A good read has become a beloved distraction this year, as many of us stay home more than ever during the pandemic. Biographies of lesser-known scientific legends and luminaries, tales of amazing animals, and exploratory stories captivated Science News staff. Here you can find in-depth reviews of our favorite books.
Galileo and the deniers of science
Simon & Schuster, $ 28
The story of Galileo’s life, including his famous trial for heresy, has been told many times, but this new biography still feels relevant as opposition to science remains a threat (SN: 15/08/20, p. 26).
It was once I lived on Mars
St. Martin's Press, $ 27.99
Living on top of a Hawaiian volcano for several months as part of a simulated mission to Mars offers a writer a perspective on what life might be like for future inhabitants of the Red Planet, as well as an opportunity to examine isolation, exploration, love, and other topics. (SN: 7/4/20 and 18/7/20, p. 32).
The end of it all
Scribner, $ 26
The universe will one day cease to exist and an astrophysicist analyzes the different ways in which it could end. The author’s humor and fear of physics transform a bleak notion into a captivating reading (SN: 8/1/20, p. 28).
What the stars are made of
Harvard University, $ 29.95
In the 1920s, astronomer Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin determined the chemical composition of stars. Her biography illuminates the persistent work that was required to make the discovery and the challenges she faced as a woman in science (SN: 29/02/20, p. 26).
The future we choose
Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac
Knopf, $ 23
The world is already suffering the consequences of climate change, but it is not too late to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement, the authors argue as they describe the steps that readers and society as a whole can take (SN: 5/9 / 20 & 23/05/20, page 38).
History of the tree
Johns Hopkins Univ., $ 27
An expert guides readers through the field of dendrochronology, revealing the richness of historical and climatic information recorded in tree rings (SN: 6/6/20, p. 30).
The alchemy of us
MIT Press, $ 27.95
By researching clocks, light bulbs, and other transcendental inventions, a materials scientist demonstrates how humans folded materials at will and how those innovations shaped humanity (SN: 25/04/20, p. 28).
Death of despair and future of capitalism
Anne Case and Angus Deaton
Princeton Univ., $ 27.95
Five years after introducing the concept of "deaths by despair" (SN Online: 02/11/20), two economists link the increase in the number of deaths in the United States by suicide, drug overdose and alcoholism to a number of economic stressors and social that damage the working class.
Some assembly is required
Pantheon, $ 26.95
For centuries, fossils have been the main clues to past life. But as one paleontologist explains, advances in genetics in recent decades have helped fill in new details about how life has evolved over the eons (SN: 28/03/20, p. 28).
Princeton Univ., $ 27.95
From offering his arm to an electric eel to setting up a small club to fight wasps and cockroaches, a neurobiologist recounts what they discovered in his sometimes unconventional experiments on some of the world’s most notable creatures (SN: 10/10/20 and 10/24/20, page 34).
William Morrow, $ 32.50
A journalist documents the intriguing story of one of the most significant and controversial discoveries in the field of paleoanthropology: the unearthing of the 4.4-million-year-old hominid skeleton known as Ardi in the 1990s. The book also describes how the physical characteristics of the fossil challenged traditional ideas about how hominids evolved (SN: 11/21/20, p. 28).
The idea of the brain
Basic books, $ 32
The human brain has been compared to plumbing pipes, telegraph wires, and computers. By learning how these concepts of the brain have changed over time, readers get an idea of how scientists have come to understand the organ, and how much about the brain remains a mystery (SN: 25/04/20, p. 28) .
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