The US opioid epidemic, a kaleidoscopic celebration of ice, and exploring ancient Egypt’s known unknowns: Books in brief

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

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Book jacket 'American Overdose'

American Overdose: The Opioid Tragedy in Three Acts

Chris McGreal PublicAffairs (2018)

Since 1999, opioids have killed an estimated 350,000 people in the United States. In this powerful encapsulation of that epidemic, which grew nearly unchecked for two decades, journalist Chris McGreal argues that the culprits are three: a profit-driven medical system, pharmaceutical-industry greed and bad science. He traces the unfolding crisis through the emergence of drugs such as oxycodone; ‘pill mill’ medical clinics that became addiction hotspots; and uneven regulation. As opioid use rises in Britain, parts of Africa and Australia, this is a timely examination of hard-won lessons.

Book jacket 'The Library of Ice'

The Library of Ice

Nancy Campbell Scribner (2018)

In winter 2010, poet and writer Nancy Campbell journeyed to the night-shrouded Arctic, where a residence at a Greenland museum launched this kaleidoscopic exploration of ice in science and culture. An intellectual omnivore, Campbell examines ice cores as archives in which researchers “read the alphabet of elements and isotopes”; and probes the weird dynamics of hail, proto-chemist Robert Boyle’s 1665 New Experiments and Observations Touching Cold, curling rinks and the exploits of polar explorers from Knud Rasmussen to George Murray Levick. A marvellously subtle journey by way of flake, frost and berg.

Book jacket '18 Miles'

18 Miles: The Epic Drama of Our Atmosphere and Its Weather

Christopher Dewdney ECW (2018)

Our atmosphere may be just a few tens of kilometres deep, but in its vast amphitheatre, weather — the greatest show off Earth — struts its stuff. Poet and naturalist Christopher Dewdney’s grand tour mingles meteorology, planetary science and literature, taking us from oxygenation 2.5 billion years ago through atmospheric layers, precipitation, the architecture of wind and the work of scientists from Robert FitzRoy to Milutin Milanković. Among many remarkable stories is that of US Marine William Rankin’s 1959 parachute drop into the wild, convulsed depths of an active cumulonimbus cloud.

Book jacket 'Searching for the Lost Tombs of Egypt'

Searching for the Lost Tombs of Egypt

Chris Naunton Thames & Hudson (2018)

For all the astounding finds in Egypt over the past two centuries, its storied landscape is still riddled with ‘known unknowns’ — the lost or undiscovered tombs of ancient luminaries, tantalizingly mentioned in historical accounts. In this gorgeously illustrated study, Egyptologist Chris Naunton builds a case for the probable burial sites of several figures, from the brilliant third-millennium bc architect Imhotep to fourth-century bc empire builder Alexander the Great. Perhaps the most fascinating case is that of Cleopatra, ruler of Egypt from 51 to 30 bc, whose vast mausoleum may rest on the sea bed off Alexandria.

Book jacket 'Darwin's most WOnderful Plants'

Darwin’s Most Wonderful Plants

Ken Thompson Profile (2018)

In this quietly riveting study, plant biologist Ken Thompson reveals Charles Darwin as a botanical revolutionary through works such as On the Movement and Habits of Climbing Plants (1865), which remains pertinent. Interweaving current research with Darwin’s insights, Thompson probes marvels such as “ivy glue”, a nanocomposite that functions not unlike a gecko’s bristles in sticking stems to surfaces; the astonishing mimicry of the chameleon vine Boquila trifoliolata; and the Cook pine Araucaria columnarius, which always leans towards the equator.

Nature 563, 181 (2018)

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