Books in brief

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    Blowout in the Gulf: The BP Oil Spill Disaster and the Future of Energy in America

    William Freudenburg and Robert Gramling. The MIT Press 240 pp. $18.95 (2010)

    Environmental scientist William Freudenburg and sociologist Robert Gramling set the recent Gulf of Mexico oil spill in the broader context of energy policy. After examining decisions made during attempts to stifle the gushing well, they point the finger at the oil industry for cutting regulatory corners and pocketing the proceeds. In future, greater emphasis should be put on prevention, and risk assessments should include human as well as hardware foibles, they argue.

    The Evolutionary World: How Adaptation Explains Everything from Seashells to Civilization

    Thomas Dunne Books 336 pp. $27.99 (2010)

    In his far-ranging book, geologist Geerat Vermeij stretches the implications of evolution to all aspects of society, from religion to morality. With a focus on adaptation and using examples from ecosystems around the world, he explains how natural selection has influenced human civilization and underpins our economic system, the development of communities and our attitudes to risk. Only by understanding these forces, he argues, can we prepare for the challenges that lie ahead.

    Information and the Nature of Reality: From Physics to Metaphysics

    Edited by:
    Cambridge University Press 398 pp. $30 (2010)

    Information, rather than mass and energy, is coming to be seen as the fundamental currency of the Universe. Eminent scientists, philosophers and theologians come together in this anthology to chart this shift in thinking. After describing the historical development of theories of quantum, biological and digital information, they contrast biological and physical approaches to information and examine the philosophical and ethical implications of the concept.

    Our Magnetic Earth: The Science of Geomagnetism

    University Of Chicago Press 272 pp. $25 (2010)

    Earth's magnetic field is a valuable tool, influencing everything from compass settings to the migration of geese. It lays down in rocks a forensic record of the spreading of ocean floors, plate tectonics and past climate. It also protects our planet by deflecting damaging cosmic rays, and is sensed by organisms from bacteria to mammals. In his primer that is peppered with anecdotes, geophysicist Ronald Merrill explains why geomagnetism is central to Earth science and discusses how it could offer solutions to some of the biggest questions about our planet's future.

    How Many Friends Does One Person Need? Dunbar's Number and Other Evolutionary Quirks

    Harvard University Press 312 pp. $27.95 (2010)

    From our love of jokes to our degree of belief in religion, anthropologist Robin Dunbar seeks to explain why people behave as they do. Describing groundbreaking experiments that reveal how evolutionary biology underpins our behaviour, he asks why we laugh, why we should be suspicious of someone who has more than 150 friends on Facebook and why Barack Obama's 2008 US election victory was a foregone conclusion.

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    Books in brief. Nature 468, 505 (2010) doi:10.1038/468505a

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