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The Red Market: On the Trail of the World's Organ Brokers, Bone Thieves, Blood Farmers, and Child Traffickers

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(William Morrow, 2012; $14.99)

From illegal adoptions to a bag of tibias used to make flutes on the Indo-Bhutanese border, Scott Carney explores the illegal trade in human bodies and body parts. His investigation into this shadowy realm exposes a system that exploits donors, benefits middlemen and puts a price on our very existence. (See Laura Spinney's review: Nature 474, 156–158; 2011.)

Knocking on Heaven's Door

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(Ecco, 2012; $16.99)

What can CERN's Large Hadron Collider (LHC) reveal about the make-up of the Universe? Particle physicist Lisa Randall explains, alternating details of the LHC's inner workings with more general musings on the philosophy of science. (See Joseph Silk's review: Nature 477, 30–31; 2011.)

Survivors: The Animals and Plants that Time Has Left Behind

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(Harper, 2012; £9.99)

Palaeontologist Richard Fortey narrates the history of life by looking not to the long-extinct, but to organisms that have survived, almost unchanged, for millions of years. These survivors, he says, speak to us of pivotal evolutionary events.

A More Perfect Heaven: How Copernicus Revolutionised the Cosmos

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(Bloomsbury, 2012; £8.99)

Mixing drama with history, Dava Sobel offers a biography of Copernicus with a twist, working in a two-act play in which a student convinces him to publish his revolutionary work. (See Owen Gingerich's review: Nature 477, 276–277; 2011.)

Margaret Sanger: A Life of Passion

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(Hill and Wang, 2012; $17.00)

Margaret Sanger emerges as a daring and determined character in historian Jean Baker's vivid life. Sanger's fervent belief that women should be able to limit the size of their families led to the development of the contraceptive pill. (See W. F. Bynum's review: Nature 478, 318; 2011.)

World in the Balance: The Historic Quest for an Absolute System of Measurement

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(W. W. Norton, 2012; $17.95)

From weighing out food to telling the time, we have long sought to measure experience. Robert Crease traces the origins of such rules, which now seem “part of the contour of things”. (See Andrew Robinson's review: Nature 478, 32–33; 2011.)

The Abacus and the Cross

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(Basic Books, 2012; $16.99)

The idea that anti-scientific superstition defined the Middle Ages is challenged by science writer Nancy Marie Brown in this life of 'Scientist Pope' Gerbert of Aurillac. Gerbert devised early forms of the computer and the planetarium, and his teaching helped spread science through Europe.

How Old Is the Universe?

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(Princeton Univ. Press, 2012; $22.95)

Astronomers do not believe the Universe is 13.7 billion years old, writes David Weintraub; they know it. But how? Weintraub chronicles centuries of scientists' painstaking work gauging the ages of planets and stars to arrive at the answer.

Our Magnetic Earth: The Science of Geomagnetism

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(Univ. Chicago Press, 2012; $17.00)

Earth scientist Ronald Merrill draws together topics relating to geomagnetism, from mammals using the magnetic field for sensing to what magnetized rocks reveal about Earth's history.

The Collapse of Mechanism and the Rise of Sensibility

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(Oxford Univ. Press, 2012; £25)

Historian of philosophy Stephen Gaukroger charts how a sensory view of nature coincided with the novel's rise in 1680–1760. (See George Rousseau's review: Nature 470, 462–463; 2011.)

A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing

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(Simon &; Schuster, 2012; £8.99)

The current thinking on multiverses, dark energy and what is meant by 'nothing' is unpicked by theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss. (See Caleb Scharf's review: Nature 481, 440; 2012.)

The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Decreased

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(Penguin, 2012; $20)

We are becoming less violent thanks to societal evolution, avers psychologist Steven Pinker, citing significant evidence showing that warfare and murder rates are falling. (See Martin Daly's review: Nature 478, 453–454; 2011.)

In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination

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(Virago, 2012; £9.99)

The creator of dystopian worlds in Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood looks to her own work and that of authors such as Kazuo Ishiguro and H. G. Wells in a collection of essays exploring science fiction. (See Q&A: Nature 478, 35; 2011.)

Is That a Fish in Your Ear? The Amazing Adventure of Translation

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(Particular Books, 2012; £8.99)

Culture, nationalism and semantics all feature as translator David Bellos gives both a history of the shifting meaning of translation and practical insight into the complexity it involves. (See Ellen Bialystok's review: Nature 477, 536; 2011.)

The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World

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(Penguin, 2012; $20)

Oil pools at the centre of Daniel Yergin's analysis of the challenge to supply the world with energy. Also focal is his belief that the energy question should be integral to foreign policy. (See Vaclav Smil's review: Nature 477, 403; 2011.)

But Will the Planet Notice? How Smart Economics Can Save the World

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(Hill and Wang, 2012; $16)

You can avoid meat, plastic bags and air miles, writes economist Gernot Wagner, but individual choices have no effect on the planet. Harnessing market forces to incentivize green behaviour is the key to confronting climate chaos, he argues.

Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other

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(Basic Books, 2012; $16.99)

Computers are changing the way we interact, warns social scientist Sherry Turkle, leading us to view digital connections as a substitute for intimacy. Many people are 'always online'; others have never known life without computers.

The Magic of Reality

Richard Dawkins and Dave McKean. (Doubleday, 2012; £19.99)

In this edition of his illustrated bestseller for young people, eminent biologist Richard Dawkins aims to reveal scientific truth as more magical than myth, while Dave McKean's photoreal images viscerally evoke the wonder.

The Fair Society

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(Univ. Chicago Press, 2012; $17)

A sense of fairness is innate in humans, argues Peter Corning. He cites examples such as public outcry at discrimination cases and divorce-court wrangling as evidence that society is underpinned by notions of reciprocity, justice and what is fair.

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