Science Books: Stars, Oceans, and Primates

Through science we discover how the world ticks, not just the world but the universe. Scientists systematically study nature and the physical and material world. They explore unusual animals (Komodo dragons and gyrfalcons) and everyday ones (dogs and cats) as well as dramatic astronomical and geological events. This year saw three major volcanoes erupt: in Hawaii, Iceland, and Japan. These books will perk your interest in an amazing field.


Compiled by:
Dory Lynch
Adventures in the Anthropocene: a Journey to the Heart of the Planet We Made

Gaia Vince
577.27 Vin

This book reports that scientists now believe we have left the “clement” climate of the Holocene and entered a new age, one marked by mankind’s altering of the environment through industrial civilization. The author spent two years travelling the world to see what scientists mean when they say we are altering the earth rapidly and in harmful ways. She visited the Maldives to see rising oceans, the Himalayas where she met with scientists who created imitation glaciers to preserve a yearly water supply, and New Jersey where botanists genetically altered trees so that they can suck significantly more carbon dioxide than they do now.


Animal Weapons: The Evolution of Battle

Douglas J. Emlen
591.47 Eml

From the smallest fly with antennae to moose with giant antlers, this book explores weapon size and its use in animals and observes its parallels with mankind’s many arms races.  They all start out small and the through competition and rivalry, get much bigger. This book is full of fascinating lore, such as how African army ants, called siafu, clean people’s houses of roaches and even rats, and how people have used these ants to suture wounds. Also included is a fascinating history of armor in animals and people. A book that entertains while imparting information about our deadliest weapons.


Astrobiology: A Very Short Introduction

David Catling
576.839 Cat

If you like your learning in small doses this is the book for you on an exciting new scientific topic. Astrobiology studies life around stars, including our sun, or more generically life in space. But astrobiologists also study the history of life on earth to find similarities with life elsewhere. One chapter explores life in the solar system and another investigates another timely topic, life on exoplanets, planets outside our solar system.  My favorite is chapter four, “From Slime to the Sublime” how Earth has maintained on environment for life, and how this life has developed into myriad forms. 


Astrophotography

Thierry Legault
522.63 Leg

Disappointed by your pictures of the super full moon?  If so, this how-to book by a world-renowned photographer not only suggests helpful equipment but teaches you the science behind astronomical events such as: eclipses, full moons, meteor showers, even the transits of planets.  Legault illustrated the book with tens of photos and charts that will serve both the beginner and experienced photographer. Ever dreamed of photographing a sunspot flare? This book will show you how.


The Copernicus Complex: our cosmic significance in a universe of planets and probabilities

Caleb Scharf
523.1 Sch

This intriguing book examines the modern Copernicus Complex that states there is nothing special about our world, our solar system, our galaxy, indeed, even our place in the universe. According to this, the universe should be fizzing with life. In a series of posed questions Scharf examines the physical forces that make life possible. Is life on earth a cosmic coincidence or something that has happened many times, many places? Check this book out and see what cosmologists think.


Deep: Freediving, Renegade Science, and What the Ocean Tells Us about Ourselves

James Nestor
797.232 Nes

According to the author, the ocean is “the final unseen, untouched, and undiscovered wilderness.” But due to the high pressure of the deep, it’s extremely difficult to explore. Nestor interviewed many divers who adapted techniques of pearl divers including “amphibious reflexes" that he believes humans possess. Not only does he study these freedivers, but he conquers his own fears of exploring the ocean without tanks, by swimming in dark waters among the fish, shark, and whales using echolocation to navigate and our magnetic sense of direction to orient himself.


The Monkey’s Voyage: How Improbable Journeys Shaped the History of Life

Alan De Queiroz
570 Deq

Across our planet, very similar life forms are found on different continents separated by great expanses of sea.  How did monkeys, frogs, and baobab trees get footholes in the new world? For centuries, scientists assumed it was caused by continental drift, but new research points to the animals and plants themselves making and surviving long migrations. From spiders who flew across on storm winds, to monkeys and other mammals who drifted across, often unintentionally, on ice floes and rafts, many creatures and plants made incredible journeys.


Mother Nature is Trying to Kill You: a Lively Tour through the Dark Side of the Natural World

Dan Riskin
591.53 Ris

This book starts off with an account of the author’s visit to a Boston emergency ward to have a botfly removed from his skull. Gory but appropriate. Cleverly using the seven deadly sins as a template: greed, lust, sloth, gluttony, envy, wrath, and pride it examines all the ways nature conspires to inflict harm on animals and humans through bites, venom, thievery, species killing their own (even their mates). It discusses, for instance, killer whales, which drown their prey.  Yes, it is an unsafe world out there, so sit inside and read about all your possible deaths by everything from insects to whales.


Operation Paperclip: the secret intelligence program that brought Nazi scientists to America

Annie Jacobsen
940.5486 Jac

This thrilling book describes how U.S. intelligence agents managed a coup, bringing Nazi scientists to this country where they worked on our science program including the moon landing.  The initiative began in 1944 when the secret agents began a mission to gather Germany’s biological and chemical weapons, but they soon realized they needed the scientists also, so they enticed German scientists to come here while they hid their past histories.


Planet of the Bugs: Evolution and the Rise of Insects

Scott Richard Shaw
595.7 Sha

Do humans really control the world? This fascinating book describes how bugs cleverly innovated, using wings, body size, metamorphosis and other adaptions to spread over the planet. Chapters include “Dancing on Air” (how wings hugely expanded the environment for bugs), “Cretaceous Bloom and Doom” (the symbiosis between bugs and flowers), and “Paleozoic Holocaust” (how a massive extinction changed the course of life for all animals including insects). If you’ve ever been curious about that green stick bug climbing up your arm, this is the book for you.


The Sixth Extinction

Elizabeth Kolbert
576.84 Kol

Scientists have named this modern age as the Anthropocene, meaning one heavily influenced by humans. Unfortunately, many scientists report that we are now undergoing a huge extinction of life forms around us mostly caused by mankind. This book also covers the five earlier extinctions and shows how they compare and differ from the current one. A compendium of many of the rich fauna and flora that may not survive the next century.


Storm Surge: Hurricane Sandy, Our Changing Climate, and Extreme Weather of the Past and Future

Adam Sobel
551.552 Sob

By the time Hurricane Sandy reached New York City, it was no longer a hurricane. Its technical name was an extratropical baroclinic cyclone. Sandy had coalesced with a winter storm and then made a right turn for our eastern seaboard. Sobel, a former physicist and current meteorologist explains (in easy to understand language) the science of hurricanes. He includes many real life hurricane advisories. In the last part of the book he discusses the scientific consensus on how a warming world will affect hurricanes: there will be less of them, but ones with much greater intensity. This book also includes a fascinating discussion on rising seas and how the Dutch have engineered against them.


Thinking Fast and Slow

Daniel Kahneman
153.42 Kah

A Nobel laureate winner in economics, Kahneman tackles human thinking in this book. He compares two wildly different types that we do. The first is fast, intuitive and emotional; the second is slower, more measured, and more logical.  He shows how we work best when we tap into the benefits of each, and know when to slow down and speed up our thinking.


Thinking in Numbers: on Life, Love, Meaning and Math

Daniel Tammet
510 Tam

Even if math is not your forte', this excellent compendium of essays by a savant will increase your interest in the subject. Perhaps, having eight siblings first turned Tammet’s mind toward numbers. Regardless, he was soon fascinated by the crystal shapes of snowflakes, Anne Boleyn’s eleven fingers, and porridge endlessly pouring out of a magic pot. The questions he asks always intrigue: can there be an average person, why does time slow as we age, how many points of difference can there be between two people in love?  Dive in and explore math from this math lover’s perspective.