Books & Arts | Published:

Books in brief

Nature volume 511, page 409 (24 July 2014) | Download Citation

Adventures in the Anthropocene: A Journey to the Heart of the Planet We Made


Chatto & Windus (2014)

When Nature's former news editor Gaia Vince set off on a two-year, six-continent trek, her aim was inspired: to explore empirically, amid biodiversity collapse and global climate change, how the planet and its ingenious humans are faring. Digging beneath the scree of statistics, received wisdom, “shock-doctrines and tired slogans”, Vince has reached ground truths. Her broader discussions of the biological and Earth science are as cogent as her close reportage on innovators such as the Ladakhi 'glacier-maker' Chewang Norphel.

The Fourth Revolution: How the Infosphere is Reshaping Human Reality


Oxford University Press (2014)

Are we 'inforgs' living in 'onlife' — informational organisms inhabiting a blurry realm between real and virtual? Information ethicist Luciano Floridi thinks so, and his searing study of our digital dependency peels to the bone the implications for everything from identity to the environment. We look with new eyes at our transformation into generic online consumers (“Gogol's dead souls, but with wallets”), and our creation of an environment that is dumbed-down enough for smart technologies to excel. Non-alarmist and very, very smart.

Curiosity: An Inside Look at the Mars Rover Mission and the People Who Made It Happen


Prometheus Books (2014)

Ebullient science writer Rod Pyle follows his 2012 Destination Mars with more hot reportage of the red planet in this comprehensive study of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission and the US$2.5-billion rover Curiosity. Pyle veers from the rover's battery of analytical instruments (one, notably, vaporizes rock) to its findings and operation, as well as the big personalities who make it happen. Gripping behind-the-scenes encounters abound, not least with the dedicated crew that controls the robotic arm remotely.

Music and the Making of Modern Science


MIT Press (2014)

Mathematics, astronomy and music were closely allied in classical Greece. That chord has reverberated down the centuries, argues musician and science writer Peter Pesic. The fourteenth-century French philosopher Nicole Oresme, for instance, was an early proponent of heliocentrism who looked at celestial harmony in terms of music and geometry. Centuries later, physicist (and pianist) Max Planck's experiments with harmonium tuning may have inspired his thinking on black-body radiation, Pesic avers: there are analogies between tuning and the behaviour of electromagnetic waves.

Papyrus: The Plant that Changed the World — From Ancient Egypt to Today's Water Wars


Pegasus Books (2014)

In this swirling anthropological and environmental narrative, ecologist John Gaudet reminds us how papyrus was historically central to swathes of Africa. Gaudet takes us from the continent's ancient marsh-based cultures — in which the reed served as food, a construction material and the earliest form of paper — to today's imperilled wetlands. The reed beds should be reinstated, he argues: they are avian habitats and ideal heavy-metal filters.

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  1. Barbara Kiser is Nature's books and arts editor.

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