Profits for the people, six millennia of cities, and the roots of sickness and health: Books in brief

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

Search for this author in:

Jacket of People, Power, and Profits

People, Power, and Profits

Joseph E. Stiglitz W. W. Norton (2019)

The US economy is in thrall to corporate monopoly, inequality and slow growth — so argues Nobel-prizewinning economist Joseph Stiglitz in this powerful, grounded analysis. Excoriating supply-side “voodoo economics”, Stiglitz proposes a progressive agenda echoing those of presidents Theodore and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. This aims to build shared prosperity by managing globalization, supporting basic research and reforming taxation and the judiciary. A country’s might, he reminds us, lies in scientific advance, education, the rule of law — and the “countervailing power” of the voting booth.

Jacket of Cities

Cities: The First 6,000 Years

Monica L. Smith Viking (2019)

Seedbeds of civilization and economic nodes, cities have thrummed with enterprise and wallowed in waste from the start, some 6,000 years ago. Archaeologist Monica Smith examines the evolution of urbanization through the lens of her field, showing the remarkable persistence of material and social norms — takeaway shops, upward mobility, crime and more. From digs such as Tell Brak in Syria and India’s Sisupalgarh, Smith’s journey explores methodologies and advances including magnetic gradiometry, but is at heart a revelation of the drive and creative flux of the metropolis over time.

Jacket of Well


Sandro Galea Oxford University Press (2019)

US citizens top world spending on health, yet have shorter ‘healthspans’ than people in other rich countries. Why? Cogently and often movingly, epidemiologist Sandro Galea argues that an obsession with drugs, doctors and insurance obscures the fact that the roots of sickness and health are life circumstances: money, status, education, environment and a range of other socio-economic issues. With the richest 1% living for up to 15 years longer than the poorest 1%, investment in public goods such as education, universal health coverage and environmental regulation is ever more urgent.

Jacket of Working With Nature

Working With Nature

Jeremy Purseglove Profile (2019)

As a ‘broker for nature conservation’, Jeremy Purseglove has worked with developers in China, Ghana, Papua New Guinea, Tajikistan and beyond to ensure that engineering projects do not encroach on biodiversity. His compelling account, glinting with highlights from a nomadic life, is packed with case studies — whether successes such as integrated rice and fish cultivation in Bangladesh, or more sobering stories such as the agricultural enclosure sweeping Africa and the ongoing struggle to rejuvenate Central Asia’s Aral Sea. A trove of experiential insight into on-the-ground sustainability.

Jacket of Insect Artifice

Insect Artifice

Marisa Anne Bass Princeton University Press (2019)

One of the most arresting natural-history works of the sixteenth century is a compendium of known animals depicted in exquisite miniature paintings. Four Elements, by Dutch merchant and artist Joris Hoefnagel, is a “stunning and eccentric assemblage” of knowledge, notes art historian Marisa Anne Bass. Her study beds the manuscripts in early-modern empiricism, and beautifully complements the plates — a jewel box of exquisitely rendered sunfish, chameleons, bees, an Indian elephant and more.

Nature 569, 37 (2019)

Nature Briefing

An essential round-up of science news, opinion and analysis, delivered to your inbox every weekday.