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A new light on comets, the embodied brain and a nature cure for dislocation: Books in brief

Book jacket

First in Fly: Drosophila Research and Biological Discovery

Stephanie Elizabeth Mohr Harvard University Press (2018)

How did an inconspicuous fly, Drosophila melanogaster, become the laboratory “model of models”? Since the early twentieth century, when pioneering geneticist Thomas Hunt Morgan created the Fly Room at Columbia University in New York City, the insect’s brief life, vast broods, obvious mutant phenotypes and genetic similarities to humans have made it a boon for the field. In this admirable study, Drosophila researcher Stephanie Elizabeth Mohr reveals a raft of breakthroughs discovered “first in fly”, such as the molecular mechanisms of circadian rhythm. Serious science, elegantly described.

Book jacket

Catching Stardust

Natalie Starkey Bloomsbury Sigma (2018)

As the runts of our rock-ridden cosmic neighbourhood, comets and asteroids might seem predictable. Not so, proves space geologist Natalie Starkey in this pop-science dash through findings on the denizens of the Kuiper belt and beyond. Starkey is perhaps most eloquent on comets, those icy scoops of early solar-nebula cloud. The European Space Agency’s audacious Rosetta mission, for instance, revealed comet 67P to be dark, dusty, rubber-duck-shaped and redolent with an unusual bouquet of compounds. Space mining and strategies for tackling an asteroid hit get a look-in, too.

Book jacket

The Biological Mind

Alan Jasanoff Basic (2018)

In this powerful treatise, neurological engineer Alan Jasanoff issues a corrective to the “cerebral mystique” — the idea that the human brain is a machine-like outlier in the body. As he reminds, the brain is deeply interconnected, and functions using chemicals, electricity, neurons, glia, passive diffusion and active signalling. This integrated view of brain, body and mind could, he asserts, revolutionize discourse on mental illness: the ‘broken-brain’ model could give way to one that meshes genetic, environmental and cultural factors, thereby adding needed nuance to our understanding of causes and treatment.

Book jacket

The Left Behind: Decline and Rage in Rural America

Robert Wuthnow Princeton University Press (2018)

Ever since 62% of the rural vote went to Donald Trump in the 2016 US presidential race, rage in the heartlands has become a media trope. In this thoughtful study — distilling a decade of research and more than 1,000 interviews — social scientist Robert Wuthnow digs beyond the “grievance-and-resentment” stereotype of this 50-million-strong, overwhelmingly white population. He concludes that the rural population should be seen as “moral communities”: united by mutual obligation and cultural norms, but threatened by the alien, whether local drug abuse or the culture of Washington DC.

Book jacket

Ground Work

Edited by Tim Dee Jonathan Cape (2018)

This superb anthology is a paean to spirit of place in dislocated times. With UK eco-charity Common Ground, Tim Dee has gathered personal geographies from 31 poets and writers. And it is a trove. Sean Borodale likens Somerset honeycomb to a “microfiche” storing local data on flora and weather; Julia Blackburn sees Suffolk shells on a table looking “like music, or a story without the need of words”; and Hugh Brody recalls how, through mapping, he discovered the intimate relationship of the Inuit with the Arctic.

Nature 554, 421 (2018)



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