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Books in brief


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

Modern Prometheus: Editing the Human Genome with Crispr–Cas9

  • Jim Kozubek
Cambridge University Press (2016) 9781107172166 | ISBN: 978-1-1071-7216-6

As the CRISPR–Cas9 method for rewriting genomes revolutionizes biotechnology, bioinformatician Jim Kozubek steps into the maelstrom with a weighty exploration of its discovery and implications. It should be noted that Kozubek was recently affiliated with an institution battling for patent rights to CRISPR gene-editing. His tome is also in need of a heavy edit. But he usefully pushes the discussion beyond obvious designer-baby concerns to the technique's limitations, and its broader implications for agriculture and the commercialization of science.

Vertical: The City from Satellites to Bunkers

  • Stephen Graham
Verso (2016) 9781781687932 | ISBN: 978-1-7816-8793-2

Our view of cities is perilously partial, argues urban geographer Stephen Graham. Mustering evidence in engineering, sociology and beyond, he argues for a new, vertical perspective — satellite to sewer — to reflect today's “intensified urban stacking”. Seeing cities as Gordian knots of geopolitics, he gathers an impressive range of case studies to bolster his analysis. These compel and convince, from Saudi Arabia's high-rise vanity projects to Rio de Janeiro's favelas — which struggle with basic services beneath cable cars full of tourists — and the ultradeep mineral mines that service urban infrastructures.

Egyptomania: A History of Fascination, Obsession and Fantasy

  • Ronald H. Fritze
Reaktion (2016) 9781780236391 | ISBN: 978-1-7802-3639-1

The richness, distinction and diversity of ancient Egyptian culture has fired imaginations for millennia. Here, historian Ronald Fritze examines 'Egyptomania' in detail and through time. As Herodotus and other classical scholars extolled Giza's pyramids and the great lighthouse at Alexandria, Egyptian cults and esoteric tracts seeped into Greece and Rome — to later fascinate and befuddle medieval and Renaissance scholars. The cracking of hieroglyphs, discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb and “mummymania” from the nineteenth century onwards ensured that the craze persists almost unabated today.

The Man Who Ate the Zoo

  • Richard Girling
Chatto & Windus (2016) 9781784740405 | ISBN: 978-1-7847-4040-5

Victorian zoologist and surgeon Frank Buckland occupies a peculiar place in science history. Like his renowned naturalist father William, he was both a serious researcher — rubbing shoulders with scientific heavyweights such as Michael Faraday — and an eccentric who dined on giraffe and panther. In this lively biography, Richard Girling revels in Buckland's phenomenal drive to master animal biology in a number of contexts: domestic menageries featuring marmots, a meerkat and a bear; a flood of natural-history writing; stints as a zoo medic; and distinguished contributions to fisheries science.


  • Thomas More
Verso (2016) 9781784787608 | ISBN: 978-1-7847-8760-8

Five hundred years ago, English humanist Thomas More — who counselled Henry VIII and was executed at his order — published Utopia, a radical imagining of a society free from tyranny and suffering. This special edition is bookended by pieces from science-fiction greats Ursula Le Guin and China Miéville. In one essay, Le Guin suggests we edge back into history to see forward to a liveable future. How better than to revisit More, whose view of the social order as a “conspiracy of the rich” and war as inhuman resonate so powerfully today?

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Kiser, B. Books in brief. Nature 539, 167 (2016).

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