The Long Shot book cover.

The Long Shot

Kate Bingham and Tim Hames Oneworld (2022)

In April 2020, the UK government decided to expedite the introduction and deployment of a COVID-19 vaccine. Eight months later, the first recipient was jabbed. Credit goes to the Vaccine Taskforce led by Kate Bingham, a biochemistry graduate and health venture capitalist, working from home during lockdown. She was acutely aware of most vaccines’ failure, the risk of viral mutation and her lack of government training. Her frank and fascinating book, written with journalist Tim Hames, details the inside story of this “longest of all long shots”.

The Sounds of Life book cover.

The Sounds of Life

Karen Bakker Princeton Univ. Press (2022)

Nature is full of sounds that humans cannot hear. The raised-tail mating display of male peacocks involves powerful infrasound; bats and toothed whales emit beams of ultrasound and navigate using the echoes that come back. In this beautifully written study, Karen Bakker, a tech entrepreneur and academic, compares digital technology that can reveal these sounds with the microscope’s effect on vision. By extending our hearing, the technology allows us to encounter “new soundscapes around the world and across the Tree of Life”.

Phaenomena book cover.

Phaenomena

Giles Sparrow Thames & Hudson (2022)

Mathematician, astronomer and cartographer Johann Doppelmayr created his largely forgotten celestial atlas in Germany in 1742. This magnificent book showcases its illustrations, with formidable explanatory text by astronomer Giles Sparrow and foreword by UK astronomer royal Martin Rees. The frontispiece depicted astronomers Ptolemy, Nicolaus Copernicus, Johannes Kepler and Tycho Brahe. Isaac Newton is absent; his 1687 concept of gravity was, Sparrow notes, too close to “occult forces” for many natural philosophers of the time.

Enslaved book cover.

Enslaved

Simcha Jacobovici and Sean Kingsley Pegasus (2022)

During the 400-year transatlantic slave trade, 12 million Africans were forcibly shipped to the Americas, and almost 2 million died en route. Using mixed-gas diving and remotely operated vehicles, divers have investigated seven surviving deep-sea wrecks of ships used in the trade and two ‘freedom ships’ carrying fugitives from slavery, as described in a six-part series by film-maker Simcha Jacobovici. His book, written with marine archaeologist Sean Kingsley, vividly explores these disturbing sunken archaeological archives.

Astrotopia book cover.

Astrotopia

Mary-Jane Rubenstein Univ. Chicago Press (2022)

In the cold war, space exploration’s wonders served a race between political systems. Today, argues religion and science scholar Mary‑Jane Rubenstein, they are subject to commercial rivalry, notably between billionaires Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, who are littering space and advocating it as a refuge from Earth’s destruction. She argues that we must eschew such myopic, colonialist “astrotopia”, and listen instead to a sort of “pantheistic mysticism” — valuing and learning from the cosmic environment — scorned by past imperialists.