Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

Learning To Learn

Monday, May 15th, 2017

Professor and author Barbara Oakley gets a double lift from The Wall Street Journal. An article titled “How a Polymath Mastered Math – and So Can You,” explores how Oakley, after flunking math through grade school, taught herself to master the subject, eventually earning a degree in electrical engineering. Now a professor of engineering at Oakland University in Michigan, she teaches what the paper says is the “world’s most popular MOOC” the massive open online course “Learning How to Learn.”

The article mentions two of her books. Her newest, Mindshift: Break Through Obstacles to Learning and Discover Your Hidden Potential (PRH/ TarcherPerigee; Penguin Audio/BOT; OverDrive Sample) and 2014’s A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra) (also PRH/ TarcherPerigee; OverDrive Sample).

The books are rising on Amazon’s rankings as a result. Mindshift jumped from #643 to #32 and Numbers rose from #751 to #52.

Bill Nye Is That Guy

Friday, April 14th, 2017

Proving what is old can be new again, Bill Nye is in the middle of a double debut, decades after he first caught the public eye.

9781419723032_6d001His chapter book, Jack and the Geniuses: At the Bottom of the World by Bill Nye and Gregory Mone, illustrated by Nicholas Iluzada (Abrams; Recorded Books; OverDrive Sample), a mix of science, adventure, and mystery, debuts on the NYT Children’s Middle Grade Hardcover list at #6. It is doing very well considering every title ranking above Nye’s has been on the list for 10 weeks or more.

Next week brings the debut of his new Netflix’s show, Bill Nye Saves the World, on April 21. Wired says it will span “13 episodes that seek to debunk anti-scientific claims and myths in topics ranging from sex to alternative medicine to, yes, climate change.” The NYT says it is a “it’s a talk show, not a children’s program,” but Nye tells the paper to expect to be entertained. “The comedy bits,” he says “are brilliant!”

According to Netflix, “Each episode will tackle a topic from a scientific point of view, dispelling myths, and refuting antiscientific claims that may be espoused by politicians, religious leaders or titans of industry.”9781623367916_1bc4f

On the horizon, Nye has a book for adults coming out this summer, Everything All at Once: How to Unleash Your Inner Nerd, Tap into Radical Curiosity and Solve Any Problem (Macmillan/Rodale; Recorded Books), a mix of memoir, history, science, and problem solving using rational, methodical, fact-based approaches.

Avian Artistry

Thursday, April 6th, 2017

9780300222739_0b0ff“When you see an owl … you feel that you’ve seen something special, almost secret.”

Mike Unwin tells the NYT that part of their allure is that they look more human than most birds and are hidden from our sight by their nocturnal habits. It is a rare and special moment for many to see one.

Unwin is the author of a new lavishly photographed guide: The Enigma of the Owl: An Illustrated Natural History (Yale UP).

The NYT says it “explores the diversity, beauty and ecological importance [of owls and] introduces readers to 53 of the world’s 200 to 250 species … organizing the birds by continent and including well-known … as well as rare, more enigmatic ones.”

The StarTribune also reviews it, writing the text has “the right measure of starchy erudition: the springy, high camp of Jeeves, with a faithfulness to scientific inquiry” and that “not one of the 200 photographs is unworthy of a museum home.”

LJ gave the book a star, calling it a “most worthy addition” to the collection and an “authoritative, beautiful title.”

This follows an earlier high-profile book on owls, Tony Angell’s 2015 The House of Owls. Angell provides an introduction to Unwin’s work.

Best Seller List Sees Double

Friday, March 3rd, 2017

In a rare feat, historian Yuval Noah Harari’s name appears twice on the latest NYT Nonfiction Hardcover Best Seller list.

9780062464316_26b39Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow (HC/Harper; HarperAudio; OverDrive Sample) debuts at #3.

The book explores how the development of artificial life and intelligence affects real human beings. It has received widespread attention from the media. The author is interviewed by The Atlantic, Time, and WiredNPR calls the book “enlightening and slightly terrifying.” The Guardian says it is “spellbinding” and says, “it is hard to imagine anyone could read this book without getting an occasional, vertiginous thrill.

The NYT reviewer, however, is lukewarm, writing “an argument can look seamless and still contain lots of dropped stitches.

9780062316097_0a508It is joined on the best seller list by Harari’s previous title, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (Harper; HarperAudio; OverDrive Sample, 2015), returning at #10 on the strength of the attention to the new title.

A hit when it first came out, it received a second wind from Bill Gates who picked it as one of his Summer Reads.

Below are NPR’s interviews with the author for each book:

Noah’s Photographer

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017

9781426217777_a4172In the midst of a project to photograph every species of animal held in a zoo, aquarium, rehab center, or similar location, National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore has published a sampling in his new book The Photo Ark: One Man’s Quest to Document the World’s Animals (National Geographic).

Interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air yesterday, his book soared up the Amazon rankings to #32 this morning.

After a decade of shooting in the wild Sartore says he hopes that creating intimate, close up portraits will help humans become more invested in saving the other species that share the planet.


To give each species its due, the animals are presented studio style against a black or white background. “A mouse is every bit as glorious as an elephant, and a tiger beetle is every bit as big and important as a tiger. It’s a great equalizer.” It also reveals aspects of the personality of each animal. Some look joyful, some curious, some scared.

By the turn of the next century we stand to lose nearly 1/2 of all species, Says Sartre, making the project particularly urgent. “A lot of the species that you see in The Photo Ark would be extinct by now if it weren’t for captive breeding programs … I know of at least four or five animals now that are the very last of their kind in the world’s zoos and I’ve got to get to them, and it means I’m gone all the time, and once I get there I’ve got to do the world’s best picture of this animal before it’s lost.”


Sunday, December 18th, 2016

9780393254594_a5e49Hitting the NYT Hardcover Nonfiction Best Seller list at #2 this week is Michael Lewis’s newest The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds (Norton; S&S Audio; OverDrive Sample).

Libraries are showing holds as high as 17:1, and generally well above a 3:1 standard.

The book explores the work of Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky and the question, as the NYT frames it, of “Why do most people, from sports managers to bankers, so often overlook the data and make colossal errors based on gut instinct?”

The two found, “In study after study,” the review goes on, “that when it comes to making decisions, humans are predisposed to irrationality. Their surprising findings have had profound implications for everything from behavioral economics and politics, to advanced medicine and sports.”

Indeed, as Lewis wrote in Vanity Fair, their work, although he did not know it at the time, is behind the ideas explored in Moneyball.

But the reason that people are enthusiastic about Lewis’s book may be due to his ability to bring the emotional to what may seem like a dry subject. Jennifer Senior writes in her NYT review, “During its final pages, I was blinking back tears, hardly your typical reaction to a book about a pair of academic psychologists. The reason is simple. Mr. Lewis has written one hell of a love story, and a tragic one at that. The book is particularly good at capturing the agony of the one who loves the more ”

9780374533557Readers may know one of the subjects of the book, Nobel prize-winner Kahneman for his own bestselling book Thinking, Fast and Slow.

Lewis has made many appearances for the book, including the following on CSB This Morning earlier in the month:

The Wonders of Technology

Sunday, November 6th, 2016

9780226381039_fdcd5Why the Wheel Is Round: Muscles, Technology, and How We Make Things Move, Steven Vogel (University of Chicago Press) is rising on Amazon’s sales rankings, reaching a high position for a university press science book. It is currently ranked #228, up from #1,227.

The big jump coincides with a glowing review in The Wall Street Journal (subscription may be required) that says Vogel’s posthumous last book (he died in 2015), is “wonderful … in the literal sense of the word, full of wonders of nature, human invention, history and the sheer joy of looking at the world through the eyes of a keen—and amiable—scientific observer.”

Reviewer Stephen Budiansky, author of Code Warriors: NSA’s Codebreakers and the Secret Intelligence War Against the Soviet Union, continues, calling the work “intriguing, insightful and revealing … [a] marvelous and frequently entertaining exploration of the science of everyday things, illuminating why many of the things (both living and man-made) that we take for granted are the way they are.”

97802261047759780393319903_300While none of the libraries we checked have yet ordered Vogel’s newest (it appears that there were no pre-pub reviews), interest in his other works mentioned in the article, The Life of a Leaf (University of Chicago Press, 2013) and Cats’ Paws and Catapults: Mechanical Worlds of Nature and People (Norton, 2000; OverDrive Sample), is clear. As an example, in one library we checked, every copy of The Life of a Leaf is either currently checked out or on hold.


Wednesday, October 5th, 2016

9781476795997_dc7e6Dogs have the ability to create “a picture of the world through smell” says Alexandra Horowitz in her new book Being a Dog: Following the Dog Into a World of Smell (S&S/Scribner; S&S Audio; OverDrive Sample). It is rising on Amazon’s sales rankings after a feature on NPR’s Fresh Air, bounding up the charts to #94 from #8,258.

During the program Horowitz discusses how dog’s snouts work, that they can smell what time of day it is, and their work conducting search and rescue, bomb and drug detection, and cancer diagnosis. They can even smell electronics law officers want to locate. So amazing is their ability that they can smell a trace sent at a measurement of a trillionth of a gram.

Horowitz explains that dogs breathe differently than humans and their exhale, through the side of their nose, helps them hold onto scents longer, “It’s like a circular breathing of smelling. It also creates a little puff on the ground, a puff of air that might actually allow more odor molecules to come up toward their nose to be sniffed.”

She also discusses how important dog’s interactions with different smells are, warning, says NPR, “that pulling dogs away from smell-rich environments, such as fire hydrants and tree trunks, can cause them to lose their predisposition to smell.”

When we force dogs away from their smelling time and into the visual world we recognize, Horowitz says dogs “start attending to our pointing and our gestures and our facial expressions more, and less to smells.” She continues:

“I really am trying to counter what I and lots of owners have done our whole lives, which is discourage smelling. In fact, instead I’m trying to embrace it. So on a ‘smell walk,’ I just let the dog choose what we’re going to do, where we’re going to go, and how long we’re going to stay there. … I just let the dog take charge. Sometimes our walks are pretty much standing around, actually, but I think the dog is enjoying himself.”

9781416583431The interview connected with listeners, so much so that an older book by Horowitz also saw a jump. Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know (S&S/Scribner; Tantor Media; OverDrive Sample). It  rose from #8,761 all the way to #302 on Amazon’s rankings.

For those who prefer cats, a report published yesterday in the The Wall Street Journal [subscription may be required] says watching cute cat videos makes people feel “significantly happier, more content and more energized … as well as less anxious, less annoyed and less sad.” Do yourself a favor and watch this:

Back to the dogs, here is the Fresh Air interview:

Trending: Time Travel

Tuesday, September 27th, 2016

9780307908797_9e581“The shelves of every library in the world brim with time machines. Step into one, and off you go.”

So says Anthony Doerr in his engaging and story-filled NYT‘s Sunday Book Review (online now, in print Oct. 2) of James Gleick’s Time Travel: A History (PRH/Pantheon; RH Audio/BOT; OverDrive Sample).

Fittingly for a book that considers the concept of time travel, including how it has been imagined and used in literature, Doerr begins his review by sharing his favorite time travel stories (a key one is Ray Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder”) and then moves on to Gleick’s history, calling it,

“a fascinating mash-up of philosophy, literary criticism, physics and cultural observation. It’s witty (“Regret is the time traveler’s energy bar”), pithy (“What is time? Things change, and time is how we keep track”) and regularly manages to twist its reader’s mind into … Gordian knots … he employs time travel to initiate engrossing discussions of causation, fatalism, predestination and even consciousness itself.”

Time is a subject bound to be at the forefront this fall. In addition to Gleick’s book there is Now: The Physics of Time, Richard A. Muller (Norton) and a surprising number of TV shows on the subject. So many that it has lead the WSJ to call time a “hot concept” for the upcoming season, writing, “Television networks are consumed with time-shifting in every sense.”

Shows about time travel include Frequency, Legends of Tomorrow, Making HistoryTimeless and Time After Time (adapted from the 1979 novel by Karl Alexander).

Not exactly time travel, more deja vu,  are the many remakes and spin-offs of older shows. WSJ lists “Taken (a prequel to the Liam Neeson revenge movies) and Emerald City (billed as an edgier Wizard of Oz fantasy). Then there are the franchise expansions, with spin-off The Blacklist: Redemption and a fourth (fourth!) addition to the Chicago line of dramas from Dick Wolf (Chicago Justice) … Lethal Weapon (Fox), and Training Day (CBS) … Fox’s Prison Break sequel and a series based on 43-year-old horror classic The ExorcistMacGyver.”

All this led Jimmy Kimmel, WSJ reports, to say: “All your favorite VHS tapes are now becoming shows,” leading Glamour magazine to point out “The past is a franchise.”

The Social Network of Trees

Thursday, September 15th, 2016

9781771642484_d154bSoaring up the Amazon sales rankings is The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate—Discoveries From a Secret World, Peter Wohlleben (PGW/Perseus/Greystone Books; OverDrive Sample) written by a German forester about the remarkable ways trees communicate and care for each other, via an “electrically alive fungal-root network now known as the Wood Wide Web.”

The book is well within Amazon’s Top 50, jumping from #246 to #44 and several libraries are showing strong holds. The rise coincides with a recent flurry of news stories and an appearance on NPR’s On Point yesterday.

This is not the first time the book has leaped on Amazon, as we wrote in January, on the strength of an article in the New York Times, the title initially reached the lofty heights of Amazon sales rankings at #22.

A surprise best seller in Germany, it is delighting readers across Europe and Canada and looks poised to also do well in the US, swept along not just by what McLean’s calls its “utterly charming” affect but by recent interests in new discoveries of just how smart living creatures are, such as Frans de Waal’s Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? and Jennifer Ackerman’s The Genius of Birds.

Check your holds, some locations are showing spikes as high as 10:1.

For those interested in the science, there is a TED Talk on the subject, given by another researcher in the field.

The Invisible Zoo

Friday, August 19th, 2016

9780062368591_892eaI Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life by Ed Yong (HC/Ecco; HarperAudio; OverDrive Sample) is rising on Amazon after getting the Fresh Air bump, moving from #570 to now sitting firmly within the top 50 at #41.

Host Terry Gross talked with the author, Ed Yong, a writer at the The Atlantic and for National Geographic‘s “science salon,” Phenomena. The early part of the interview is a not-for-dinner-table conversation about fecal transplants and “fake poop.” It then moves to a more wide ranging and fascinating exploration of what the microbiome and its nearly countless numbers do.

One intriguing outtake is the fact that humans have evolved so that the sugars in breast milk feed the microbes in a baby’s stomach, sugars specifically meant for the microbe as the baby cannot digest them. Yong says “So breast milk isn’t just a way of nourishing an infant. It’s a way of nourishing babies’ first microbes. It’s really a way of engineering an entire world inside a baby’s body. You know, breastfeeding mother is a sculptor of ecosystems.”

There is also a microbe called Wolbachia that “allows some caterpillars that eat leaves to stop the leaves from turning yellow. It actually holds back the progress of fall so that … its hosts can have more to eat.”

To close the interview Gross asks Yong what he thinks about now that he knows about the microbiome multitudes and he says,

“all this biology which I thought I knew, all these creatures, these elephants and hawks and fish that I was fascinated by, these things I could see with my eyes, are actually deeply and profoundly influenced by things that I cannot see. And I know that if I go to a zoo now that every animal and every visitor in that zoo is in fact a zoo in its own right.”


Monday, August 15th, 2016

9780062363596_b2357The publication of Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race (HarperCollins/Morrow; HarperLuxe, Sept. 6) by Margot Lee Shetterly is heralded by not just a book trailer, but a full-fledged movie trailer for a major release, coming in January. As a result, the book jumped up Amazon’s sales rankings.

One of our GalleyChat titles for July, it was signed up back in 2015. Director Theodore Melfi (St. Vincent) was so taken with the script that he dropped out of the running to direct a Spiderman movie in favor of this one.

It stars Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe as a group of African American women who worked at NASA in Langley, Virginia on the mission that sent John Glenn into space in 1962. Also in the cast are Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons, Mahershala Ali, Aldis Hodge and Glen Powell.

The book will be released in paperback in December. Two young readers editions, for ages 8 to 12,  are also scheduled, in hardcover and paperback.

9780316338929_25c22Earlier this year, another book on a different group of women in the space program was released, Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars, Nathalia Holt (Hachette/Little, Brown; OverDrive Sample). Also called ‘human computers” like the women in Langley, they worked in the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California in the 1960’s. One of them, Janez Lawson, was African American.

Mysteries of the Brain

Wednesday, August 10th, 2016

Patient H.M.

One of the most-reviled medical practices of the last century is the lobotomy. In a book published this week,  Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets, (PRH/Random House; RH Audio/BOT), Luke Dittrich examines one of the practitioners, a neurosurgeon who lobotomized Patient H.M. in an effort to solve his epilepsy. As a result, the patient emerged from the operation unable to create new memories and, in a time when “the lines between medical practice and medical research were blurry”  became the “most important research subject in the history of brain science.” Dittrich says he finds the story personally shocking, particularly because the neurosurgeon was his grandfather.

He was interviewed on the PBS NewsHour last night.

An excerpt titled, “The Brain That Couldn’t Remember: The untold story of the fight over the legacy of ‘H.M.’ — the patient who revolutionized the science of memory” is the cover of this week’s New York Times Magazine.

UPDATE: A letter of protest sent to the NYT (but, oddly, not to the book’s publisher), signed by 200 members of the scientific community, most of them from MIT, protests parts of the story that are critical of MIT professor Suzanne Corkin.


Thursday, August 4th, 2016

9780393253788_d0e37Why do some people get car sick? Why do humans exaggerate? Why are some people great at Jeopardy and awful balancing a checkbook?

Terry Gross explores those questions and much more during a Fresh Air interview with Dean Burnett, neuroscientist and author of Idiot Brain: What Your Head Is Really Up To (Norton; OverDrive Sample).

The two talk about how the brain is highly illogical – if it were a computer it would alter the information stored within it to “suit your purposes, to suit your preferences … [its] egotistical … the brain tweaks and adjusts the information it stores to make you look better.”

Burnett also explains what happens with short-term memory: why you can walk into a room and forget why you went there in the first place. He calls it as fleeting as the “foam on your coffee.”

The  fascinating and oddly practical information clearly engages Gross, who applies what Burnett says to her own life.

He offers more tidbits in a Smithsonian interview, where he explains what causes us to feel like we are falling in our sleep only to jerk awake (“It could have something to do with our ancestors sleeping in trees”) and how Tylenol can soothe a broken heart – because the brain actually feels the loss of a romantic partner and acetaminophen effects that part of the brain.

Burnett writes the “Brain Flapping” column for The Guardian. One of its competitors, the Independent, calls his book “a wonderful introduction to neuroscience [that] deserves to be widely read.”

Libraries have bought fairly low but are seeing growing holds.

Houston, We Have A Winner

Friday, July 1st, 2016

9780316338929_25c22PBS Newshour just launched Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars, Nathalia Holt (Hachette/Little, Brown; OverDrive Sample) into book sales orbit, helping it soar on Amazon from a sales rank of #6,540 to 146.

The dramatic move is due to a segment of the show’s special summer reading series that offers author interviews conducted at book shows around the country. The Newshour‘s Jeffrey Brown sat down with Holt at the Los Angeles Book Festival and the pair talked about women in science during the early years of the space program and today.

Holt says that in the early days of the Jet Propulsion Lab a group of women called “computers” figured out the calculations of the space program, doing math with pencil and paper and some very bulky calculators.

Once computers were introduced, these women became the first programmers.

Her book traces their history and accomplishments and recounts how both NASA and JPL overlooked their achievements as time went by. Case in point, none were invited to the 2008 gala held to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Explorer 1 (America’s first satellite), an oversight that is particularly galling since one of the Rocket Girls, Barbara Paulson, figured out the trajectory on the night Explorer 1 launched, working in the control room. Holt says “when the first American satellite is a success, its because of her. She is the one that found out it’s actually in orbit.”

Holt also talks about how 2016 is a “desperate time for women in technology,” largely due to a lack of role models. In 1984, she says “37 percent of bachelor’s degrees in computer sciences were awarded to women. And today that number is 18 percent.” While female astronauts are doing astoundingly well, making up half of the current class at NASA, female engineers are seeing their lowest numbers in decades.

Holt hopes reading the stories of the pioneering Rocket Girls and learning what they achieved and overcame, will help change that.