Out of the 60 notable science titles for spring 2012, six have the word “brain” in the title; four more have the words “gene” or “genetics.” And many other books are built on the foundations of neuroscience and genetics. You won’t learn much about the periodic table this season, but if you want to know how your brain (or your breasts) evolved, dopamine will flood your brain with pleasurable sensations.
It’s no surprise, then, that the two most important books of the season are by a biologist and a neuroscientist—two of the most venerated scholars of their generation, two-time Pulitzer winner Edward O. Wilson and Nobelist Eric Kandel. In The Social Conquest of Earth, Wilson revises our view of how humans evolved and survived other hominids to rule the earth. In The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the Present, Kandel reviews how medical pioneers in early 20th-century Vienna revolutionized our understanding of brain and mind and inspired artistic pioneers.
But among this season’s noteworthy science books are several by a younger generation of outstanding writers, Jonah Lehrer among them. With Imagine: How Creativity Works, Lehrer explores how our minds imagine what never existed, from a sonata to the Internet.
Also touching on the question of how much our brain determines our actions is Connectome: How the Brain’s Wiring Makes Us Who We Are, in which young MIT professor Sebastian Seung theorizes that our personalities are determined not by our genes but by how our neurons are wired.
The most unusual neurological tale is Memoirs of an Addicted Brain by Marc Lewis, self-described “drug addict turned neuroscientist,” who combines his own adventures with LSD and heroin with an analysis of the neurological cycle of desire and reward that links our brain to drugs, sex, and other addictive behaviors.
Do addicts have free will? Do any of us? Sam Harris follows his manifesto The End of Faith by facing the conundrum posed by a secular, genetics-based worldview. In Free Will, Harris examines whether our actions are predetermined by our unconscious mind, as brain studies indicate.
Perhaps the most delightful book in the genetics category is Sam Kean’s The Violinist’s Thumb: And Other Lost Tales of Love, War, and Genius, as Written by Our Genetic Code, which brings to the gene the same wit and originality that the author brought to the periodic table in his bestselling The Disappearing Spoon.
Bound to garner attention in an increasingly ethnically and racially complex country in crisis over its identity, the changing face of the American people is traced through their genes, in DNA USA: A Genetic Portrait of America by geneticist Bryan Sykes.
Moving on to other areas of science and the environment, the scientific and personal encounter between a baby monk seal stranded on a Hawaiian beach and the marine biologist who studies him is at the center of The Odyssey of KP2: An Orphan Seal, a Marine Biologist, and the Fight to Save a Species, by biologist Terrie M. Williams.
The title of Daniel Halperin and Craig Timberg’s book may be a self-fulfilling prophecy, fueling debate over AIDS. In Tinderbox: How the West Sparked the AIDS Epidemic and How the World Can Finally Overcome It, the authors say Western colonization of Africa led to the AIDS epidemic, and the West has similarly misdirected efforts to end the epidemic.
PW’s Top 10: Science
The Social Conquest of Earth
Edward O. Wilson. Norton/Liveright, Apr.
The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the Present
Eric Kandel. Random, Mar.
Imagine: How Creativity Works
Jonah Lehrer. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Feb.
Connectome: How the Brain’s Wiring Makes Us Who We Are
Sebastian Seung. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Feb.
Memoirs of an Addicted Brain
Marc Lewis. PublicAffairs, Feb.
Sam Harris. Free Press, Feb.
The Violinist’s Thumb: And Other Lost Tales of Love, War, and Genius, as Written by Our Genetic Code
Sam Kean. Little, Brown, July.
DNA USA: A Genetic Portrait of America
Bryan Sykes. Norton/Liveright, May.
The Odyssey of KP2: An Orphan Seal, a Marine Biologist, and the Fight to Save a Species
Terrie M. Williams. Penguin Press, July.
Tinderbox: How the West Sparked the AIDS Epidemic and How the World Can Finally Overcome It
Daniel Halperin and Craig Timberg. Penguin Press, Mar.
Back Bay Books
The Sun’s Heartbeat: And Other Stories from the Life of the Star That Powers Our Planet by Bob Berman (July 17, paper, $15.99, ISBN 978-0316090995). An account of the sun’s profound effects on our lives, our history, and our future.
Darwin’s Devices: What Evolving Robots Can Teach Us About the History of Life and the Future of Technology by John Long (Mar. 13, hardcover, $26.99, ISBN 978-0465021413). Why using natural selection to design robots is revolutionizing our understanding of life. Games Primates Play: An Undercover Investigation of the Evolution and Economics of Human Relationships by Dario Maestripieri (Mar. 20, hardcover, $27.99, ISBN 978-0465020782). Tracking us in elevators and on e-mails, at home and at work, a leading primatologist uncovers the rules that govern the social life of the human animal.
Learning from the Octopus: How Secrets from Nature Can Help Us Fight Terrorist Attacks, Natural Disasters, and Disease by Rafe Sagarin (Mar. 6, hardcover, $26.99, ISBN 978-0465021833) illustrates how the study of ecology and evolution can fortify us against disaster and war.
Moral Origins: The Evolution of Virtue, Altruism, and Shame by Christopher Boehm (Apr. 10, hardcover, $27.99, ISBN 978-0465020485). The natural and cultural history of the evolution of our sense of ethics, by a leading anthropologist of human morality.
Harvest the Wind: America’s Journey to Jobs, Energy Independence, and Climate Stability by Philip Warburg (Apr. 17, $27.95, ISBN 978-0807001080). An on-the-ground look at wind energy’s arrival in the American heartland and the hopes it brings for economic prosperity—as well as our national security and our planet’s survival.
Bellevue Literary Press
Mind Wars: Brain Science and the Military in the 21st Century by Jonathan D. Moreno (May 1, paper, $16.95, ISBN 978-1934137437). Minority Report meets Dr. Strangelove in the story of how neuroscience and related technologies are shaping national defense.
Bird Sense: What It’s Like to Be a Bird by Tim Birkhead (Apr. 4, hardcover, $25, ISBN 978-0802779663). A book about birds, their senses, and behavior is informed by a blend of personal experience, entertaining stories, and cutting-edge science.
Columbia Univ. Press
The Beach Book: Science of the Shore by Carl Hobbs (June 12, paper, $19.50, ISBN 978-0231160551). An all-access guide to the physical processes of shores—waves, tides, sand dunes, and more—and the impact of climate change on their delicate ecosystems.
The Epigenetics Revolution: How Modern Biology Is Rewriting Our Understanding of Genetics, Disease, and Inheritance by Nessa Carey (Mar., hardcover, $26.95, ISBN 978-0231161169). A lively account of a new field in the life sciences examines how nurture combines with nature to create biological diversity, challenging the manifesto that DNA is our destiny.
The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines by Michael E. Mann (Mar. 6, hardcover, $28.95, ISBN 978-0231152549). A riveting exposé cuts through the fog of disinformation and deceit generated by the campaign to deny the reality of global climate change.
The Day the World Discovered the Sun: An Extraordinary Story of 18th-Century Scientific Adventure and the Global Race to Track the Transit of Venus by Mark Anderson (Apr. 17, hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-0306820380) tracks the story of 18th-century astronomers racing to find the distance to the sun and the keys to worldwide navigation.
The Moral Molecule: The Source of Love and Prosperity by Paul J. Zak (May 1, hardcover, $26.95, ISBN 978-0525952817). A game-changing account of experiments from the lab to the jungle reveals for the first time why we are both good and evil.
Death: The Scientific Facts to Help Us Understand It Better by Richard Beliveau (Mar. 1, $29.95, ISBN 978-1554079964) explains the biological processes and the many causes of death, and examines the human perceptions of death through history and across cultures.
Free Will by Sam Harris (Feb. 28, paper, $9.99, ISBN 978-1451683400). Brain research indicates that our neurons know what we will do before we are even aware of our intention. Harris explores the meaning of this when free will is essential to how we define ourselves and our society.
The Woman Who Changed Her Brain: Stories of Transformation from the Frontier of Brain Science by Barbara Arrowsmith Young (May 1, hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-1451607932). The incredible story of a woman who began life severely learning disabled, built herself a better brain, and a program that has helped thousands do the same.
What a Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses by Daniel Chamovitz (May 3, hardcover, $23, ISBN 978-0374288730). A fantastic journey into the lives of plants—from the colors they see to the schedules they keep.
Why Is the Penis Shaped Like That?: And Other Reflections on Being Human by Jesse Bering (June 14, paper, $16, ISBN 978-0374532925). Titillating and provocative essays from one of the freshest voices in science today.
The Science of Avatar by Stephen Baxter (Apr. 12, paper, $14.99, ISBN 978-0316133470). With collaboration from James Cameron, Baxter provides a guide to the science behind the blockbuster movie.
Brain Wars: The Scientific Battle Over the Existence of the Mind and the Proof That Will Change the Way We Live Our Lives by Mario Beauregard (Apr. 4, hardcover, $26.99, ISBN 978-0062071569). An acclaimed neuroscientist reveals new evidence and the latest scientific research that will transform the current understanding of the relationship between the brain, the mind, and consciousness.
This Will Make You Smarter: New Scientific Concepts to Improve Your Thinking by John Brockman (Feb. 14, paper, $15.99, ISBN 978-0062109392). Edge.com editor Brockman presents cutting-edge ideas that will improve everyone’s decision making, with contributions by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Richard Dawkins, Brian Eno, Steven Pinker, and more.
Hodder & Stoughton
(dist. by IPG)
Geek Nation: How Indian Science Is Taking Over the World by Angela Saini (May 1, paper, $14.95, ISBN 978-1444710168). A travelogue of a journey to meet the inventors, engineers, and young scientists helping to give birth to the world’s next scientific superpower—a nation built on its people’s ingenuity.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer (Feb. 15, hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-0547386072). Bestselling author Lehrer introduces us to musicians, graphic artists, poets, and bartenders to show how we can use science to be more imaginative and make our cities, our companies, and our culture more creative.
The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human by Jonathan Gottschall (Mar. 14, hardcover, $24, ISBN 978-0547391403) looks at the new science of storytelling, with the latest thinking on why we tell stories, what stories reveal about human nature, which plots and themes are universal, and what it means to have a storytelling brain.
Connectome: How the Brain’s Wiring Makes Us Who We Are by Sebastian Seung (Feb. 7, hardcover, $27, ISBN 978-0647508184). A computational neuroscientist at MIT explains how the neural connections in our brains may reveal our personality, intelligence, why we become depressed—and may allow us to “upload” our brains into a computer and achieve digital immortality.
Johns Hopkins Univ. Press
Einstein’s Jewish Science: Physics at the Intersection of Politics and Religion by Steven Gimbel (Apr. 1, hardcover, $24.95, ISBN 978-1421405544). Is there something Jewish about E=mc2? Gimbel tries to answer that question by examining how the cultural, ethical, and theological contexts of Einstein’s life may have influenced his work.
Secret Lives of Ants by Jae Choe, photos by Dan Perlman, foreword by Jane Goodall (Mar. 1, hardcover, $34.95, ISBN 978-1421404288). Choe takes readers into a miniature world dominated by a six-legged organism—the ant—on which humans and most other life forms depend for their very survival.
Chasing Venus: The Race to Measure the Heavens by Andrea Wulf (May 1, hardcover, $25.95, ISBN 978-0307700179). A chronicle of the first truly international scientific endeavor—the 18th-century quest to observe the transit of Venus and measure the solar system.
Zoobiquity: What Animals Can Teach Us About Health and the Science of Healing by Barbara Natterson-Horowitz and Kathryn Bowers (June 12, hardcover, $27.95, ISBN 978-0307593481) examines what animals can teach us about the human body and mind through similarities between how humans and animals live, die, get sick, and heal.
The Violinist’s Thumb: And Other Lost Tales of Love, War, and Genius, as Written by Our Genetic Code by Sam Kean (July 17, hardcover, $25.99, ISBN 978-0316182317). Bestselling author Kean provides more surprising stories of science, history, language, and music, as told by our DNA.
X-Events: The Collapse of Everything by John L. Casti (May 22, hardcover, $26.99, ISBN 978-0062088284). A senior research scholar argues that today’s advanced societies have grown too complex and are highly vulnerable to extreme events that will topple civilization like a house of cards.
DNA USA: A Genetic Portrait of America by Bryan Sykes (May 14, hardcover, $27.95, ISBN 978-0871404121). Crisscrossing the continent, a renowned geneticist provides a groundbreaking examination of one of the world’s most genetically variegated countries.
The Social Conquest of Earth by Edward O. Wilson (Apr. 9, hardcover, $27.95, ISBN 978-0871404138). Refashioning the story of human evolution, celebrated sociobiologist Wilson shows that group selection, not kin selection, is the driving force of human evolution, and presents the clearest explanation as to the origin of the human condition and our domination of the Earth’s biosphere.
Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History by Florence Williams (May 7, hardcover, $25.95, ISBN 978-0393063189) follows the breast’s life cycle from puberty to menopause, bringing a medical and scientific eye to the changing biology of an evolutionary masterpiece.
From Here to Infinity: A Vision for the Future of Science by Martin Rees (June 18, hardcover, $23.95, ISBN 978-0393063073). One of our greatest scientific minds reflects on the role of science in the 21st century.
How It Began: A Time-Traveler’s Guide to the Universe by Chris Impey (Mar. 26, hardcover, $27.95, ISBN 978-0393080025). An eye-opening tour of milestones in the history of our universe takes readers back in time as they move outward in space.
Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier by Neil deGrasse Tyson, edited by Avis Lang (Feb. 27, hardcover, $26.95, ISBN 978-0393082104). The director of New York City’s Hayden Planetarium offers a thought-provoking and humorous collection on NASA and the future of space travel.
Wired for Culture: Origins of the Human Social Mind by Mark Pagel (Feb. 27, hardcover, $29.95, ISBN 978-0393065879). A far-reaching study of how our species’ innate capacity for culture altered the course of our social and evolutionary history.
Oxford Univ. Press
Homo Mysterious: Evolutionary Puzzles of Human Nature by David P. Barash (June 1, hardcover, $27.95, ISBN 978-0199751945). An examination of evolutionary mysteries, exploring things that we don’t yet know about ourselves, laying out the best current hypotheses, and pointing toward insights that scientists are just beginning to glimpse.
Among the Creationists: Dispatches from the Anti-Evolutionist Front Line by Jason Rosenhouse (Apr., hardcover, $29.95, ISBN 978-0-19-974463-3). Interviewing creationists at their conferences, mathematician Rosenhouse explains the philosophical and theological bases for their beliefs, and counsels evolutionists to be civil and reasonable when debating with creationists.
The Undead: Organ Harvesting, the Ice-Water Test, Beating Heart Cadavers—How Medicine Is Blurring the Line Between Life and Death by Dick Trecsi (Mar., hardcover, $26.95, ISBN 978-0375423710) explores how, as organ harvesting becomes big business, medical professionals are under increasing pressures to reconsider who is living and who is dead.
Turing’s Cathedral by George Dyson (Mar. 6, hardcover, $26.95, ISBN 978-0-375-42277-5) is an engrossing study of how engineers at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Studies, under the charismatic mathematician John von Neumann (the book should really be titled Von Neumann’s Cathedral), built a pioneering computer (called MANIAC) in the years after WWII. 75,000-copy announced first printing.
Superfuel: Thorium, the Zero-Risk Energy Source for the Future by Richard Martin (Apr. 19, hardcover, $27, ISBN 978-0230116474). A look at an alternate source of energy that’s revolutionizing nuclear power, promising a safe and clean future, and why thorium was sidelined during the cold war.
The Odyssey of KP2: An Orphan Seal, a Marine Biologist, and the Fight to Save a Species by Terrie M. Williams (July 5, hardcover, $27.95, ISBN 978-1594203398). A renowned marine biologist must rescue one young Hawaiian monk seal to try to save his entire species from extinction.
Tinderbox: How the West Sparked the AIDS Epidemic and How the World Can Finally Overcome It by Daniel Halperin and Craig Timberg (Mar. 1, hardcover, $27.95, ISBN 978-1594203275). A Washington Post reporter and an AIDS expert reveal the making of a global pandemic—from HIV’s origins in colonial Africa to the current misdirected multibillion-dollar war on AIDS.
Princeton Univ. Press
Cells to Civilizations: The Principles of Change That Shape Life by Enrico Coen (June 1, $29.95, ISBN 978-0691149677). The first unified account of how life transforms itself—from the production of bacteria to the emergence of complex civilizations.
Nature’s Compass: The Mystery of Animal Navigation by James L. Gould, Anthony L Gould, and Carol Grant Gould (May 1, $29.95, ISBN 978-0691140452). The new science that explains how animals perform astounding feats of navigation.
Tribal Science: Brains, Beliefs, and Bad Ideas by Mike McRae (May 22, paper, $17, ISBN 978-1616145835) examines the many ways in which our tribally oriented brains perceive and sometimes distort reality. Through the sharing of scientific ideas, we have expanded the reach of the tribal community to a global scale.
Memoirs of an Addicted Brain: A Neuroscientist Examines his Former Life on Drugs by Marc Lewis (Feb. 14, hardcover, $26.99, ISBN 978-1610391474). In a candid memoir of his own addiction, a renowned neuroscientist articulates exactly how drugs speak to the brain.
The Conundrum by David Owen (Feb. 7, paper, $14, ISBN 978-1594485619). A commonsense yet contrarian manifesto on the environmental issues of our time, from the author of Green Metropolis.
St. Martin’s Press
Gravity: How the Weakest Force in the Universe Shaped Our Lives by Brian Clegg (May 3, hardcover, $25.99, ISBN 978-0312616298) offers a history of gravity and a study of its importance to our lives, as well as its influence on other areas of science.
The Forever Fix: Gene Therapy and the Boy Who Saved It by Ricki Lewis (Feb. 23, hardcover, $25.99, ISBN 978-0312681906) explores the next frontier in medicine and genetics through the prism of the children and families gene therapy has touched.
Univ. of Arizona Press
Exploring Mars: Chronicles from a Decade of Discovery by Scott Hubbard, foreword by Bill Nye (Feb. 1, paper, $17.95, ISBN 978-0816528967). The former NASA director of Mars missions recounts their failures and triumphs, weaving in both the political and scientific challenges surrounding the Red Planet.1,000-copy announced first printing.
Electrified Sheep: Glass-eating Scientists, Nuking the Moon, and Other Bizarre Experiments by Alex Boese (May 16, hardcover, $25.99, ISBN 978-1250007537). Welcome to some of the most weird and wonderful experiments ever conducted in the name of science, exemplified by eccentric characters, irrational obsessions, and extreme experiments.
Univ. of California Press
The Three Failures of Creationism: Logic, Rhetoric, and Science by Walter M. Fitch (Feb. 13, paper, $24.95, ISBN 978-0520270534). A wise and modest scholar carefully and gently explains creationism’s illogical arguments, unpersuasive rhetoric, and failure to meet the minimum standards of science.
Univ. of Wisconsin Press
Phantoms of the Prairie: The Return of Cougars to the Midwest by John W. Laundre (Apr. 19, paper, $24.95, ISBN 978-0299287542) shows how the predatory cougar, whose return after more than a century to the plains regions has raised safety concerns, might move over the landscape with minimal human contact.
Rabid: A Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolical Virus by Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy (July 19, hardcover, $25.95, ISBN 978-0670023738). Journalist Wasik and veterinarian Murphy chart the history, science, and cultural mythology of the world’s most misunderstood virus.
The Last Lost World: Ice Ages, Human Origins, and the Invention of the Pleistocene by Lydia V. Pyne and Stephen J. Pyne (June 28, hardcover, $26.95, ISBN 978-0670023639). An enlightening investigation of the Pleistocene’s dual character as a geologic time and as a cultural idea.
The Ocean of Life: The Fate of Man and the Sea by Callum Roberts (May 24, hardcover, $30, ISBN 978-0670023547). A Silent Spring for oceans, written by a writer the New York Times has called “the Rachel Carson of the fish world.”
Yale Univ. Press
Brain: Big Bangs, Behaviors, and Beliefs by Rob DeSalle and Ian Tattersall, illus. by Patricia J Wynne (Apr. 1, $29.95, ISBN 978-0300175226). In this accessible book, the authors present the first full, step-by-step account of the lengthy and supremely untidy history of the brain and nervous system.
Walker & Co.
Experiment Eleven: Deceit and Betrayal in the Discovery of the Cure for Tuberculosis by Peter Pringle (Apr. 4, hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-0802717740). A wonder drug, a disputed Nobel Prize, and a patent that shaped modern medicine.