Books in brief

The Philadelphia Chromosome: A Mutant Gene and the Quest to Cure Cancer at the Genetic Level

The Experiment 320 pp. $25.95 (2013)

A crucial link between genetics and cancer emerged in a US lab in 1959, as researcher David Hungerford peered down a microscope at an abnormally small chromosome. In 1990, this 'Philadelphia chromosome' was found to cause the swiftly fatal chronic myeloid leukaemia. As science writer Jessica Wapner reveals in this taut, elegant study, a cascade of breakthroughs then led to success with targeted drug Gleevec, a tyrosine kinase inhibitor — and hopes for the cancer-busting potential of rational drug design in general.

I Invented the Modern Age: The Rise of Henry Ford

Scribner 384 pp. $30 (2013)

He was as obsessed by the inner workings of a watch as by a locomotive's wheels. His name was synonymous with mass production and the automobile's century-plus reign. Henry Ford's samurai-sword vision simply cut through hurdles, moral or physical. Eventually, as this biography-cum-technical history amply shows, Ford the mechanical genius and innovator was eclipsed by Ford the vindictive anti-Semite. Richard Snow skilfully evokes everything from patenting battles to internal-combustion dramas — and his bullheaded subject, who set out to remake America, and succeeded.

Moving Innovation: A History of Computer Animation

MIT Press 336 pp. $29.95 (2013)

From Buzz Lightyear all the way to Gollum in the film Lord of the Rings, computer graphics is techno-art of mind-boggling sophistication. Tom Sito, who helped to set up the Dreamworks Animation Unit in 1995, traces its roots to the modernist era, when James Whitney's abstract films and Ivan Sutherland's Sketchpad program were making waves; he then untangles its evolution in corporations, academia and film. Sito unveils the hard graft, thrills and frustrations behind the digital wizardry, taking us through watersheds such as Jurassic Park and beyond.

The Anatomy of Violence: The Biological Roots of Crime

Pantheon 496 pp. $35 (2013)

Are 'criminal tendencies' hard-wired or acquired? In this perturbing study, psychologist Adrian Raine argues the biological case, marshalling swathes of findings and case studies of murderers and rapists. We learn, for instance, of Jeffrey Landrigan, who was adopted into a privileged family as an infant, yet mirrored his biological father's and grandfather's criminal careers; of links between aggression and prefrontal-cortex impairment; and of potentially sticky legal implications. But, although provocative and bristling with data, the book's complexities fail to boil down to a simple answer.

Solomon's Secret Arts: The Occult in the Age of Enlightenment

Yale University Press 412 pp. £27.50 (2013)

The British Enlightenment, historian Paul Monod avers, was shot through with the esoteric: an undercurrent of occultism persisted as the current of rationality came into full flow. Revelations may not be rife, but Monod conjures up an array of figures who swam in both streams, from secret alchemist Isaac Newton to openly “fervent alchemical adept” Elias Ashmole. Ultimately, Monod argues, occult thinking may even have freed intellectual development by liberating the imagination at this key scientific tipping point.

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Kiser, B. Books in brief. Nature 497, 185 (2013).

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