cover image Wayfinding: The Science and Mystery of How Humans Navigate the World

Wayfinding: The Science and Mystery of How Humans Navigate the World

M.R. O’Connor. St. Martin’s, $28.99 (368p) ISBN 978-1-250-09696-8

In the skilled hands of journalist O’Connor (Resurrection Science), the topic of wayfinding, or “the use and organization of sensory information from the environment to guide us,” proves rich and multifaceted. Drawing on new discoveries in neuroscience, psycholinguistics, anthropology, geography, and oceanography, she discusses how, unassisted by modern technology, native master navigators can learn to read featureless Arctic ice floes, shifting sands in the Australian outback, or the currents of the South Pacific to such an extent that they rarely get lost, even in places they’ve never been before. O’Connor discusses how this knowledge is passed from generation to generation, and addresses the related question of whether “rational scientific thinking didn’t originate with the Greeks but with hunter-gatherers” and their ability to track animals, which may have contributed to the dramatic growth in hominin brain size several hundred thousand years ago. O’Connor also looks to the future, investigating how the growing use of GPS technology is affecting brain development. Whether describing laboratory studies with mice running mazes or how Marshall Islanders navigate by feeling wave patterns in their stomachs, O’Connor brings her subjects to life in a delightful manner. Agent: Michelle Tessler, Tessler Literary Agency. (May)