The art of rest, hive minds, and traversing Canada: Books in brief

Andrew Robinson reviews five of the week’s best science picks.

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The Art of Rest

Claudia Hammond Canongate (2019)

In 2014, journalist Claudia Hammond, presenter of BBC Radio 4’s All in the Mind, joined a group studying rest at London’s Wellcome Collection. She proposed a radio survey called the Rest Test. Responses from 18,000 people in 135 countries yielded a top ten of restful activities, and they inspire the titles of her informative chapters interlacing findings from dozens of studies. Intriguingly, the top five are largely solitary. Number one is reading, which “not only allows us to escape other people, but simultaneously provides us with company”, she notes.

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Artificial You

Susan Schneider Princeton University Press (2019)

Artificial intelligence (AI) technology will raise increasingly difficult ethical issues, argues philosopher, cognitive scientist and self-confessed technotopian Susan Schneider in this demanding dialogue between philosophy and science. How would you feel, she begins speculatively, about purchasing a “Hive Mind” — a brain chip permitting you to experience the innermost thoughts of your loved ones? That presumes, however, that future AI can capture consciousness with computation — which she argues is unlikely.

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Are Men Animals?

Matthew Gutmann Basic (2019)

Anthropologist Matthew Gutmann has spent 30 years exploring concepts of masculinity across the United States, Latin America and China. “We place unreasonable trust in biological explanations of male behaviour,” he argues in this wide-ranging book, which discusses US mass killings by men, Donald Trump’s presidency and much more. Yet, he contends, there have been no major discoveries of a link between testosterone and aggression since 1990, despite a boom in scientific articles on the topic.

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When the Earth Had Two Moons

Erik Asphaug Custom House (2019)

The days of the week are named after bodies in the Solar System and a diverse mix of Norse and Roman deities. So notes Erik Asphaug, a planetary scientist who is part of the team behind two lunar and planetary NASA missions. But if the planets were born out of material orbiting the Sun, like raindrops condensing from a cloud, why do they differ so much in structure and chemical composition? This detailed book assesses the astronomical and geological evidence on the origin of planetary diversity.

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Beyond the Trees

Adam Shoalts Allen Lane (2019)

In 1967, the centennial of Canada’s confederation, ten teams of canoeists paddled from central Alberta to Montreal. In mid-2017, to mark the 150th anniversary, explorer, historian and geographer Adam Shoalts travelled across the Canadian Arctic by canoe and on foot. His journey took him from the Yukon to Nunavut: across the terrestrial world’s largest expanse of wilderness outside Antarctica. It proved less stressful than his normal “modern, hyper-connected world”, he avers in his engaging, hazard-strewn account.

Nature 575, 439 (2019)

doi: 10.1038/d41586-019-03533-0

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