Books in brief

Journal name:
Date published:
Published online

Rat Island: Predators in Paradise and the World's Greatest Wildlife Rescue

William Stolzenburg Bloomsbury 288 pp. $26 (2011)

Sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind. So say conservationists who eradicate invasive species in order to protect more established ones. Focusing on one island in the Bering Sea where nesting birds are being savaged by marauding rats, journalist William Stolzenburg explains why ecologists have become poisoners to reduce the rodent population. He highlights the fine line between wildlife protection and poaching.

For the Love of Physics: From the End of the Rainbow to the Edge Of Time — A Journey Through the Wonders of Physics

Walter Lewin with Warren Goldstein Simon & Schuster 320 pp. $26 (2011)

Having topped the online video charts with his daredevil YouTube lectures, physicist Walter Lewin has become a celebrity teacher. In this book, he brings his trademark hands-on approach to explaining the wonder of physics. By asking simple questions that we can all identify with, such as why we are shorter standing than lying down, he explains complicated subjects such as gravity.

The Compass of Pleasure: How Our Brains Make Fatty Foods, Orgasm, Exercise, Marijuana, Generosity, Vodka, Learning, and Gambling Feel So Good

David J. Linden Viking 240 pp. $26.95 (2011)

The pursuit of desire explains much of human history. Neuroscientist David Linden explains how aspects of our brain lead us to crave food, sex, drugs and rock'n'roll. He also notes the evolutionary reasons why we gain pleasure from virtues as well as vices. Knowledge of the biological basis of pleasure forces us to rethink the moral and legal ramifications of addictions, he says.

Light From the East: How the Science of Medieval Islam Helped to Shape the Western World

John Freely I. B. Tauris 256 pp. $28 (2011)

In his account of the rich history of idea-swapping among medieval civilizations, travel writer John Freely celebrates the golden age of Arabic science. By describing the astrologers, physicians, philosophers, mathematicians and alchemists of the Muslim world, he reveals how knowledge spread from Central Asia and the Middle East to Spain and Europe, where it influenced Western thinkers.

Sex, Murder, and the Meaning of Life: A Psychologist Investigates How Evolution, Cognition, and Complexity are Revolutionizing Our View of Human Nature

Douglas Kenrick Basic Books 256 pp. $26.99 (2011)

With heads full of sexual — and sometimes homicidal — fantasies, we humans still carry much evolutionary baggage from our wild ancestors. In his idiosyncratic account, social psychologist Douglas Kenrick shows how these roots are more beneficial than troubling. Apparently, irrational and selfish behaviours — such as one-night stands, prejudices and greed — are ultimately rational, he says, and presage positive urges such as love and generosity.

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