Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting 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.

Miracle Cure

Viking (2017) 9780525428107 | ISBN: 978-0-5254-2810-7

In this assured chronicle of the twentieth-century antibiotics revolution, William Rosen delivers reams of science at a thrilleresque pace. The experimentalists — Gerhard Domagk and Howard Florey among them — are vividly portrayed, as are the patients cured, the pharmaceutical corporations created and the moment in 1943 when bacteriologist Mary Hunt found the ancestor of all penicillin used today, on a mouldy melon. Antibiotic resistance and putative solutions are given their due, including Michael Fischbach's work on microbial-gene clusters in the human microbiome.

Mental Health, Inc.

Overlook (2017) 9781468308372 | ISBN: 978-1-4683-0837-2

Some 18% of US citizens grapple with mental illnesses, but the country's mental-health-care system is struggling too. In this trenchant exposé, investigative journalist Art Levine examines challenges such as US$4-billion cuts to state mental-health budgets, as well as case studies of casualties, from prison inmates to teenagers in residential 'boot camps'. While lauding judicious medication, Levine takes aim at endemic “drug-and-sedate” practices. He sees hope in institutional reform, peer-to-peer counselling and innovations in de-stigmatizing therapies for post-traumatic stress disorder.


Basic (2017) 9780465053940 | ISBN: 978-0-4650-5394-0

Many people misconstrue basic physical or biological phenomena, from the nature of gravity to the transmission of disease. At a time of widespread science denialism and potential pandemics, intuitive theories can have a pernicious impact, argues Andrew Shtulman. In his lucid and methodical corrective, the psychologist reveals how such stabs in the dark arise, drawing on developmental research and snippets of history, such as chemist Joseph Black's discovery in 1761 that heat and temperature are distinct. A reminder that scientific literacy is the backbone of functional, democratic societies.

Imagining the Arctic: Heroism, Spectacle and Polar Exploration

I. B. Tauris (2017) 9781784536589 | ISBN: 978-1-7845-3658-9

To Victorian Britain, Earth's poles were an icy terra incognita, ostensibly ripe for exploration. Yet as historian and polar guide Huw Lewis-Jones reveals in this monumental cultural and political chronicle, the public was much less obsessed with that heroic narrative than many histories claim, despite relentless boosterism by the likes of geographer Clements Markham. Lewis-Jones shows how exploration was itself explored in art, literature and the media — an Arctic of the imagination in which the triumphalism of John Ross and broken dreams of Robert Falcon Scott commingled.

The Book of Circles: Visualizing Spheres of Knowledge

Princeton Architectural Press (2017) 9781616895280 | ISBN: 978-1-6168-9528-0

The human iris, a full Moon, volcanic calderas: natural circles have inspired culture for millennia. Information visualizer Manuel Lima gathered centuries' worth of circular charts, graphics and illustrations for this volume, organized in a 'taxonomy' spanning everything from spirals to pies. It's a ravishing tour, from the spangled glory of globular star cluster M13, imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope, to Martin Krzywinski's bold 2007 radial genomics diagram Human–Dog Homology. Puts circular thinking in a whole new light.

Author information



Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Kiser, B. Books in brief. Nature 545, 155 (2017).

Download citation


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


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