Books in brief

Journal name:
Date published:
Published online

Love, Literature, and the Quantum Atom: Niels Bohr's 1913 Trilogy Revisited

Finn Aaserud and John L. Heilbron Oxford University Press (2013)

Science historian John Heilbron analyses the cultural underpinnings of physicist Niels Bohr's creativity. Bohr's immersion in works by Søren Kierkegaard and other greats of literature and philosophy fed the wellsprings of his quantum atom theory, argues Heilbron (see Nature 498, 2730; 2013). This is a unique contribution to the fanfare around the centenary of Bohr's theory: it incorporates archivist Finn Aaserud's assemblage of previously unpublished letters between Bohr and his family, and a reprint of Bohr's 'Trilogy' of papers.

The Universe in the Rearview Mirror: How Hidden Symmetries Shape Reality

Dave Goldberg Dutton (2013)

Who knew symmetry could be so brilliantly entertaining? Physicist Dave Goldberg slings the reader straight in at the deep end of this big physics concept, but with enough masterly wit to keep you afloat. If you've ever longed to know the nitty-gritty on antimatter; puzzled over the exclusion principle; woken up in a cold sweat wondering why you are not a “sentient cloud of helium”; gritted your teeth over the cosmological principle; or been terrified by the beasts of the 'particle zoo', this is for you.

A Piece of the Sun: The Quest for Fusion Energy

Daniel Clery Duckworth (2013)

“Fusion seems too good to be true,” notes Daniel Clery. But for researchers in this field, making the 'perfect' energy source a reality is central to a power-hungry age. Clery chronicles the march of fusion projects and innovative physicists from the 1940s on. From Peter Thonemann's work on the Zero Energy Thermonuclear Assembly to Lyman Spitzer, Lev Artsimovich and later stars, we enter a prodigious realm of pinch plasmas, stellarators and tokamaks. Despite big hopes and machines to match, harnessing “a piece of the Sun” still faces economic and scientific hurdles, Clery shows.

The Attacking Ocean: The Past, Present and Future of Rising Sea Levels

Brian Fagan Bloomsbury (2013)

In his wide-ranging study of rising sea levels from the end of the last Ice Age to today, Brian Fagan traces the impact on humanity. The scattered groups that faced early thaws adapted by moving to higher ground. But the growth of populations, industrialization and coastal cities since 1860 has now left hundreds of millions at risk from the sea's climate-driven climb. Hurricane Sandy, Fagan reminds, underlines the need for adaptation strategies and coastal defences from the United States to Bangladesh.

The Prince of Medicine: Galen in the Roman Empire

Susan P. Mattern Oxford University Press (2013)

He was a Greek medic who patched up Roman gladiators — and the emperor Marcus Aurelius. The shadowy figure of Galen, whose treatises dominated Western medicine for centuries, here bursts into life. Susan Mattern shows that he used wine on wounds — although ignorant of its bactericidal properties — and contributed to anatomy (dissecting live Barbary macaques) and pharmacology. He was also arrogant, but Mattern argues that his clinical excellence in a plague-ridden era far outshone his flaws.

Additional data