Books in brief

    The Ravenous Brain: How the New Science of Consciousness Explains Our Insatiable Search for Meaning

    Basic Books 352 pp. £18.99 (2012)

    As scientific enterprises go, cracking consciousness is up there with deciphering dark matter. Neuroscientist Daniel Bor dives into the conundrum with relish. He begins by defining consciousness as the ability to gather knowledge, then works his way from a history of the brain and the “neuroscience of awareness” to an exploration of severe brain damage. Intriguing arguments abound — not least, Bor's recasting of mental conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder as 'disorders of consciousness'.

    Some Remarks: Essays and Other Writing

    Atlantic 336 pp. £20 (2012)

    From Snow Crash (Bantam, 1992) to Reamde (Atlantic, 2011), Neal Stephenson's novels range over a dazzling array of disciplines — including metaphysics, gaming, nanotechnology and the history of science. Here, he assembles an entertaining sampler of cyberpunkish treats. Among freshly edited essays, interviews and other short works on topics such as geek cool and the mainstreaming of science fiction are two previously unpublished pieces. 'Get Up' is an essay on sitting; the other is a work of fiction one sentence long. Prepare to be amused.

    How Ancient Europeans Saw the World: Vision, Patterns, and the Shaping of the Mind in Prehistoric Times

    Princeton University Press 304 pp. £24.95 (2012)

    Look at a pot predating the Roman Empire, or a Bronze Age burial site, and your interpretation of form and pattern will be vastly at variance with that of their makers. So says anthropologist Peter Wells, who argues that in late prehistoric Europe — a world that lacked the written word and was thin on 'stuff' — people's perceptions were very different from our own. Wells 'reads' tools, vehicles, ornaments, textiles and buildings to reveal a neurobiological map of profound changes in ancient society.

    Birdie Bowers: Captain Scott's Marvel

    The History Press 224 pp. £18.99 (2012)

    Scott of the Antarctic was surrounded by strong characters. One, Henry 'Birdie' Bowers, emerges as grounded, courageous and ferociously well organized. He handled landing, navigation and more for the 1910–12 Terra Nova expedition, and took part in the penguin-egg quest immortalized in Apsley Cherry-Garrard's memoir The Worst Journey in the World (1922). He was also the youngest to die with Scott in the doomed 'party of five'. Built on research in Antarctica and at the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge, UK, Anne Strathie's biography includes previously unpublished material.

    Drawn From Paradise: The Discovery, Art and Natural History of the Birds of Paradise

    David Attenborough and Errol Fuller. Collins 256 pp. £30 (2012)

    Some dance; some are dubbed superb or magnificent; many sport ruffs, streamers or elaborate headgear. Birds of paradise — found in New Guinea and Australia and comprising about 40 species — are celebrated here by broadcaster David Attenborough and artist Errol Fuller. The authors trace the natural history of these beauties, known to Europeans since the sixteenth century, with copious illustrations by artists from Peter Paul Rubens to Jacques Barraband.

    Rights and permissions

    Reprints and Permissions

    About this article

    Cite this article

    Books in brief. Nature 488, 155 (2012).

    Download citation


    By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.