Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Books in brief

Barbara Kiser reviews five of the week's best science picks.

The Shock of the Anthropocene: The Earth, History and Us

Christophe Bonneuil and Jean-Baptiste Fressoz (translated by David Fernbach). Verso (2016)

9781784780791

This bold, brilliantly argued history of the Anthropocene epoch is a corrective to cosy thinking about humanity's grave disruptions to Earth systems. Christophe Bonneuil and Jean-Baptiste Fressoz draw on climate science, economics and technological history to reveal how, starting in eighteenth-century France, imperial narratives that saw people and planet as a “totality to be governed” laid the conceptual basis for the crisis. They call for a “new environmental humanities”, and a shift away from market-based approaches that feed the beast.

The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for It ... Every Time

  • Maria Konnikova
Viking (2016) 9780525427414 9781782113881 | ISBN: 978-0-5254-2741-4

Following her nifty how-to on honing cognitive ability, Mastermind (Viking, 2013; see Nature 492, 183; 2012), journalist Maria Konnikova adroitly explicates the surprising psychology behind the confidence game — the modus operandi of charismatic swindlers that thrives in upheavals such as today's technological revolution. She unpacks the con-artist's repertoire of cajolery, illustrating it with case studies (such as art dealer Glafira Rosales's large-scale fraud) and research (including psychologist Paul Ekman's, on lying). A mesmerizing glimpse into the trickster's mind.

A Crude Look at the Whole: The Science of Complex Systems in Business, Life, and Society

  • John H. Miller
Basic (2016) 9780465055692 | ISBN: 978-0-4650-5569-2

Reductionism offers few insights into complexity in nature. So argues computational analyst John Miller in this succinct, elegant study of systems thinking, the newish science examining basic principles, such as emergence, that govern physics, biology and economics. Miller reveals compelling echoes between apparently unrelated phenomena, such as “hivemind” behaviour in bee colonies and consumers, or responses to local stimuli in how a cone snail patterns its shell and how a market functions.

Fossil Capital: The Rise of Steam Power and the Roots of Global Warming

  • Andreas Malm
Verso (2016) 9781784781323 | ISBN: 978-1-7847-8132-3

The birth of the fossil economy, avers human ecologist Andreas Malm, arrived when steam eclipsed water power in mid-nineteenth-century Britain. Around that, Malm builds a deep, insight-packed history of how society came to be in thrall to the twin engines of combustion and capital. We see, for instance, how at the start, steam was simply more expedient, not more efficient, than hydropower; and how now, decoupling from fossil fuels is stymied when energy companies pull out of investment in renewables on the basis of low returns.

One Breath: Freediving, Death, and the Quest to Shatter Human Limits

  • Adam Skolnick
Crown Archetype (2016) 9780553447484 9781472152022 | ISBN: 978-0-5534-4748-4

Freediving (making deep dives on one breath) has been having a moment since James Nestor's Deep surfaced (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014; see Nature 510, 339; 2014). Here, Adam Skolnick interlaces the science of the sport with the story of US freediver Nicholas Mevoli, who died in competition in 2013. Pulmonary haemorrhages contributed to his death, Skolnick shows, pointing to a need for more research on this radical self-experimentation.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Kiser, B. Books in brief. Nature 529, 281 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/529281a

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/529281a

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing