A call for a rational future, 100 million years of European history, and the hidden horror of the dairy trade: Books in brief

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

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Book jacket 'On the Future'

On the Future

Martin Rees Princeton University Press (2018)

UK astronomer royal Martin Rees faces the future as scientist, citizen and “worried member of the human species”. His bold, beautifully synthesized primer paces from human-driven challenges such as climate change to dizzying astronomical discoveries within and beyond the Solar System. Rees celebrates technological advance, but warns of the potential for abuse, reminding us that the benefits of progress can dim in the face of inequity and natural catastrophes. And he argues that a yen for Martian colonies must not leave Earth in the dust. A clarion call for global, rational, long-term thinking.

Book jacket 'King of the Dinosaur Hunters'

King of the Dinosaur Hunters

Lowell Dingus Pegasus (2018)

By his death in 1904, US palaeontologist John Bell Hatcher had unearthed a vast trove of fossils, including scientifically important Triceratops remains and 66-million-year-old mammal teeth. His finds went on to seed prestigious US collections such as that in the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Palaeontologist Lowell Dingus exhaustively tracks Hatcher’s short but storied life, from early work for luminaries such as Othniel Charles Marsh to the astounding digs in fossil hotspots from Kansas to Patagonia that studded Hatcher’s starry scientific trajectory.

Book jacket 'Europe'

Europe: A Natural History

Tim Flannery Allen Lane (2018)

Some 100 million years ago, Europe was a tropical archipelago and, as a bridge between Africa, Asia and North America, a migratory hotspot. It became a protean, fecund region for hybridization. Palaeontologist Tim Flannery’s natural history takes us from the dinosaurs’ demise 66 million years ago to today. We meet the four-tusked elephant-like gomphothere, the nimravid (a sabre-toothed cat), and the hominin Graecopithecus (by way of footprints left on what is now Crete, 5.7 million years ago). The litany of extinctions ends in de-extinction projects such as the ‘mammophant’. A rich, illuminating journey.

Book jacket 'The Cow with Ear Tag 1389'

The Cow with Ear Tag #1389

Kathryn Gillespie University of Chicago Press (2018)

What price a glass of milk? In this trenchant examination of the dairy industry, animal-studies researcher Kathryn Gillespie investigates its workings, wastefulness (farmers in the US Midwest and Northeast dumped 300 million litres of milk in early 2017) and impacts on the environment, such as leaks from manure lagoons. Gillespie’s central focus, however, is the effect on the cows, bulls and calves involved, before their inevitable slaughter. Her careful field research in auction yards and slaughterhouses shows how commodification of animals too often leads to severe, and disturbing, health and welfare issues.

Book jacket 'The Breakthrough'

The Breakthrough: Immunotherapy and the Race to Cure Cancer

Charles Graeber Twelve (2018)

In this deft, detailed study of cancer immunotherapy, journalist Charles Graeber traces the breakthroughs leading to cutting-edge treatments today. Interwoven with the advances and portraits of researchers and patients is a fascinating backstory of medics who, from the late nineteenth century onwards, saw a link between infection and spontaneous regression of cancers. From the once-discredited pioneer William Coley to immunologist and Nobel laureate James P. Allison, they form a brilliant, driven, admirably stubborn group that Graeber brings vividly to life.

Nature 563, 33 (2018)

doi: 10.1038/d41586-018-07186-3
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