American Eclipse: A Nation's Epic Race to Catch the Shadow of the Moon and Win the... by David BaronIn 1878, America's scientific community was eager to prove itself to the rest of the world. A total eclipse of the sun offered the perfect opportunity to do so. Three individuals set out to observe the event, albeit with different motives: professor James Craig Watson hoped to locate hypothetical planet "Vulcan"; astronomer Maria Mitchell was determined to show that women scientists were the equals of their male counterparts; and entrepreneur Thomas Edison was certain he'd make a name for himself with a measurement device he'd invented. American Eclipse focuses on a single solar eclipse; for a broader historical perspective, try John Dvorak's Mask of the Sun.
The Ends of the World: Volcanic Apocalypses, Lethal Oceans, and Our Quest to Understand... by Peter BrannenSome say the world will end in fire, some say in ice. Based on Earth's five previous mass extinction events, it's more likely that carbon dioxide will kill us all. By consulting researchers and examining the fossil record, science journalist Peter Brannen discovers that although the delivery method may differ (volcanoes, ocean acidification, asteroid impacts), the result is the same: spikes in CO2 levels that render the planet uninhabitable. Brannen's accessible presentation of complex issues make this sobering book a good bet for fans of Elizabeth Kolbert's The Sixth Extinction.
The Seeds of Life: From Aristotle to Da Vinci, from Shark's Teeth to Frog's Pants, the Long ... by Edward DolnickA human ovum (egg) is about the size of the period at the end of this sentence, which no doubt explains why scientists spent 400 years searching for one. (Sperm cells were much easier to see, thanks to Antonie van Leeuwenhoek's microscopes.) In this eye-opening historical look at the science of sex and reproduction, author Edward Dolnick recounts the centuries-long quest on the part of Europe's greatest scientific minds to discover how babies are made, while detailing in highly entertaining fashion the many detours and missteps along the way.
A Crack in Creation: Gene Editing and the Unthinkable Power to Control Evolution by Jennifer A. Doudna and Samuel H. SternbergCRISPR-Cas9 is a genome editing technique that makes possible permanent modifications within an organism's DNA. However, the scientists who discovered this "molecular machine" argue that we shouldn't use it without first addressing the serious bioethical issues involved. This balanced and accessible book describes the research that led to this groundbreaking discovery and examines the potential applications (and implications) of a revolutionary new technology.
Into the Gray Zone: A Neuroscientist Explores the Border Between Life and Death by Adrian OwenBlending science and autobiography, cognitive neuroscientist Adrian Owen recounts personal experiences (his mother's death from cancer, a former partner's brain aneurysm) that prompted him to explore the "gray zone" between consciousness and brain death. In addition to introducing readers to the basics of neuroscience, Owen shares intriguing research findings that reveal that 15 to 20 percent of patients in vegetative states are partially or fully conscious but physically unable to respond to stimuli. Into the Gray Zone is must-read for anyone fascinated by the human brain and its many mysteries.
Focus on: Natural Disasters
What Stands in a Storm: Three Days in the Worst Superstorm to Hit the South's... by Kim CrossOver a three-day period in April 2011, a record 358 tornadoes tore through the southern and central United States. In this compelling account of the largest tornado outbreak in recorded history, journalist Kim Cross draws on hundreds of hours of interviews with survivors to depict both the event and its aftermath. For a similarly gripping blow-by-blow account of an extreme weather event, try Kathryn Miles' Superstorm: Nine Days Inside Hurricane Sandy.
The Year Without Summer: 1816 and the Volcano that Darkened the World... by William K. Klingaman and Nicholas P. KlingamanWhen Indonesia's Mount Tambora erupted in 1815, locals couldn't help but be aware of the cataclysm, which killed 12,000 people and caused 100 million tons of sulfuric acid to rain down on the archipelago. However, the rest of the world barely noticed until the following year, when global weather patterns changed severely, causing famines and food riots, epidemics and mass emigration. This joint effort by a historian and a meteorologist uses documentary sources to trace the environmental and geopolitical impact of the volcanic eruption, as well as some of the disaster's less obvious consequences, such as Mary Shelley's decision to stay indoors and write Frankenstein.
Fukushima: The Story of a Nuclear Disaster by David A. Lochbaum, Edwin Lyman, Susan Q. Stranahan, and the Union of Concerned ScientistsOn March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake off the coast of Japan caused a tsunami that flooded the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, resulting in the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. This suspenseful account vividly recreates the event, offering lessons that could help prevent future catastrophes. Fukushima may interest readers of Sheri Fink's Five Days at Memorial, another disturbing work of long-form investigative reporting that examines how natural disasters can be compounded and exacerbated by human error.
Eruption: The Untold Story of Mount St. Helens by Steve OlsonThe single most powerful natural disaster in U.S. history occurred on May 18, 1980, when Washington's Mount St. Helens erupted, killing 57 people while scattering ash over 11 U.S. states and five Canadian provinces. Eruption provides a tense real-time account of the catastrophe, from the first seismic rumblings to the volcano's eruption and its deadly aftermath, while painting a vivid portrait of the Pacific Northwest's history and culture.
The Storm of the Century: Tragedy, Heroism, Survival, and the Epic True Story of... by Al RokerThe category-four hurricane that descended on Galveston, Texas, in 1900 leveled the city, killing upwards of 10,000 people and causing millions of dollars worth of damage. Author and television personality Al Roker illustrates the devastation wrought by the storm by focusing on a cross-section of notable figures and ordinary citizens, including members of Galveston's then-thriving African-American community. For more on this epic disaster, pick up Erik Larson's Isaac's Storm: A Man, A Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History.
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