The Frackers: The Outrageous Inside Story of the New Billionaire Wildcatters

  • Gregory Zuckerman
Portfolio (2013)

Investigative journalist Gregory Zuckerman maps the landscape of the new US oil boom, currently producing 7.5 million barrels of crude a day. Focusing on the widespread technique of fracking — hydraulic fracturing of deep shale deposits for oil and gas — Zuckerman plaits portraits of the 'wildcatters' who champion the practice into a pacy chronicle of the boom. His take on the issues is balanced, but this is not the place to find a lengthy analysis of the potential impacts of fracking on environmental systems.

From Dust to Life: The Origin and Evolution of Our Solar System

John Chambers and Jacqueline Mitton. Princeton University Press (2013)

This research round-up of how our “cosmic neighbourhood” evolved is a stellar read. Planetary scientist John Chambers and science writer Jacqueline Mitton shuttle the reader through the big discoveries — from heliocentricity to findings in the past 50 years, as missions, telescopes and light detectors probe deeper. Lingering mysteries such as early planet formation are laid out, along with details on current missions such as New Horizons, headed for the Kuiper belt of asteroids and set to encounter Pluto in July 2015.

Ship of Death: A Voyage That Changed the Atlantic World

  • Billy G. Smith
Yale University Press (2013)

One of the strangest tales in the annals of medicine must be the voyage of the Hankey. Historian Billy G. Smith has resurrected the long-buried history of the British abolitionists who set off in the ship to found a slavery-free West African colony in the late eighteenth century. They failed — then inadvertently wreaked viral havoc as the Hankey left Africa riddled with mosquitoes carrying yellow fever. Stopping at various Atlantic ports, the ship contributed to a pandemic that killed tens of thousands. Packed with fascinating nuggets — such as the part played by that deadly cargo in the liberation of Haiti.

Renewable: The World-Changing Power of Alternative Energy

  • Jeremy Shere
St Martin's Press (2013)

Renewable energy is a tortuous, fast-moving field, and in this contribution to the shelves of books on it, science journalist Jeremy Shere offers a welcome pragmatism. Organizing his survey by power source, from plants to water, he examines state-of-the-art technologies and their surprising histories. We visit researchers who probe cellulosic energy crops, algal oil, nanotechnology-enhanced solar cells and much more. At a time when countries including the United States and China are investing heavily in renewables, Shere notes that combining alternative-energy choices strategically is key.

Learning from Leonardo: Decoding the Notebooks of a Genius

  • Fritjof Capra
Berrett-Koehler Publishers (2013)

Was Leonardo da Vinci essentially a systems theorist? So argues physicist Fritjof Capra. His compelling exploration of Leonardo's breakthroughs in areas such as fluid dynamics reveals an intellectually fearless mind constantly seeking patterns, relationships and context. Leonardo could have changed the course of science through discoveries such as how the heart functions; but he never published, and the credit went to others.