The Age of Deception: Nuclear Diplomacy in Treacherous Times

  • Mohamed ElBaradei
Bloomsbury 352 pp. £20 (2011)

Mohamed ElBaradei served as director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency from 1997 to 2009, and shared the Nobel Peace Prize with the agency in 2005. In his memoir, he reflects on the use of diplomacy to limit nuclear proliferation across the globe, giving an insight into foreign policy approaches. He charts his experience of negotiations during conflicts with North Korea and Iran, and in the run-up to the Iraq war, highlighting the difficulty of maintaining objectivity when under pressure from presidents, politicians and the press.

Elixir: A Human History of Water

  • Brian Fagan
Bloomsbury 416 pp. £20 (2011)

The availability of water is central to human survival and the growth of civilization. Anthropologist Brian Fagan charts three ages of water in his book. In the first, water was scarce and it was worshipped by early humans. In the second, we learned to manage water through engineering — notably the innovations of the Greeks, Romans and Victorians. We are now entering the third age, he contends, when we will again have to learn to revere this essential liquid, albeit with the benefit of improved technology. Lessons from the past could help us adapt to a drier future, he suggests.

Boltzmann's Tomb: Travels in Search of Science

  • Bill Green
Bellevue Literary Press 288 pp. $25 (2011)

In a history of science told as a travelogue, geochemist Bill Green describes his pilgrimage to the places in which his scientific heroes worked and made groundbreaking discoveries. He hunts down the remnants of Antoine Lavoisier's chemistry laboratory in Paris, finds signs of astronomer Johannes Kepler in Prague, visits Albert Einstein's apartment in Bern and locates Boltzmann's tomb in Vienna, relating tales of many others along the way. The result is a very personal take on science's twists and turns throughout the centuries.

Among African Apes: Stories and Photos from the Field

Martha M. Robbins and Christophe Boesch. University of California Press 200 pp. $29.95 (2011)

By relating first-hand stories of their field work with wild African great apes, primatologists Martha Robbins and Christophe Boesch give a fresh insight into research and conservation efforts. Their vivid descriptions reveal how chimpanzees, bonobos and gorillas hunt, socialize and play in their natural habitat, as well as the threats they face from poaching, disease and deforestation. The authors also describe their experiences of working with the animals in remote places, and highlight the effectiveness of conservation efforts.

Between Raphael and Galileo: Mutio Oddi and the Mathematical Culture of Late Renaissance Italy

  • Alexander Marr
University of Chicago Press 384 pp. $45 (2011)

Mutio Oddi of Urbino is less famous than his contemporary Galileo Galilei, but made many contributions to mathematics, instrument-making and architecture in the seventeenth century. Art historian Alexander Marr delves into Oddi's archives to piece together the typical life of an artisan–scholar in late Renaissance Italy. He shows how scientific advances then depended more on who you knew and where you lived than on the breakthrough you achieved.