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Books in brief

Pieces of Light: The New Science of Memory

  • Charles Fernyhough
Profile Books 352 pp. £14.99 (2012)

We are our memories, says psychologist and writer Charles Fernyhough. Without them, we would be “lost to ourselves”. Fernyhough deftly guides us through memory's many facets, from types (autobiographical, episodic, semantic, explicit, implicit, working) to mental mapping, trauma, sense associations such as the smell of fresh paint or a bar from Bach, and the evocative stories of his aged grandmother. Often using himself as a test case, he adds context with research and snippets from a raft of great writers. A thoughtful study of how we make sense of ourselves.

The Violinist's Thumb And Other Lost Tales of Love, War, And Genius, as Written by Our Genetic Code

  • Sam Kean
Doubleday 416 pp. £20 (2012)

In this successor to The Disappearing Spoon (Little, Brown, 2010), his bestseller on the periodic table, science writer Sam Kean explores the complexities of heredity. The broad focus on DNA allows dazzling diversions: Niccolò Paganini's eponymous thumb; the supersaturation of polar-bear livers with vitamin A; the case of Tsutomu Yamaguchi, who survived both Hiroshima and Nagasaki to live to 93; the key contributions to the field by Dominican nun and chemist Miriam Michael Stimson among others; and much more.

Zoobiquity: What Animals Can Teach Us About Health and the Science of Healing

Barbara Natterson-Horowitz and Kathryn Bowers. Knopf 320 pp. £17.23 (2012)

Medically, how different are humans from other animals? Cardiologist Barbara Natterson-Horowitz began to probe the divide after learning that emperor tamarins can get stress-related capture myopathy — identical to the human heart condition takotsubo cardiomyopathy. With science journalist Kathryn Bowers, she covers case studies of conditions common across species, such as cancer and heart attacks, and calls for physicians and veterinarians to share data.

The Beach Book: Science of the Shore

  • Carl H. Hobbs
Columbia University Press 192 pp. £41.50 (2012)

With 44% of humans living 150 kilometres from a coast, according to United Nations figures, the sea's pull is undeniable. Marine scientist Carl Hobbs peels back the façade of sun and surf to explore the science of the strand. He examines in turn the shore itself, wind, waves, tides, sediments, barrier islands and tidal inlets, sand dunes and salt marshes, sea-level rise, erosion and storms. Fascinating phenomena — from surf beat, edge waves and beach cusps to the dunes known as barchans — bob through this crisply written guide to ecology and geology at the edge.

Winner Take All: The Race for the World's Resources

  • Dambisa Moyo
D 272 pp. £20 (2012)

Economist Dambisa Moyo, whose hard-hitting Dead Aid (Penguin, 2010) criticized 'top-down' aid, pulls no punches in this investigation of China's global 'shopping spree' for resources. Moyo interweaves history into her analysis of the economic implications of China's ascendancy as trade partner and commodities buyer; its influence on markets and resource prices; and the social and political impacts of its investments. There may, she says, be a demographic brake on the resource rush — but commodity crises and wars cannot be ruled out.

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Books in brief. Nature 486, 469 (2012).

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