Books & Arts | Published:

Books in brief

Nature volume 486, page 319 (21 June 2012) | Download Citation

Superfuel: Thorium, the Green Energy Source for the Future

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Palgrave Macmillan 272 pp. £18.99 (2012)

Post-Fukushima, uranium-powered plants face being phased out in many countries. But there is a nuclear alternative, argues clean-energy-research analyst Richard Martin: thorium. Less volatile than uranium, four times as abundant, energy-dense and efficient, thorium has major potential, not least because liquid fluoride thorium reactors create no nuclear waste. Martin's investigation reveals how the technology, developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, was dropped by President Richard Nixon in 1972 — and how interest is now picking up in China, India and elsewhere.

Born Together — Reared Apart

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Harvard University Press 416 pp. £36.95 (2012)

The 'Jim twins' constituted a watershed in the nature–nurture debate. When Jim Lewis and Jim Springer — twins separated at four months — were reunited at 39, both were found to have loved maths, worked as sheriffs and practised carpentry, among other startling parallels. The case underlined the importance of genetics and led to the Minnesota Study of Twins Reared Apart. In this inclusive overview, Nancy Segal, director of the Twin Studies Center at California State University, Fullerton, examines the study that turned ideas on parenting, teaching, health and sexual orientation upside down.

Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Shadow of a Secret Nuclear Facility

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Harvill Secker 416 pp. £14.99 (2012)

For years, Kristen Iversen's mother thought that the industrial complex in their small Colorado town manufactured cleaning agents. But this was Rocky Flats — the US government facility where the plutonium 'pits' of nuclear weapons were manufactured. And, as Iversen reveals, it was plagued by safety issues. Among the appalling twists in this tale are high levels of testicular cancer among teenage boys in the area. After an inter-agency raid in 1989, pit production ceased; but Rocky Flats makes for a story with a long half-life.

Picturing the Book of Nature: Image, Text, and Argument in Sixteenth-Century Human Anatomy and Medical Botany

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University of Chicago Press 304 pp. £29 (2012)

Science historian Sachiko Kusukawa probes the role of illustration in sixteenth-century medical treatises, before the advent of the microscope. Looking at Leonhart Fuch's De historia stirpium, Vesalius's De humani corporis fabrica and the unpublished Historia plantarum of Conrad Gessner, Kusukawa argues that such anatomical and botanic images were not simply records of natural phenomena, but varied visual experiments. His book is studded with illustrative gems, not least John Dee's 'pop-up' pyramids in Of Euclid's Elements.

Psychology in the Bathroom

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Palgrave Macmillan 184 pp. £50 (2012)

Arcane sexual behaviours are the stuff of cocktail-party chat, whereas the “psychology of flatulence” and incontinence remain taboo. Psychologist Nick Haslam eases open the bathroom door on the many human behaviours associated with excretion. Drawing on clinical research, psychoanalytical theory, language, gender and more, he conducts a fascinating neurogastroenterological journey, from scatological slang and toilet graffiti to the psychological aspects of constipation and diarrhoea. 'Toilet reading' of a high order.

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