Peter Annin Island (2024)

The cover of this revolutionary book shows a recycling symbol, with arrows of clear blue water. Yet the subject is sewage. Environmental and water journalist Peter Annin is satisfied that recycled sewage can be drunk, after studying water recycling for two decades. “In the climate change era, water cannot be taken for granted anymore — and that includes sewage,” he says. Recycling technology could, he argues, relieve the US water crisis, especially in the west, where water diversions have desolated the Colorado River Delta.

Audubon as Artist

Roberta J. M. Olson Reaktion (2024)

As a museum curator in New York City, art historian Roberta Olson looked after 474 watercolours painted by John James Audubon for his classic book The Birds of America (1827–38). Gazing at his birds, she writes, “one wonders whether they might momentarily fly off the page”. Glorious reproductions fill this intriguing book. She regards Audubon as an “American Leonardo da Vinci”, fusing art and science, but focuses more on his art than his naturalism. A gripping self-portrait painted before he found success hints at Audubon’s difficult life.

The Heart and the Chip

Daniela Rus & Gregory Mone Norton (2024)

Computer scientist Daniela Rus has dreamt about robots since she was a child, and has developed them for years at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. She is convinced they will not steal our jobs, as is often feared, but will make humans “more capable, productive, precise”. Her engaging book, co-written with science writer Gregory Mone, focuses on combining human and robotic strengths to pair “the heart and the chip” in three interlinked fields: robotics, artificial intelligence and machine learning.

The Struggle for Public Health

Fred C. Pampel John Hopkins Univ. Press (2024)

Rates of death from communicable diseases fell hugely in the late nineteenth century; by 49% for respiratory tuberculosis (TB), for example. But much of the fall had less to do with medical advances — the TB vaccine was not in widespread use until 1954 — than with “rising standards of living, better nutrition, and a strengthening public health movement”, writes sociologist Fred Pampel. His book explores this complexity clearly in seven chapters, each devoted to a public-health pioneer, from epidemiologist John Snow to nurse Lillian Wald.

Deep Water

James Bradley Scribe UK (2024)

“How inappropriate to call this planet ‘Earth’, when clearly it is ‘Ocean’,” said science-fiction author Arthur C. Clarke. His comment opens this meditation by science writer James Bradley. He stands on the Australian coast in 2020, witnessing record bush fires that accompanied record oceanic heating. The ocean, where life began, “is the memory of the world”, he writes, given its pivotal role in evolution, migration, capitalism and climate change. Unless we protect it better, we are heading for catastrophe.