Books in brief

Journal name:
Date published:
Published online

The Scramble for the Amazon and the Lost Paradise of Euclides da Cunha

Susanna Hecht Univ. Chicago Press 600 pp. $45 (2013)

Historian Susanna Hecht charts a brutal nineteenth-century resource grab: the US and European rubber raids in the Amazon. Woven through is the story of great Brazilian environmental writer, geographer and engineer Euclides da Cunha, whose survey expedition down the Amazon River exposed the raids' grim ecological and human toll. Da Cunha's account, Lost Paradise, masterfully mixes biology, geography and philosophy, but remains unfinished: he died violently. A journey into South America's heart of darkness.

Turned Out Nice Again: On Living With the Weather

Richard Mabey Profile Books 160 pp. £8.99 (2013)

As denizens of an island prone to flooding, gales, drizzle and the occasional halcyon day, Britons obsess about meteorological vagaries. Nature writer Richard Mabey celebrates this preoccupation with the weather that, glue-like, bonds a nation. In a lyrical 90 pages, he takes us from freak events such as the January 1940 ice storm that saw cats “iced to branches”, to retinal detachment during extreme low fronts and the soggy impact of climate change. Mabey's veerings — from forecaster-shamans to naturalist Gilbert White's frozen pisspot — are as gloriously mercurial as the British weather.

Noise: A Human History of Sound and Listening

David Hendy Profile Books 402 pp. £16.99 (2013)

An acoustic history spanning some 100,000 years, this BBC Radio 4 tie-in is a smorgasbord of sound. David Hendy leads us into the 'voiceprints' of human prehistory through the music of wind-torn forests, calling animals and stridulating insects that must have inspired our early ancestors. He then tackles the roots of oratory; the aural assault course that was ancient Rome; the specialized 'smart' acoustics of churches and mosques; noise anxiety in an urbanizing, militarized world; the rise of recording technology; and the contemporary search for silence in the soundscape.

Forecast: What Physics, Meteorology, and the Natural Sciences Can Teach Us About Economics

Mark Buchanan Bloomsbury 272 pp. £18.99 (2013)

Physicist Mark Buchanan rethinks the wobbly phenomenon of international finance. Markets, he argues, do not self-regulate. They are as vulnerable to severe 'weather events' as Kansas: prone, like any system, to positive feedbacks in which small variations can lead to sudden change. Buchanan argues for a physics-flavoured disequilibrium approach that would improve forecasts through the creation of models that are fine-tuned to recognized shifts in trade, speculation and other financial activities.

Red Rover: Inside the Story of Robotic Space Exploration, from Genesis to the Mars Rover Curiosity

Roger Wiens Basic Books 256 pp. $25.99 (2013)

Space hardware is in boom mode, points out geochemist — and principal investigator for Curiosity's ChemCam instrument — Roger Wiens. Meshing the blow-by-blow science with memoir, his account begins with childhood rocket modelling and telescope building, moves on to the 2001 Genesis mission and culminates with the financial and technological rollercoaster in the lead-up to Curiosity. A tribute to human ingenuity in NASA's “faster, better, cheaper” era.

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