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Books in brief

From ocean swells to heartbeats, waves are all around us. In The Wavewatcher's Companion (Bloomsbury, 2010), Gavin Pretor-Pinney marvels at undulations of all types, sharing an obsession that began while standing on a sea shore. As with his previous bestseller, The Cloudspotter's Guide, he peers with a perceptive eye at the phenomena of everyday life to reveal the science that underlies them. Along the way he ties together a vast range of topics, from the wiggle of a snake to the ripples of the Big Bang.

The unavoidable impacts of sea-level rise are imagined in astrobiologist Peter Ward's latest book. In The Flooded Earth (Basic Books, 2010), he cautions that the swelling of the oceans by up to 4 metres by the end of this century will be the most profound consequence of global warming. In coming decades, the ice caps will disappear, high salt levels will render prime agricultural land barren, and coastal cities, including Amsterdam, Miami and Venice, will have to be abandoned. Ward also notes the species extinctions that will result.

Mathematician Joseph Mazur examines the science of gambling in What's Luck Got to Do With It? (Princeton Univ. Press, 2010). From the dice-playing of Neolithic peoples to modern lotteries and casino capitalism, he tracks the history of placing bets. He explains both the mathematics of chance and the psychological and emotional factors that entice some people to risk it all to win that improbable jackpot.


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Baker, J. Books in brief. Nature 466, 32 (2010).

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