BOOKS AND ARTS

The Sun’s pull on the body, the global flow of people, and the robots that reach other worlds: Books in brief

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

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Book jacket 'Borrowed Time'

Borrowed Time

Sue Armstrong Bloomsbury (2019)

Is death genetically programmed? Is ageing a disease? Engrossing questions throng science writer Sue Armstrong’s round-up of research on the biology of ageing. She brings us up to speed on the illuminating (if partial) answers through work by the likes of biologist Tom Kirkwood on the ‘disposable soma’ theory of limited resources; Nobel laureates Elizabeth Blackburn, Carol Greider and Jack Szostak on telomeres, the end caps of chromosomes; evolutionary biologist Steven Austad on the long-lived clam Arctica islandica; and various Alzheimer’s disease specialists. A rich, timely study for the era of ‘global ageing’.

Book jacket 'Chasing the Sun'

Chasing the Sun

Linda Geddes Profile (2019)

Light pollution, indoor lifestyles and glowing screens can play havoc with our health. So shows science writer Linda Geddes in her deft study of chronobiology, the science of organismic cycles in relation to solar rhythms. Geddes marshals an array of findings on everything from the suprachiasmatic nucleus — the cluster of cells in the brain that acts as the body’s master clock — to US Amish communities living dawn to dusk and off grid, and submarine crews who rarely see the Sun. She even turns guinea pig to test measurable benefits from candlelight and outdoor exercise.

Book jacket 'The Human Tide'

The Human Tide

Paul Morland John Murray (2019)

The Industrial Revolution sparked a triple boom: in technology, population and emigration. In this sweeping treatise spanning the past 200 years, demographer Paul Morland traces the surge of humans in numbers and on the move, and the transformations wrought by this accelerating “demographic whirlwind” on individuals, nations and empires. It’s an extraordinary ebb and flow, from the 4 million Italians who poured into the United States in the 35 years before the First World War to today’s tide of African children making harrowing journeys across the Mediterranean.

Book jacket 'The Truth about Fat'

The Truth About Fat

Anthony Warner Oneworld (2019)

In this trenchant manifesto-cum-study, Anthony Warner (aka the Angry Chef) takes a honed knife to flabby theorizing about what makes us fat. He examines proven and putative drivers, including hormones such as leptin, calories, genetic factors, the human microbiome, inactivity, dietary fats and carbohydrates, environment and poverty. Given the complexities of the findings, Warner argues for a system-level solution involving public-health officials and communities. He also calls for an end to the moral panic surrounding fat. A nuanced approach to this global issue.

Book jacket 'Interplanetary Robots'

Interplanetary Robots

Rod Pyle Prometheus (2019)

On 15 July 1965, NASA’s Mariner 4 probe sent back grainy images of Mars, revealing a forbidding surface that destroyed florid Victorian speculation in a trice. Over the next 50 years, robotic missions researched the rest of Earth’s planetary neighbours. Space writer Rod Pyle tours craft from the Soviet Luna 3, which snapped the Moon’s far side in 1959, to NASA’s New Horizons and its 2015 fly-by of Pluto. Sandwiched between these are tales of the Voyagers, Galileo, Cassini and more. Geeky escapism at its best.

Nature 565, 157 (2019)

doi: 10.1038/d41586-019-00025-z

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