BOOKS AND ARTS

Eve Marder’s life in lobster neurons, the history of hormones, and logic laid bare: Books in brief

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

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Book jacket 'Lessons from the Lobster'

Lessons from the Lobster: Eve Marder’s Work in Neuroscience

Charlotte Nassim MIT Press (2018)

For 40 years, neuroscientist Eve Marder has researched a tiny clutch of specialized neurons controlling the crustacean stomach — the stomatogastric ganglion. From that intense, data-centred process, she has gleaned key findings on the operation of neuronal circuits, neuronal homeostasis and neuroplasticity. Charlotte Nassim’s richly detailed ‘thought biography’ unpeels the minutiae of lab life, revealing how Marder, “without technological fireworks or lavish funding”, has illuminated areas of human neuroscience such as brain variability. A nuanced portrait of an inspired scientist at work.

Book jacket 'Aroused'

Aroused

Randi Hutter Epstein W. W. Norton (2018)

Hormones may be ringmasters of the bodily circus, controlling everything from sex to metabolic function, but in this invigorating history they become stars of the show. Medical journalist Randi Hutter Epstein navigates endocrinology’s messy evolution through players such as neurosurgeon Harvey Cushing, who indefatigably researched the pituitary ‘master gland’, and driven Nobel laureate Rosalyn Yalow, who co-invented radioimmunoassay. Here, too, is the wilder side, from a testicle-swapping experiment on roosters to the animal-ovary elixirs once prescribed for menopausal women.

Book jacket 'Art of Logic'

The Art of Logic

Eugenia Cheng Profile (2018)

Nothing in the world, notes mathematician Eugenia Cheng, behaves according to logic. Yet, in an era awash with conflict, exploitation, tribalism and fake news, the “illuminating precision” offered by logic is important. Cheng harnesses the power of abstraction to explore real-life phenomena such as sexism and white privilege. She walks us through the grand terrain of logic, from axioms to proofs. And she reveals how to build arguments as long chains of logical implications — a “virtuosic and masterful” skill that, combined with intelligent emotional engagement, can cut through pervasive irrationality.

Book jacket 'Rising'

Rising

Elizabeth Rush Milkweed Editions (2018)

This evocative exercise in lyrical reportage by Elizabeth Rush tracks sea-level rise in the here and now, by way of the disintegrating shores and salinated soils of the coastal United States. Rush journeys from the low-lying Isle de Jean Charles off Louisiana to Maine, Florida, New York and beyond, gathering stories from field biologists, climate scientists and beleaguered citizens as she goes. She touches, too, on the ten successive Atlantic storms that became hurricanes in 2017, from Franklin to Ophelia. At once a powerful group portrait of lives and communities on the brink, and a lament for lost habitats.

Book jacket 'Twelve Tomorrows

Twelve Tomorrows

Wade Roush (ed.) MIT Press (2018)

This MIT Technology Review anthology is a science-fictional exploration of emergent technologies and a veritable constellation of brilliant writers, among them Liu Cixin, Ken Liu, Alastair Reynolds, Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Pinsker. Ken Liu is on masterful form in ‘Byzantine Empathy’, a visceral narrative shaped around cryptocurrency; Pinsker’s ‘Escape from Caring Seasons’ plays with wrist chips and drone armies; and Bear’s ‘Okay, Glory’ features a smart home turned kidnapper. A profile of esteemed sci-fi author Samuel R. Delany is included. ‘Hard’ sci-fi at its best.

Nature 558, 517 (2018)

doi: 10.1038/d41586-018-05516-z
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