Books in brief

    Marie Curie and Her Daughters: The Private Lives of Science's First Family

    Palgrave Macmillan 256 pp. £16.99 (2012)
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    The blazing trajectory of Marie Curie the scientist has left the private woman in the shadows. Shelley Emling delves into the last 20 years of Curie's life, reframing her as mother and humanitarian. The often harrowing tale covers the great physicist's struggle with xenophobia and sexism, her mental and physical breakdowns, and the campaign by American journalist Missy Meloney to supply her with radium. Most compellingly, it bares Curie's relationships with her daughters, the Nobel prize-winning chemist Irène and writer Eve.

    On a Farther Shore: The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson

    Crown 544 pp. £19.99 (2012)

    It is 50 years since biologist Rachel Carson's Silent Spring appeared in book form, following serialization in The New Yorker. This paradigm shift in the way we think about the environment, and the sensitive and searching intelligence behind it, make for a many-layered story eloquently told by William Souder. Carson's pull towards science and development as a writer are explored, and Souder picks his way through the polarized reactions to her book. Acceptance of Carson's warnings on the misuse of pesticides such as DDT was widespread, but protestations from industry and others persist to this day.

    The Stardust Revolution: The New Story of Our Origin in the Stars

    Prometheus 312 pp. £23.95 (2012)

    Having set out to write a book on the nexus of evolutionary biology and astronomy, physics writer Jacob Berkowitz ended up at 'extreme genealogy'. We might inherit brown eyes or big bones, but we also carry a heritage from the stars — chemical bonds and cell molecules. Berkowitz is an amiable tour guide: starting with astrochemist Lucy Ziurys's radiotelescope tracking of oceans of molecules pooled across the Milky Way, he finishes in open-ended style at the search for Earth-like planets. In between, he tacks back and forth through the history of astrobiology to entertaining effect.

    1912: The Year the World Discovered Antarctica

    Bodley Head 368 pp. £20 (2012)

    A century on, the exploits of 'golden age' explorers in Antarctica still grip us. The expeditions of Robert Falcon Scott, Roald Amundsen and Douglas Mawson are oft-told tales, but in this engaging treatment by climate scientist Chris Turney, the forays of Japan's Nobu Shirase and Germany's Wilhelm Filchner get an airing too. The portraits are nuanced. Shirase's crew both bag key geological findings and hunt penguins out of boredom — while Filchner's team, trapped by sea ice on the Deutschland, first set up a magnetic observatory in record time, then rapidly succumb to drunken mayhem.

    Higgs: The Invention and Discovery of the 'God Particle'

    Oxford University Press 304 pp. £14.99 (2012)

    Science writer Jim Baggott gives the lowdown on a showdown — one of the biggest in science. The Higgs boson or 'something very much like' it emerged at CERN in Geneva on 4 July, and Baggott chronicles the science leading up to that moment, threaded through with the stories of the main players, from Emmy Noether to Peter Higgs. A foreword by theoretical physicist Steven Weinberg, a useful glossary, and a tendency towards brevity and clarity make for a handy guide to the long hunt for an elusive quarry.

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    Books in brief. Nature 488, 587 (2012).

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