Barbara Kiser reviews five of the week's best science picks.
A Map of the Invisible: Journeys into Particle Physics
- Jon Butterworth William
Yearning for a late holiday? Bosonia, the Isle of Leptons and farthest Antimatter beckon in this bracing voyage into particle physics, captained by experimental physicist Jon Butterworth. Ever an original writer, he maps the territory of the standard model and beyond, elucidating in turn wave–particle duality, the quantum field and the subatomic realm, all the way to ripples in space-time and the hunt for the Higgs boson (which, as a veteran of the Large Hadron Collider at Europe's physics lab CERN, he navigates expertly). Sea legs achieved, you're ready for wilder shores, such as the Dirac–Milne universe.
The Hacking of the American Mind
- Robert Lustig
In Fat Chance (Hudson Street, 2012), endocrinologist Robert Lustig linked high-fructose corn syrup to obesity. Here, bolstered by up-to-date neuroscience, Lustig's argument broadens, showing how the relentless marketing of hedonic products such as processed food and digital devices encourages overconsumption. By targeting the brain's reward system, corporations “hack” minds, triggering biochemical disruption that can slide into addiction and depression. Lustig's prescriptions — from a wholefood diet to altruistic acts — are more reminder than revolution, but salutary nonetheless.
Significant Figures: Lives and Works of Trailblazing Mathematicians
- Ian Stewart
Mathematics, notes Ian Stewart, stretches back to the Babylonians' quadratic equations in an unbroken line of several millennia. His assured chronicle traces the discipline through the discoveries of 25 luminaries from around the world. In among Henri Poincaré, Ada Lovelace, Carl Friedrich Gauss and Srinivasa Ramanujan are Liu Hui, who contributed to empirical solid geometry in the third century AD; Sofia Kovalevskaya, the Russian revolutionary who advanced partial differential equations and mechanics; and the brilliant, inspirational topologist William Thurston, who died in 2012.
Life at the Edge of Sight
- Scott Chimileski &
- Roberto Kolter
From the microbial mats at Grand Prismatic Spring in Wyoming's Yellowstone National Park to yeasts, bacteria and diatoms, the realm of minute life — the foundation of the planetary ecosystem — is ceaselessly compelling (A. Woolfson Nature 536, 146–147; 2016). Microbiologists Scott Chimileski and Roberto Kolter explore it by meshing sumptuous images with sharp text. Their swirling narrative segues through deep time; lingers on slime moulds, tardigrades ('water bears'), rotifers and the microbes driving fermentation; and speculates enticingly on extraterrestrial microbiota.
A Most Deliberate Swindle
- Mick Hamer
On 18 April 1906, a knot of journalists gathered in central London to goggle at a technological marvel. The clean, quiet electrobus looked set to be stiff competition for the city's lumbering, petrol-guzzling omnibuses. Yet, as Mick Hamer reveals in this accomplished exposé, it was a doomed debut. The London Electrobus Company was packed with swindlers (among them a judge) whose fraudulent activities sank the venture, ensuring the internal combustion engine's problematic dominance in transport technology. Barbara Kiser
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Kiser, B. Books in brief. Nature 549, 455 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/549455a