Books & Arts | Published:

Books in brief

Nature volume 511, page 533 (31 July 2014) | Download Citation

Invisible: The Dangerous Allure of the Unseen


Bodley Head (2014)

Young children, notes science writer Philip Ball, believe they vanish when they shut their eyes. Such beliefs wither, but “the dream and the desire” for invisibility remain, and Ball traces these through history. The urge has spawned occultism, stage magic, a fascination with camouflage, and legends centring on rings and cloaks. It re-emerged a century ago in the confluence of paranormal beliefs and the new physics — and, today, in optical physicists' invisibility shields. Ball argues that this “mythical lens” we train on reality inspires scientific discovery, but we need to understand its calibration.

H is for Hawk


Jonathan Cape (2014)

This extraordinary book is ostensibly about falconry. It actually tells how a human wild with grief came to fathom a wild mind — a process in which the question of who was being tamed was always up in the air. Writer Helen Macdonald, devastated by her father's death, took on a goshawk. Her narrative interweaves exquisitely rendered observations — of hawk behaviour, her immersion in the bird's world and what happens between them — with the life and work of author T. H. White, whose 1951 The Goshawk inspired her as a child. Soars beyond genres, and burns with emotional and intellectual intensity.

Shocked: Adventures in Bringing Back the Recently Dead


Current (2014)

In 1986, a toddler named Michelle Funk drowned and lay dead for three hours before a medical team coaxed her back to life. Decades later, relates physician David Casarett, the science of resuscitation is very much alive. In this disarmingly amusing investigation, Casarett covers breakthroughs, devices, hazards and case studies. He visits resuscitative techniques of the past, such as blowing tobacco smoke into the victim's rectum; the cellular effects of methods using electricity and low temperature; and potential future advances, including reducing metabolism.

Riveted: The Science of Why Jokes Make Us Laugh, Movies Make Us Cry, and Religion Makes Us Feel One with the Universe


Palgrave Macmillan (2014)

Moments that jolt or delight us punctuate our lives. But whereas shock might be salutary in an art gallery, it can trigger blind belief in other contexts, points out cognitive scientist Jim Davies. Expounding his theory of 'compellingness foundations', Davies synthesizes research on what makes us susceptible to gripping stimuli, such as our drives to discover patterns and to find incongruity, and our attraction to hope and fear. Scepticism, he argues, can help us to build resistance to riveting ideas that turn out to be duds.

Malthus: The Life and Legacies of an Untimely Prophet


Belknap (2014)

Loathed by Karl Marx and admired by Charles Darwin, Enlightenment scholar Thomas Malthus still polarizes, notes historian Robert Mayhew. The flashpoint was Malthus's 1798 An Essay on the Principle of Population, which posits that although humans are prodigal, nature and resources are limited. Mayhew traces that theory through revolutionary and reactionary traditions, arguing that it remains pertinent in an era of economic downturn and shrinking resources, with predictions of 10 billion humans by 2050.

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

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