Black Hole Survival Guide by Janna Levin; artwork by Lia HalloranWhat it is: a concise and conversational introduction to black holes.
Who it's for: armchair space travelers who want to know what it's like to visit a black hole -- without the risk of being destroyed.
About the author: Theoretical cosmologist Janna Levin is the author of Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space.
Oak Flat: A Fight for Sacred Land in the American West by Lauren RednissWelcome to: Oak Flat, a federally protected region of Arizona situated 15 miles west of the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation.
What you should know: Sacred to numerous tribes, this area is also of great interest to mining companies, which have been trying to gain access to its copper deposits for decades.
Why you might like it: This journalistic work of "visual nonfiction" follows two families, one Apache and one white, as it reveals the natural and human history of a unique place.
Fundamentals: Ten Keys to Reality by Frank WilczekWhat it is: a concise, accessible physics primer by a Nobel laureate that explains ten challenging yet essential concepts to non-scientists without sacrificing accuracy.
What sets it apart: Physicist Frank Wilczek places scientific discoveries in their historical context and clearly distinguishes between what we know and what we do not (yet) know.
For fans of: Carlo Rovelli's Seven Brief Lessons on Physics or Brian Greene's Until the End of Time.
When Brains Dream: Exploring the Science and Mystery of Sleep by Antonio Zadra and Robert StickgoldThe big idea: To explain why we dream, sleep scientists Antonio Zadra and Robert Stickgold introduce their NEXTUP (network exploration to understand possibilities) model, a form of "sleep-dependent memory process" that enables our sleeping minds to make connections that may elude us while we're awake.
You might also like: Matthew Walker's Why We Sleep or Alice Robb's Why We Dream.
The Story of Life in Ten and 1/2 Species
by Marianne Taylor
If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This is the thought-provoking premise of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species. Each life forms explains a key aspect about life on Earth. From the sponge that seems to be a plant but is really an animal to the almost extinct soft-shelled turtle deemed extremely unique and therefore extremely precious, these examples reveal how life itself is arranged across time and space, and how humanity increasingly dominates that vision. Taylor, a prolific science writer, considers the chemistry of a green plant and ponders the possibility of life beyond our world; investigates the virus in an attempt to determine what a life form is; and wonders if the human--"a distinct and very dominant species with an inevitably biased view of life"-- could evolve in a new direction. She tells us that the giraffe was one species, but is now four; that the dusky seaside sparrow may be revived through "re-evolution," or cloning; explains the significance of Darwin's finch to evolution; and much more. The "half" species is artificial intelligence. Itself an experiment to understand and model life, AI is central to our future--although from the alien visitor's standpoint, unlikely to inherit the earth in the long run.
Elderhood: Redefining Aging, Transforming Medicine, Reimagining Life by Louise AronsonWhat it is: a thoughtful, comprehensive exploration of aging, from medical concerns to identity issues to depictions of the elderly in pop culture.
Why you should read it: We all grow old (if we're lucky), but aging also affects our families, our economies, and our societies.
For fans of: Being Mortal by Atul Gawande, Spring Chicken by Bill Gifford.
Nodding Off: The Science of Sleep from Cradle to Grave by Alice GregoryWhat it's about: This comprehensive explanation of the ins and outs of sleep covers a wide array of topics, from sleep disorders to genetics to simple advice on how to improve your own relationship with bedtime.
What sets it apart: Nodding Off is arranged by age group, including a large section focusing on the sleep patterns of young adults (whereas most books on the topic tend to cover either children or adults over 25).
Clean: The New Science of Skin by James HamblinWhat it's about: the history of human hygiene, the rise of the cosmetics industry, and the microbiome that keeps our skin healthy.
Why you might like it: Physician and Atlantic staff writer James Hamblin (who stopped showering while writing this book) presents a wealth of information in entertaining vignettes.
Further reading: Monty Lyman's The Remarkable Life of the Skin, Ed Yong's I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life.
An Elegant Defense: The Extraordinary New Science of the Immune System: A Tale in Four... by Matt RichtelContains: four case studies that illuminate the human immune system, including a man who contracted HIV in 1977, two women with autoimmune conditions, and the author's childhood friend, recently diagnosed with cancer.
Why you might like it: Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer Matt Richtel interweaves profiles of individuals with the evolution of our understanding of the immune system and advances in immunology.
Reviewers say: "brilliantly blurs the lines between biology primer, medical historical text and the traditional first-person patient story" (Washington Post).
The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative by Florence WilliamsWhat it's about: Science journalist Florence Williams, a contributor to Outside magazine, travels the world -- making stops in Idaho, Scotland, and South Korea -- to investigate the scientific benefits of being outdoors.
Food for thought: "We don't experience natural environments enough to realize how restored they make us feel, nor are we aware that studies also show they make us healthier, more creative, empathetic, and more apt to engage with the world and with each other."
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