Books in brief

Journal name:
Date published:
Published online

Me, Myself, and Why: Searching for the Science of Self

Jennifer Ouellette Penguin Books (2014)

What sets us apart, genetically, neurologically and behaviourally? Science journalist Jennifer Ouellette's exploration of the “science of self” is an engrossing and often amusing tour of elite labs and edgy research. She is tested by US personal-genetics company 23andMe and in the belly of a magnetic resonance imaging machine in the lab of neuroscientist David Eagleman. She interviews behavioural psychologists, muses on digital doppelgängers, drops LSD and dips her toe into consciousness studies. Ultimately, she concludes, the self consists in what we make of our biological constraints.

Windfall: The Booming Business of Global Warming

McKenzie Funk Penguin Press (2014)

This exposé of the powers and people that view global warming as an investment opportunity is darkly humorous and brilliantly researched. Journalist McKenzie Funk looks at the impacts deemed a windfall for “climate capitalists”: melting ice, drought, sea-level rise and superstorms. He reports far and wide, on the oil-rich far north, where nations jostle as the ice retreats; blaze-prone California and its burgeoning band of firebreak specialists; water-rich South Sudan, where large tracts of foreign-owned farmland could become a gold mine as other regions dry up; and beyond.

The Perfect Wave: With Neutrinos at the Boundary of Space and Time

Heinrich Päs Harvard University Press (2014)

The ghostly neutrino — a mutable, almost massless particle that can pass through dense substances — stars in this scientific history. Theoretical physicist Heinrich Päs surfs the decades of dazzling research since Wolfgang Pauli first posited the particle in 1930. Päs revisits key theorists such as Ettore Majorana, and lays out the work of groundbreaking labs from Los Alamos in New Mexico, where Fred Reines and Clyde Cowan first detected neutrinos in the early 1950s, to today's vast IceCube neutrino observatory in Antarctica.

Mindwise: How We Understand What Others Think, Believe, Feel, and Want

Nicholas Epley Knopf (2014)

Psychologist Nicholas Epley examines the “real sixth sense”: inferring what others think, an ability essential in everything from high-level diplomacy to parenting. But as he shows, our conscious introspection is limited, and we tend to dehumanize others, as well as filter our perception of them through a screen of egotism. Epley sees the solution as the face-to-face work of open, honest communication — a tough call in a society addicted to texting and tweeting. Nuanced, authoritative and accessible.

The Antidote: Inside the World of New Pharma

Barry Werth Simon and Schuster (2014)

In his follow-up to The Billion-Dollar Molecule (1994), Barry Werth re-enters the tough world of big pharma to trace the trajectory of drug company Vertex over the past two decades. The US-based company, once an upstart setting out to challenge the giants, now crafts promising treatments. Kalydeco (ivacaftor), for instance, treats cystic fibrosis by targeting the effects of a particular genetic mutation. A riveting mix of molecular science, big personalities — and big money.

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