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Disappearing insects, and forensics uncovered: Books in brief

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A Molecule Away from Madness

Sara Manning Peskin W. W. Norton (2022)

Even before COVID-19 increased the risks of cognitive impairments, it had been estimated that 152.8 million people globally would be living with dementia by 2050. Yet treatment for Alzheimer’s disease has hardly improved since it was discovered in 1901, notes neurologist and dementia specialist Sara Manning Peskin. Now, most clinical trials tackling dementia are “deeply rooted in molecular data”. Peskin’s powerful study — immersed in her patients’ stories — analyses neurology’s attempt to reach oncology’s molecular understanding.

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The Insect Crisis

Oliver Milman Atlantic (2022)

Insect decline is obvious — but hard to quantify. Environmental journalist Oliver Milman suggests a drop of more than 90% in some places, in his vivid alarm call. The causes are unclear, but include habitat destruction by intensive farming, pesticide use and climate change. Insects’ “intricate dance” with Earth’s environment makes them crucial to human food supplies. We should learn to eat them, not meat, suggests Milman: that will help to save them by freeing farmland from crops needed to feed livestock.

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Insulin — The Crooked Timber

Kersten T. Hall Oxford Univ. Press (2022)

Insulin was first used to treat human diabetes 100 years ago, after it was isolated by two medical scientists in 1921. Historian of science Kersten Hall describes this transformative event, together with insulin’s development as the first drug produced by genetic engineering and its lucrative exploitation — using a blend of profound research, lively writing and personal knowledge of diabetes. He argues that the history is a tale not of geniuses or saints, but rather one of “monstrous egos, toxic insecurities and bitter career rivalry”.

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How to Solve a Crime

Angela Gallop Hodder & Stoughton (2022)

More than a century ago, criminologist Edmond Locard established forensic science on the principle that “every contact leaves a trace”. The field’s current sophistication and contribution to justice would be beyond his “wildest imaginings”, writes forensic scientist Angela Gallop. She tells gripping stories from her own and others’ experience, beginning with thirteenth-century Chinese investigator Sung Tz’u. He identified a farmer’s killer by asking fellow villagers to put their sickles on the ground; flies alighted on one blade bearing traces of blood.

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The Sloth Lemur’s Song

Alison Richard William Collins (2022)

Anthropologist and conservationist Alison Richard has been absorbed by Madagascar for half a century. She writes that the country’s “animals and plants offer a wonderful array of rabbit holes down which a person fascinated by the natural world could disappear for a lifetime”. Why, for example, does its largest lemur sing spellbindingly across the treetops with its mate for many minutes? And what environmental conditions created the island’s unique — now disastrously threatened — biodiversity?

Nature 605, 218 (2022)


Competing Interests

The authors declare no competing interests.


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