Books in brief

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    Bad Pharma: How Drug Companies Mislead Doctors and Harm Patients

    Fourth Estate 448 pp. £13.99 (2012)

    Psychiatrist and firebrand Ben Goldacre puts big pharma in the dock. Skewering an industry riddled with 'side effects' — from suppressed trial results to diseases invented for profit — and backed by poor regulation and aggressive marketing, Goldacre also offers pragmatic solutions. Further exposure of a seam mined by, among others, Marcia Angell, former editor-in-chief of The New England Journal of Medicine (The Truth about the Drug Companies; Random House, 2004). Hear an interview with Goldacre at go.nature.com/huccmd.

    On The Map: Why the World Looks the Way it Does

    Profile Books 468 pp. £16.99 (2012)

    The sixteenth-century Mercator world projection has aged well — Google Maps uses it. Cartography, asserts Simon Garfield, evolves endlessly but is rooted in enduring needs: to discover frontiers, plot progress, keep our bearings. The myriad maps he shows are doorways into key moments in cartographic history, from Venetian monk Fra Mauro's 1459 world map, the last hurrah of the medieval planisphere, to Gordon Home's ruler-like rendering of Roald Amundsen's 1911 route to the South Pole. Disease mapping, brain mapping, gaming — charting the world has morphed into mapping worlds within worlds.

    Double Entry: How the Merchants of Venice Created Modern Finance

    Allen & Unwin 304 pp. £12.99 (2012)

    Intrigued by the economic engine driving Renaissance art, Jane Gleeson-White crafted this gem of a history. It hinges on monk Luca Pacioli, who published the first treatise on double-entry bookkeeping — a mercantile system underpinning today's global economy. There are intriguing circularities: Pacioli probably learned mathematics from artist Piero della Francesca, then helped Leonardo da Vinci with linear perspective. Gleeson-White traces the system's impact through Keynesian successes and today's high-finance excesses.

    Apocalyptic Planet: Field Guide to the Everending Earth

    Pantheon Books 368 pp. £17.46 (2012)

    Mass extinctions, eras of “equatorial seas bobbing with slush”, wall-to-wall desert — Earth's cycles of destruction, science writer Craig Childs reminds us, are dramatic, relentless and constant. Which end of the world will be next? Childs travelled to nine apocalyptic places for a taste of possible future cataclysms. Each snapshot is research-rich: we get the swirling of warm air cells towards the poles on a trek in North America's Sonoran Desert, and the “genetic exhaustion” of Iowa on a gruelling hike through vast cornfields. Science shot through with real lyricism.

    'Pataphysics: A Useless Guide

    MIT Press 296 pp. £17.95 (2012)

    For a science that doesn't exist, 'pataphysics has popped up with happy regularity for decades — ever since playwright and exquisite jokester Alfred Jarry conceived of the proto-Dadaist 'science of imaginary solutions'. Andrew Hugill, a professor of digital humanities, has spent 25 years charting 'pataphysics in science and the arts. He teases out its influence on everything from the philosophy of Jean Baudrillard to the novels of Philip K. Dick — and suggests that Jarry may have pre-empted theories of antimatter.

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    Books in brief. Nature 490, 175 (2012) doi:10.1038/490175a

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