when it comes to health and healing by cardiologist and psychiatrist Barbara Natterson-Horowitz and science writer Kathryn Bowers.
Mission to Paris by Alan Furst (Random House; Thorndike Large Print; S&S Audio) is set in Paris in the year leading up to Germany’s 1940 attack, as a Hollywood film star is drawn in to the Nazi propaganda war. It’s on Time magazine’s list of top ten picks for the year so far. In an early New York Times review, Janet Maslin says, “This particular Paris is the spy novelist Alan Furst’s home turf. He has been there many times in the course of 11 soignée, alluring novels. But he has never been there with a Hollywood movie star.”
The Gilded Age by Claire McMillan (S&S) follows a woman who returns to close-knit Shaker Heights, Ohio after a divorce and rehab, to find her next wealthy husband. It led the “women’s fiction” category on USA Today‘s Summer Books preview. Publishers Weekly says that “while the novel tips its hat to House of Mirth, a simple comparison doesn’t do McMillan justice.” More Edith Wharton-inspired novels are out this summer. The Innocents by Francesca Segal (Hyperion/Voice. 6/5/12) recasts Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence in a close-knit North West London Jewish community and BEA Lbirarians Shout ‘n’ Share pick, The Age of Desire by Jenny Fields, Penguin/Pamela Dorman, 8/2/12, is about Edith Wharton’s love affair with a younger man.
The Bellwether Revivals by Benjamin Wood (Penguin/Viking; Brilliance Audio) is told by caregiver Oscar Lowe, who becomes entangled with Cambridge students Iris and her brother Eden, who thinks he can heal others through music. It’s the second galley featured in our First Flights program. Booklist says, “this first novel is most notable for its acute characterizations and flowing prose that engrosses the reader as initial foreboding fades only to grow again. Wood is definitely a writer to watch.”
The Red House by Mark Haddon (RH/Doubleday; Random House Audio) is a social novel about a brother who invites his sister, her husband and three children for week’s vacation with his new wife and step-daughter, by the author of the runaway bestseller The Curious Incident of a Dog in the Night. Entertainment Weekly gives it a B+, saying in a review that sounds more like an A, “The story unfolds from all eight characters’ points of view, a tricky strategy that pays off, letting Haddon dig convincingly into all of the failures, worries, and weaknesses that they can’t leave behind during this pause in their lives.” It’s a June Indie Next pick.
Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter (HarperCollins) is a bittersweet romance that begins when a starlet pregnant with Richard Burton’s baby is whisked from the set of Cleopatra to a tiny Italian seaside village in 1962, where the innkeeper falls in love with her, and looks her up in Hollywood years later. Reviews have begun already, as we noted earlier.
Capital by John Lanchester (Norton) is set in former a working class London neighborhood where property values have skyrocketed, as the 2008 recession sets in. LJ says it “weaves together multiple stories in an uncanny microcosm of contemporary British life that’s incredibly rich and maybe just a bit heavy, like a pastry. Yet definitely worth a look.” It’s also a June Indie Next pick.
Heading Out to Wonderful by Robert Goolrick (Workman/Algonquin Books; Highbridge Audio; Thorndike Large Print) is the story of a man who returns from WWII to a small Virginia town with a suitcase stuffed with cash and a set of butcher knives. LJ says, “this novel is not a straightforward Southern gothic thriller but primarily a lyrical meditation on the magnified elements of small-town life: friendship, trust, land, lust, and sin.” The author’s previous novel, A Reliable Wife, was a huge seller, especially in paperback. We’re expecting even more from this one. This one is the #2 June Indie Next pick
Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead (RH/Knopf), a debut novel, is the story of “WASP wedding dysfunction at it’s most hilarious,” as librarian Jennifer Dayton of Darien, CT observed on our GalleyChat. It’s a June Indie Next pick and a B&N Best Book of the Month. Ron Charles in the Washington Post this week calls it “a perfect summer romp” and, “Shipstead’s weave of wit and observation continually delights.”
The Conviction by Robert Dugoni (S&S/Touchstone) is the fifth thriller featuring Seattle lawyer David Sloane, as he tries to spring his adopted son and his friend from a hellish juvenile detention center. Nancy Pearl is a Dugoni fan, as evidenced by this interview from 2011.
Porch Lights by Dorothea Benton Frank (Harper/ Morrow; HarperAudio; Thorndike Large Print) explores how a mother and son rekindle their faith in life after their beloved husband and father is killed in the line of duty as a fireman.
Between You and Me by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus (S&S/Atria Books; Wheeler Large Print; S&S/Audio) is the story of a young woman who escaped her unhappy Oklahoma childhood as an adult in New York City, but can’t refuse a request to assist her famous cousin, who proceeds to have a very public unraveling. LJ says, “while attempting to address deeper family bonds, the authors swing wide and miss their mark. The emotional ties never quite shine through.”
Zoobiquity: What Animals Can Teach Us About Health and the Science of Healing by Barbara Natterson-Horowitz and Kathryn Bowers (RH/Knopf; RH Audio) brings together cardiologist and psychiatrist Natterson-Horowitz and science writer Bowers to make the case that since animals and humans suffer the same diseases, doctors and veterinarians should work more closely together. Booklist calls it “as clarion and perception-altering as works by Oliver Sacks, Michael Pollan, and E. O. Wilson.”
A fascinating look at the fascinating topic of breasts was aired on Fresh Air yesterday, propelling Breasts by Florence Williams to #85 (from # 1,144). Science reporter Williams, after reading that toxins has been discovered in breast milk, had her own tested and discovered that it contained flame retardants (from the foam in her couch) and an ingredient in jet fuel.