This season in science brings back familiar voices, those writers who have excited our interest in a wide range of subjects, even those we never knew we cared about, like longitude.
With the same simple charm that made Longitude a bestseller, Dava Sobel now tells the story of a Renaissance-era cosmological revolution. A More Perfect Heaven: How Copernicus Revolutionized the Cosmos describes how a Polish church canon discovered that the Sun, not the Earth, was the center of the solar system—and why he was on his deathbed before he published his findings.
Celebrated (and, by some, scorned) biologist Richard Dawkins is also back, in a less pugnacious mode, though still insisting on the primacy of facts over beliefs. The Magic of Reality: How We Know What's Really True, illustrated in full color by Dave McKean, ranges through all the realms of nature to show the beauty of science's understanding of everything from atoms to rainbows.
Intellectually the polar opposite to Dawkins is Templeton Prize–winner John Polkinghorne. Both a theoretical physicist and a theologian, he surveys his life's work in Science and Religion in Quest of Truth to see what the essential insights of both science and religion are for the large questions like cosmology and evolution.
Sam Wang and Sandra Aamodt also return with a new book to satisfy our current obsession with the workings of the brain, this time to calm and reassure confused and mystified parents, in Welcome to Your Child's Brain: How the Mind Grows from Conception to College. Another addition to the growing spate of brain-centered books comes from one of the leaders in neuroscience: Who's in Charge?: Free Will and the Science of the Brain by Michael S. Gazzaniga. The question of free will versus biological determinism continues to daunt scientists, psychologists, and philosophers, and the "father of cognitive neuroscience" offers a provocative study of the issues. Moving along in brain science, PW recently called Cathy N. Davidson's Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn an "exceptional and critically important book." Drawing on her experience as former vice provost at Duke and on the latest brain science, Davidson proposes that new technologies will help us overcome our brain's ability to focus on only one small part of reality at a time and lead to creative new ways of learning and working.
Humans are not the only life form with a brain that remains mysterious. In Sex on Six Legs: Lessons on Life, Love, and Language from the Insect World, Marlene Zuk examines the improbably complex lives of bugs.
Emerging viruses, like ebola, and biological warfare are two of the great terrors of the 21st century. The Viral Storm: The Dawn of a New Pandemic Age by Nathan Wolfe not only looks at the origins of new viruses but also offers advice on how we can overcome future pandemics.
Most of us first encountered Frances Moore Lappé years ago with her Diet for a Small Planet. She is an environmental activist whose latest book, EcoMind: Changing the Way We Think, to Create the World We Want, draws on a wide range of scientific evidence to address how we can cure ourselves of our addiction to fossil fuels.
We couldn't close out 2011 without a final farewell to the space shuttle program, with all its drama, successes, and tragedies. The Space Shuttle: Celebrating Thirty Years of NASA's First Space Plane by Piers Bizony is an illustrated retrospective that will include the very last mission, by the Atlantis, scheduled for July 8.
PW's Top 10 Science
A More Perfect Heaven: How Copernicus Revolutionized the Cosmos
Dava Sobel. Walker, Sept.
The Magic of Reality: How We Know What's Really True
Richard Dawkins, illus. by Dave McKean. Free Press, Oct.
Science and Religion in Quest of Truth
John Polkinghorne. Yale Univ., Sept.
Welcome to Your Child's Brain: How the Mind Grows from Conception to College
Sam Wang and Sandra Aamodt. Bloomsbury, Sept.
Who's in Charge?: Free Will and the Science of the Brain
Michael S. Gazzaniga. Ecco, Nov.
Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn
Cathy N. Davidson. Viking, Aug.
Sex on Six Legs: Lessons on Life, Love, and Language from the Insect World
Marlene Zuk. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Aug.
The Viral Storm: The Dawn of a New Pandemic Age.
Nathan Wolfe. Times, Oct.
EcoMind: Changing the Way We Think, to Create the World We Want
Frances Moore Lappé. Nation, Sept.
The Space Shuttle: Celebrating Thirty Years of NASA's First Space Plane
Piers Bizony. Quayside Publishing Group/Zenith, Aug..