Barbara Kiser reviews five of the week's best science picks.
- William Rosen
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.
- Art Levine
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.
- Andrew Shtulman
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
- Huw Lewis-Jones
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
- Manuel Lima
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.
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Kiser, B. Books in brief. Nature 545, 155 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/545155a