Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

Bill Gates Reviews

Monday, November 23rd, 2015

Thing ExplainerTrade reviews skipped over Randall Munroe’s newest book, Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words (HMH; OverDrive Sample), but Bill Gates steps in, posting on his blog a glowing endorsement of Munroe’s mix of illustrations and information.

Gates calls the detailed and over-sized drawings accompanied by clear explanations using common words a “brilliant concept” and “a wonderful guide for curious minds.” He goes on to say that Munroe reminds him “of Sal Khan of Khan Academy, or the novelist and Crash Course host John Green … polymaths who not only know a lot but are also good at breaking things down for other people.”

Thing Explainer is already in Amazon’s Top 100 (at #82). Munroe’s previous book, What If? (HMH, 2014) was on the NYT Hardcover Nonfiction list for over 40 weeks, and debuted at #1 during its first week of publication.

Holds are not strong yet for the new book. but expect them to grow. Monroe is getting attention, including a profile in the Wall Street Journal where he says that his favorite research technique is “googling a few search terms plus ‘pdf.’ It’s amazing what’s buried in old, poorly digitized PDFs hosted on some random professor’s website.”

The entire interview is likely to have readers googling – it is full of curiosities, including strange cloud formations and an odd animal that looks like be a cross between a cat and a lemur.

Fresh Air Talks Birds

Wednesday, October 21st, 2015

Two bird specialists, each of whom has recently published a book, talked with Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air yesterday.

9781594859656_d3613Wildlife photographer Gerrit Vyn has been photographing birds and recording their calls for years. After contributing images to many other books, he has now released his own title, The Living Bird: 100 Years of Listening to Nature (Mountaineers Books). It includes over 250 photographs by Vyn as well as essays by noted birders and naturalists.

9780547840031_e5831Scott Weidensaul, who contributed pieces for Vyn’s book, has also published his own book, Peterson Reference Guide to Owls of North America and the Caribbean (HMH). Following the pattern of other Peterson reference guides, it includes an exhaustive catalog with detailed descriptions of the owls, habitat, and behavior.

Both men communicate their fascination with birds, including the “tremendous of diversity of calls that owls make,” with samples that capture the feeling of being near the birds.

Holds Alert: New Look At Autism

Thursday, September 3rd, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-09-03 at 11.57.00 AMNoted science writer and WIRED reporter Steve Silberman appeared on NPR’s Fresh Air yesterday, sending his new book NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity (Penguin/Avery; Blackstone Audio; OverDrive Sample) rocketing up Amazon’s sales rankings.

A history of autism, its evolution, and the way the scientific world has approached its diagnosis, NeuroTribes is changing the conversation
on the subject.

Jennifer Senior, who says the book is “beautifully told, humanizing, important” in her piece on it in the NYT Sunday Book Review, highlights just one of the ways Silberman shines new light on the very definition of autism:

The autism pandemic, in other words, is an optical illusion, one brought about by an original sin of diagnostic parsimony. The implications here are staggering: Had the definition included Asperger’s original, expansive vision, it’s quite possible we wouldn’t have been hunting for environmental causes or pointing our fingers at anxious parents…This is, without a doubt, a provocative argument that Silberman is making, one sure to draw plenty of pushback and anger. But he traces his history with scrupulous precision, and along the way he treats us to charming, pointillist portraits of historical figures who are presumed to have had Asperger’s, including Henry Cavendish and Nikola Tesla.

Likely to become a classic in the field, it is already listed along with works by Andrew Solomon and Temple Grandin and comes with a forward by Oliver Sacks.

Holds are exceeding a 3:1 ratio across the country in libraries we checked.

Dolphins Close Up

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 10.53.48 AMOn NPR’s Fresh Air yesterday, Susan Casey talks about  her new book Voices in the Ocean: A Journey into the Wild and Haunting World of Dolphins (RH/Doubleday; RH and BOT Audio; OverDrive Sample), sending the book charging up the Amazon rankings.

In a fascinating and lengthy interview Casey details sections from her book including stories about dolphin researchers investigating language acquisition, her own unexpected swim with a pod of spinners, the astounding attributes of dolphins, and the threats facing them today.

In the following clip from the audio narrated by Cassandra Campbell, Casey explains what draws her to scuba diving, even when there is a threat of sharks.

Casey, an experienced ocean adventure writer, has also published the bestselling books The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean and The Devil’s Teeth: A True Story of Obsession and Survival Among America’s Great White Sharks.

Holds are steady on fairly light ordering.

Hummingbird Love

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015

9780544416031_43983Reviewers are falling in love with Fastest Things On Wings: Rescuing Hummingbirds in Hollywood,  Terry Masear, (HMH).

There’s probably not much more you need than the title and cover to also become unchanged, but here’s a sampling of the reviews:

Fastest Things on Wings: inside the rehabilitation of injured hummingbirds — he Washington Post

Fastest Things on Wings is the soaring tale of a hummingbird rehabber — Los Angeles Times

Hollywood’s Hummingbird Rehabber Tells All —  National Geographic (take a look at this one, if only for the photos)

Even the New York Post calls it a “must-read

It was also featured on WBUR’s “Here & Now

The book is rising on Amazon sales rankings. Library orders are light.

Order Alert: DO NO HARM

Wednesday, May 27th, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-05-27 at 7.25.18 AMNeurosurgeon Henry Marsh, who was the subject of an award winning film, has written a memoir about the high-risk work of operating on the brain, Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery (Macmillan/St. Martin’s; HighBridge Audio; OverDrive Sample).

Marsh appeared on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross yesterday and described how he relies upon a quarter ton microscope to see inside the jelly-like substance of the brain and uses a microscopic vacuum cleaner called a sucker to remove tumors.

The memoir made multiple shortlists for a range of awards in Britain including the Guardian First Book Prize and the Costa Book Award.

The Guardian review was glowing:

Why has no one ever written a book like this before? It simply tells the stories, with great tenderness, insight and self-doubt, of a phenomenal neurosurgeon who has been at the height of his specialism for decades and now has chosen, with retirement looming, to write an honest book. Why haven’t more surgeons written books, especially of this prosaic beauty? Of blood and doubts, mistakes, decisions: were they all so unable to descend into the mire of Grub Street, unless it was with black or, worse, “wry” humour? Well, thank God for Henry Marsh.

On this side of the ocean, the memoir has received strong coverage in The New York Times Sunday Book Review and by Michiko Kakutani in the daily NYT Books section. Sam Kean reviews it for The Wall Street Journal and it is one of The Washington Post’s picks of the best memoirs for the month. It is also rising on Amazon.

Holds are strong on light ordering.


Thursday, May 14th, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 9.22.06 AMRandall Munroe, author of the runaway hit What If? has a new book coming out in November, Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words (HMH, Nov. 24).

Munroe announced the book on his popular website xkcd, “A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language,” yesterday and it has already shot to #8 on Amazon’s sales rankings.

As Munroe details on his site, the book is a large format (9″ by 13″) collection of blueprints with diagrams of objects and explanations of their parts and uses, using only the most common 1,000 words in the English language. The result sometimes sounds like a precocious six-year-old (see the Saturn V rocket, called here, “Up Goer Five — The only flying space car that’s taken anyone to another world”). It could be the basis of some memorable party games.

There are still holds on What If? in libraries across the country. Expect high demand for Munroe’s upcoming title as well.

Science Confirms, Teen Brains Are Different

Thursday, January 29th, 2015

9780062067845_67a89On NPR’s Fresh Air yesterday, Terry Gross interviewed neuroscientist Frances Jensen, the author of The Teenage Brain, (Harper; HarperAudio; OverDrive Sample).

Jensen confirms with remarkable clarity what many parents have observed, that it takes a long time for the human brain to fully mature and develop the ability to control impulses.

Nancy Pearl Interviews Naturalist/Author Haupt

Monday, October 13th, 2014

9780316178525Lyanda Lynn Haupt’s goal is to bring “beautiful, literary language to really solid information” about nature. Her most recent book is The Urban Bestiary: Encountering the Everyday Wild,(Hachette/Little, Brown, 2013).

Nancy Pearl interviews her for her series on The Seattle Channel, Book Lust.

Holds Alert: WHAT IF?

Monday, September 8th, 2014


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?”

9780544272996_0ceaaMunroe’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).”

Making Science Cool Again

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

Cosmos Tie-inThe 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).

It may also bring renewed attention to Tyson’s many books of his own, the most recent of which is Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier (Norton, 2012).


Friday, February 7th, 2014

The Sixth ExtinctionA 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.

The book grew out of a two-part series that Kolbert published in the New Yorker in December. Her previous book, Field Notes from a Catastrophe, (Macmillan/Bloomsbury, 2006) was on climate change.

Colbert is Disturbed

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

What Do Women Want?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.

GULP: Don’t Watch While Masticating

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

GulpJon Stewart clearly loves Mary Roach, greeting the author on Monday night’s Daily Show with the words, “I like your books!”

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).

Nate Silver — Comedy Central Double Whammy

Monday, November 5th, 2012

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.”