The Best New Science Books

Neil deGrasse Tyson, Area 51, modern life vs human nature, and more

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Pluto Files by Neil deGrasse Tyson (Norton)
What did Pluto ever do to Tyson? In his latest book the energetic astronomer and television host taps pop culture and breaking research to explain why he led the charge to banish Pluto from planetary status.

The Well-Dressed Ape by Hannah Holmes (Random House)
Holmes ignores our self-congratulatory tendencies and gives a witty, detailed look at Homo sapiens through the eyes of an evolutionary biologist, exposing us as a thin-skinned, dull-toothed, small-clawed, and pitiable species.

The Crowded Universe: The Search for Living Planets by Alan Boss (Basic)
The space race is on. No, not back to the moon. The next great achievement for humanity will be to find alien life on another planet. Astronomer Boss gives an inside view of how new space telescopes like Kepler and Corot are on the verge of finding Earth-like worlds around other stars.

It Takes a Genome: How a Clash Between Our Genes and Modern Life Is Making Us Sick by Greg Gibson (FT Press Science)
Is modern life corrupting our DNA? Gibson’s cautionary tale points to the alarming rise in diseases like diabetes, asthma, and Alzheimer’s, warning that more than half of us will die from our genetic vulnerabilities if we stay the course in our do-nothing, eat-a-lot lives.


Blank Spots on the Map: The Dark Geography of the Pentagon’s Secret World by Trevor Paglen (Dutton)
Area 51 is probably the most famous place that doesn’t exist on a map—at least not any map the U.S. government wants you to see. But it’s far from the only one. Paglen pulls back the curtain of secrecy on the military’s classified locations, from downtown Las Vegas to Kabul, Afghanistan, to the Washington, D.C., suburbs.

Remarkable Creatures: Epic Adventures in the Search for the Origins of Species by Sean B. Carroll (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Darwin is the public face of evolutionary biology, but he doesn’t deserve all the credit. Carroll, a noted evolutionary biologist himself, gives a nod to the scores of underappre­ciated researchers who have filled in the gaps. In this exhaustive history, we learn the true extent of evolution’s influence on the way we think.

Cyberabad Days by Ian McDonald (Pyr)
The advanced technology of the near future runs smack into a millennia-old culture in McDonald’s clever imaginings of life in 21st-century India. This anthology includes previously published short stories and an intricate new novella that explores the digital divide in surprising ways.


TV American Experience: The Polio Crusade

PBS, Monday, February 2, at 9 p.m. (EST) In the early 1950s there were more than 20,000 cases a year of poliomyelitis, a disease that causes paralysis or death. But on April 26, 1954, researchers began administering a vaccine in what would become the largest public health experiment in American history. The experiment paid off: By 1960 the number of annual cases had dropped to about 3,000, and by 1979 there were only about 10. This intimate PBS documentary chronicles the story of the polio vaccine’s success—a triumph of science over disease.

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