Worlds in Shadow

Patrick Nunn Bloomsbury Sigma (2021)

Our rising sea levels are often said to be unprecedented and to require new solutions, implying that the past has nothing to teach us. This is wrong, argues oceanic geoscientist Patrick Nunn, who is part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. His realistic but hopeful history of submerged lands across millennia and around the globe mixes “science, memory and myth” — including the legend of Atlantis — to show how our ancestors learnt to live in challenging coastal environments and to manage adversity in many forms and places.

The Hydrogen Revolution

Marco Alverà Hodder Studio (2021)

“We are on the cusp of a hydrogen revolution,” writes Marco Alverà, head of Europe’s largest gas-infrastructure company. In 1874, science-fiction writer Jules Verne predicted water would become a fuel, through electrolysis into hydrogen and oxygen. In the 1890s, a Danish windmill with a dynamo was used to store hydrogen as a fuel for illumination. Since the 1930s, fuel cells have reversed electrolysis to make electricity and water from hydrogen. Now they are almost competitive with fossil fuels, argues Alverà in his urgent call to action.


Carole Hooven Cassell (2021)

Testosterone has been controversial since its naming in 1935. Men typically produce 10–20 times more than women, but how does it affect society? Biologist Carole Hooven’s fascination began in Africa, after seeing a male chimpanzee savagely beat a female beside her offspring with a stick, for no apparent reason. Her vivid study wrestles with whether sex hormones create pronounced mental differences. She concludes: “In a number of important ways, testosterone pushes the psychology and behaviour of the sexes apart.”

Introduction to Urban Science

Luís M. A. Bettencourt MIT Press (2021)

Two aerial photographs preface this detailed statistical study. In one photo, Tokyo has been almost flattened by 1940s bombing; in the other, it is rebuilt as the world’s largest city, with nearly 40 million inhabitants. These illustrate, says physicist-turned-urban ecologist Luis Bettencourt, that “knowledge, human cooperation and collective action” can build a better urban future. His brand of modelling treats cities as complex adaptive systems, to make useful and falsifiable predictions about crime, economic output, migration and more.

Nature Remade

Eds Luis A. Campos et al. Univ. Chicago Press (2021)

Engineering applied to biology provokes fascination and apprehension. This essay collection explores that tension on scales ranging from molecules to people to planet, across eras and cultures. The editors — three historians and a biologist — aim to show that every effort at remaking nature “inescapably occurs in a particular social and political milieu”. Original examples include orange cultivation in Palestinian identity and the African American scholars who explored “black eugenics”.