BOOKS AND ARTS

A century of psychiatry, the realities of migration, and Greenland’s ticking ice clock: Books in brief

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

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Psychiatry and Its Discontents

Andrew Scull Univ. California Press (2019)

In this incisive collection of essays on the history of psychiatry, Andrew Scull shunts through more than a century of attempts to treat, contain and theorize about mental illness. From the Victorian asylum era and the rise and fall of psychoanalysis to the arrival of psychopharmacology and neuroscience, Scull chronicles the medicalization of mental illness with balance and scepticism. He is trenchant on psychiatry’s failures, from prefrontal lobotomy to ‘care in the community’; critical of neuro-reductionism; eloquent on diagnosis debates; and ever aware of the human suffering at his chronicle’s core.

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Wading Right In

Catherine Owen Koning & Sharon M. Ashworth Univ. Chicago Press (2019)

Whether swamp, fen, bog or tidal salt marsh, wetlands are complex ecosystems that filter pollutants, sequester carbon and prevent flooding. Yet globally, since 1900, 64% of them have drained away. In this wonderfully engaging study, environmental scientists Catherine Koning and Sharon Ashworth offer a holistic tour of wetlands. We learn about overarching impacts from changes in climate and land use, and get up close to their stunning biodiversity (newts, moles, cranes, beavers and a glorious array of adapted plants) and the human stories of the scientists who squelch among these riches.

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This Land Is Our Land

Suketu Mehta Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2019)

A churn of necessity, fear and aspiration, haunted by illiberal governance and climate change: such is reality for millions of migrants. In this powerful analysis, Suketu Mehta frames restrictive Western immigration policy as an outgrowth of colonial economics. The raw material and labour of colonized countries inflated Europe’s colonial-era share of global gross domestic product to 60% — wealth that now draws descendants of the colonized. But Mehta finds hope. With more than one million immigrants a year entering the United States, multiculturalism seems to be surviving the rhetoric of hate.

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The Ice at the End of the World

Jon Gertner Random House (2019)

Isolated, vast and capped by some three quadrillion tonnes of ice, Greenland has long been a magnet for exploration. It is now one of Earth’s biggest laboratories for climate-change research. Historian Jon Gertner’s assured chronicle traces that dual narrative. He shows how bravura expeditions around a century ago by zoologist Fridtjof Nansen, geophysicist Alfred Wegener and others segued into research proper: early ice-based palaeoclimatology in the 1930s, coring in the 1950s and remote sensing in the 1990s. Greenland, concludes Gertner, is an “ice clock” whose tick we cannot ignore.

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The Women of the Moon

Daniel R. Altschuler & Fernando J. Ballesteros Oxford Univ. Press (2019)

There are 1,586 named craters on the Moon. Just 28 commemorate women. In this first English edition of a homage to these stars of science, astronomers Daniel Altschuler and Fernando Ballesteros explore their discoveries, achieved against the odds. It’s a fascinating group, from Valentina Tereshkova — first woman in space — to astronomers such as the fourth-century Hypatia of Alexandria, comet hunter Caroline Herschel, pioneer of stellar classification Williamina Paton Fleming and galactic-structure specialist Priscilla Fairfield Bok. A slim primer on lunar science is included.

Nature 571, 477 (2019)

doi: 10.1038/d41586-019-02245-9

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