Are Numbers Real? The Uncanny Relationship of Mathematics and the Physical World by Brian CleggTo what extent do numbers accurately reflect reality? Pretty well, if you're counting livestock. Less so if you're talking about black holes, which are "more the product of mathematics than of science" (that is, there is only indirect evidence for their existence.) In this thought-provoking book, science writer Brian Clegg, author of Ten Billion Tomorrows, examines the relationship between numbers and science, explaining why mathematical models, while increasingly powerful, can never fully account for the complexity of the physical universe.
The Wood for the Trees: One Man's Long View of Nature by Richard ForteyUpon his retirement from London's Natural History Museum (a career he describes in Dry Storeroom No. 1), British paleontologist Richard Fortey purchased four acres of Grim's Dyke Wood, located in the Chiltern Hills of Oxfordshire, England. He then spent a year exploring the woodlands and documenting his discoveries. With its eye for detail and enthusiasm for the natural world, Fortey's book may appeal to readers of Bernd Heinrich's similarly seasonally themed Summer World and Winter World.
Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness by Peter Godfrey-SmithAustralian philosopher of science and avid scuba diver Peter Godfrey-Smith explores the origins of consciousness by observing cephalopods (squid, cuttlefish, and octopuses), which he calls nature's "only experiment in big brains outside of the vertebrates." Looking to evolutionary biology to explain how these creatures first developed their complex nervous systems, Godfrey-Smith also reflects on the nature of intelligence itself. Fans of Sy Montogomery's The Soul of an Octopus should enjoy this book, which artfully blends firsthand observation and philosophical musings on animal cognition.
Whiplash: How to Survive our Faster Future by Joi Ito"Our technologies have outpaced our ability, as a society, to understand them," claims Joi Ito, director of MIT's Media Lab. Citing a profound disconnect between humans and the technologies that shape their existence, Ito lays out nine principles designed to serve as "pro tips" for those seeking to make sense of a rapidly changing world and navigate our "new operating system." From emergent systems to walled gardens, this book presents an array of intriguing concepts that may appeal to readers who enjoy Steven Johnson's wide-ranging books, such as How We Got to Now: Six Innovations that Made the Modern World.
The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars by Dava SobelBeginning in the 1880s, the Harvard College Observatory hired women as "computers," paying them a fraction of what their male counterparts earned to analyze astronomical data and perform complex calculations. The result of their efforts? The Henry Draper Star Catalog, a compendium of spectroscopic classifications for some 225,300 stars. With its focus on the unsung heroines of science, this engaging collective biography by the author of Longitude may appeal to fans of Margot Lee Shetterly's Hidden Figures and Nathalia Holt's Rise of the Rocket Girls.
Atmosphere of Hope: Searching for Solutions to the Climate Crisis by Tim FlanneryCan human ingenuity reverse the effects of climate change? In other words, can we fix the problem we created before it destroys all life on Earth? Scientist and activist Tim Flannery believes we can, despite a mounting pile of alarming data and a pronounced lack of political will. In this book, Flannery surveys different approaches to the problem, including adapting to a new reality, geoengineering carbon out of the atmosphere, and (Flannery's preferred) "third-way" strategies that utilize the planet's natural processes to achieve balance.
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth KolbertIn its 4.54-billion-year history, Earth has experienced five mass extinctions -- and humans are on course to cause a sixth, according to New Yorker staff writer Elizabeth Kolbert, author of Field Notes from a Catastrophe. Traveling the world to talk to scientists, Kolbert describes the extinction events that ended previous geological epochs, all caused by natural phenomena ranging from impact events to glaciation. Her conclusion? Our species will destroy itself and everything else, thanks to a convergence of anthropogenic causes: global climate change (resulting from high concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere), ocean acidification, and a loss of biodiversity in direct proportion to an exponential increase in the human population. For other books that tackle humanity's impending destruction, try Fred Guterl's The Fate of the Species or Annalee Newitz's Scatter, Adapt, and Remember.
Betting the Farm on a Drought: Stories from the Front Lines of Climate Change by Seamus McGrawAlthough it's frequently presented as a future concern, climate change is happening now and already affects people in measurable ways. Steering clear of partisan politics, journalist Seamus McGraw provides an accessible overview of climate science and then profiles a diverse group of individuals -- including farmers, fishermen, and outdoor enthusiasts -- as they deal with extreme weather, severe droughts, and other threats to their lives and livelihoods.
Storm Surge: Hurricane Sandy, Our Changing Climate, and Extreme Weather of the... by Adam SobelIn 2012, Hurricane Sandy slammed into the New York metropolitan area, inundating the city and devastating the Jersey Shore. Author and atmospheric scientist Adam Sobel, a New Yorker, witnessed Sandy's devastation firsthand, giving him a unique perspective on events. As he tracks Sandy's progress from tropical cyclone to "superstorm," he delves into meteorology and climatology to explain how weather systems and forecasting work. Sobel also reflects on the ways in which climate change may affect the frequency and severity of extreme weather events and other natural disasters. Readers who enjoy Storm Surge may also be interested in Kathryn Miles' Super Storm: Nine Days Inside Hurricane Sandy.
Half-Earth: Our Planet's Fight for Life by Edward O. WilsonA mass extinction is under way, according to biologist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edward O. Wilson. Only one-quarter to one-half of all species on Earth are likely to survive the 21st century and it is not guaranteed that Homo sapiens will be among them. Wilson's solution? Set aside 50 percent of the planet as wildlife preserves to counter rapidly decreasing biodiversity. Impossible? Perhaps, but Wilson's impassioned plea on behalf of the biosphere is essential reading for anyone who cares about environmental issues.
Contact your librarian for more great books!