Einstein is all over the place this spring, with a number of books exploring his life, his effect on philosophy, and his contribution to black hole theory.
Erwin Schrödinger, on the other hand, is less prominent, always sort of there and not there simultaneously. But these Nobel laureates both made groundbreaking contributions to our understanding of the bizarre realities of the physical world, as Paul Halpern outlines in Einstein’s Dice and Schrödinger’s Cat: How Two Great Minds Battled Quantum Randomness to Create a Unified Theory of Physics, one of several noteworthy titles from Basic due this spring.
Nobel laureates Steven Weinberg and Frank Wilczek both have new histories of science in the works: To Explain the World: The Discovery of Modern Science and A Beautiful Question: Finding Nature’s Deep Design, respectively. Prolific English science writer Philip Ball seems to produce a fascinating book every year, and 2015 is no exception. In Invisible: The Dangerous Allure of the Unseen, he confronts a timeless idea hidden in plain sight.
And what underpins all of modern science and allows us to understand the structures of nature? Math, of course, which is well represented this season—particularly in accessible mathematics books for the general public. Eugenia Cheng heads to the kitchen, using the culinary world as a means to better understand math in How to Bake Pi: An Edible Exploration of the Mathematics of Mathematics, another intriguing release from Basic. Cédric Villani, recipient of the Fields Medal, the most prestigious honor in mathematics, delivers Birth of a Theorem: A Mathematical Adventure, a reflection on his struggles with the theorem that made his reputation. And math professor Andrew Hacker takes up the contrarian’s position regarding the overhyped emphasis on compulsory higher-math education in The Math Myth: And Other STEM Delusions.
No sane person is going to say that genetics and evolution are overhyped. However, paleoanthropologist Ian Tattersall offers a corrective to misperceptions about evolution in The Strange Case of the Rickety Cossack and Other Cautionary Tales from Human Evolution. Natural history always provides novel ways of examining phenomena we take for granted, and Cynthia Barnett does just that with Rain: A Natural and Cultural History.
Finally, where would a science list be without some good stories on the medical front? Rob Dunn takes medicine to heart, literally, with a history of cardiac medicine: The Man Who Touched His Own Heart: True Tales of Science, Surgery, and Mystery.
PW’S Top 10: Science
A Beautiful Question: Finding Nature’s Deep Design. Frank Wilczek. Penguin Press, July 14
Birth of a Theorem: A Mathematical Adventure. Cédric Villani. FSG/Faber and Faber, Apr. 14
Einstein’s Dice and Schrödinger’s Cat: How Two Great Minds Battled Quantum Randomness to Create a Unified Theory of Physics. Paul Halpern. Basic, Apr. 14
How to Bake Pi: An Edible Exploration of the Mathematics of Mathematics. Eugenia Cheng. Basic, May 5
Invisible: The Dangerous Allure of the Unseen. Philip Ball. Univ. of Chicago, Apr. 6
The Man Who Touched His Own Heart: True Tales of Science, Surgery, and Mystery. Rob Dunn. Little, Brown, Feb. 3
The Math Myth: And Other STEM Delusions. Andrew Hacker. New Press, June 23
Rain: A Natural and Cultural History. Cynthia Barnett. Crown, Apr. 21
The Strange Case of the Rickety Cossack and Other Cautionary Tales from Human Evolution. Ian Tattersall. Palgrave Macmillan, June 9
To Explain the World: The Discovery of Modern Science. Steven Weinberg. Harper, Feb. 10
Biophilia by Christopher Marley (Apr. 7, hardcover, $50, ISBN 978-1-4197-1561-7). Marley’s art expresses his passionate engagement with beautiful forms in nature, using his skills as a designer, conservator, taxidermist, and environmentally responsible collector to make images and mosaics that produce strong, positive emotional responses in viewers.
The Soul of an Octopus: A Joyful Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery (May 12, hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-1-4516-9771-1) explores the emotional and physical world of the octopus—a surprisingly complex, intelligent, and spirited creature—and the remarkable connections it makes with humans.
Einstein’s Dice and Schrödinger’s Cat: How Two Great Minds Battled Quantum Randomness to Create a Unified Theory of Physics by Paul Halpern (Apr. 14, hardcover, $27.99, ISBN 978-0-465-07571-3). Physicist Halpern relates how Einstein and Schrödinger searched, first as collaborators and then as competitors, for a grand unified theory that would eliminate quantum weirdness and make the universe seem sensible again.
How to Bake Pi: An Edible Exploration of the Mathematics of Mathematics by Eugenia Cheng (May 5, hardcover, $27.99, ISBN 978-0-465-05171-7). Math professor Cheng combines her theory work with her enthusiasm for cooking to shed new light on the fundamentals of mathematics and to give readers a tour of a vast territory no popular book on math has explored before.
Life’s Greatest Secret: The Race to Crack the Genetic Code by Matthew Cobb (July 7, hardcover, $27.99, ISBN 978-0-465-06267-6). Science historian and zoologist Cobb delivers a story of ideas and of experimentation, of ingenuity, insight, and dead-ends, in the hunt to make the greatest discovery of 20th-century biology.
Atoms Under the Floorboards: The Surprising Science Hidden in Your Home by Chris Woodford (May 12, hardcover, $27, ISBN 978-1-4729-1222-0) presents the fascinating and surprising scientific explanations behind a variety of common (and often entertainingly mundane) household phenomena, from gurgling drains and squeaky floorboards to rubbery custard and shiny shoes.
Cuckoo: Cheating by Nature by Nick Davies (Apr. 7, hardcover, $27, ISBN 978-1-62040-952-7). Naturalist Davies attempts to solve an enduring puzzle: how does the cuckoo get away with laying its eggs in the nests of other birds and tricking them into raising young cuckoos rather than their own offspring?
A New History of Life: The Radical New Discoveries about the Origins and Evolution of Life on Earth by Joe Kirschvink and Peter Ward (Feb. 24, hardcover, $30, ISBN 978-1-60819-907-5). Drawing on years of experience in paleontology, biology, chemistry, and astrobiology, Ward and Kirschvink show that many of our most cherished beliefs about the evolution of life are wrong.
Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science—and the World by Rachel Swaby (Apr. 7, paper, $16, ISBN 978-0-553-44679-1). Science journalist Swaby highlights the lives and accomplishments of some of the most brilliant women in history, while examining the cultural paradigms that are keeping today’s women from entering these technical fields.
What We Think About When We Try Not to Think About Global Warming: Toward a New Psychology of Climate Action by Per Espen Stoknes (Apr. 20, paper, $19.95, ISBN 978-1-60358-583-5) leads readers beyond the psychological barriers that block our efforts to respond to climate change, and opens new doorways for scientists, policymakers, and the public to create positive, lasting solutions.
Feral Cities: Adventures with Animals in the Urban Jungle by Tristan Donovan (Apr. 1, paper, $16.95, ISBN 978-1-56976-067-3) takes readers on a journey through streets that are far more alive than we often realize; shows how animals are adjusting to urban living; and investigates how human attitudes and culture influence wildlife issues in urban areas.
Junk DNA: A Journey Through the Dark Matter of the Genome by Nessa Carey (Mar. 31, hardcover, $29.95, ISBN 978-0-231-17084-0) draws on experience with leading investigators in Europe and North America to provide a clear introduction to junk DNA and its involvement in phenomena as diverse as genetic diseases, disease treatments, viral infections, sex determination in mammals, and evolution.
(dist. by PGW)
The Oyster War: The True Story of a Small Farm, Big Politics, and the Future of Wilderness in America by Summer Brennan (May 12, paper, $16.95, ISBN 978-1-61902-527-1). In a lyrical narrative Brennan explores a legal case with potential implications for the future of wilderness legislation and administration for decades to come, presenting a complex matter with thorough and deliberate care.
Rain: A Natural and Cultural History by Cynthia Barnett (Apr. 21, hardcover, $25, ISBN 978-0-8041-3709-6) is a history told through a lyrical blend of science, cultural history, and human drama that begins four billion years ago with the torrents that filled the oceans and builds to the storms of climate change.
Sex, Drugs, and Rock ’n’ Roll: The Science of Hedonism and the Hedonism of Science by Zoe Cormier (Mar. 10, hardcover, $26.99, ISBN 978-0-306-82393-0). Full of noise and color, Cormier’s look at scientists and their craft reveals how hedonistic impulses inform our highest pursuits, and how the renegades of science have illuminated the secrets of our deepest impulses.
The Interstellar Age: Inside the Forty-Year Voyager Mission by Jim Bell (Feb. 24, hardcover, $27.95, ISBN 978-0-525-95432-3) is the story of the men and women who drove the Voyager spacecraft mission, as told by a scientist who was there from the beginning.
Tales from Both Sides of the Brain: A Life in Neuroscience by Michael S. Gazzaniga (Feb. 3, hardcover, $28.99, ISBN 978-0-06-222880-2). One of the most important neuroscientists of the 20th century tells the impassioned story of his life in science and his decades-long journey to understand how the separate spheres of our brains communicate and miscommunicate with their separate agendas.
(dist. by IPG)
Monkeys, Myths and Molecules: Separating Fact from Fiction in the Science of Everyday Life by Joe Schwarcz (May 12, paper, $17.95, ISBN 978-1-77041-191-3) takes a critical look at pseudoscience and how facts are misconstrued in the media, debunking myths surrounding canned food, artificial dyes, SPF, homeopathy, cancer, chemicals, and much more.
FSG/Faber and Faber
Birth of a Theorem: A Mathematical Adventure by Cédric Villani, trans. by Malcolm DeBevoise (Apr. 14, hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-0-86547-767-4). The French mathematician and Fields Medal recipient delivers his account of the year leading up to the award, offering an intimate look inside a mathematician’s mind as he wrestles with the theorem that will make his reputation.
The Weather Experiment: The Pioneers Who Sought to See the Future by Peter Moore (June 2, hardcover, $28, ISBN 978-0-86547-809-1) is a history of weather forecasting and an animated portrait of the 19th-century naturalists, engineers, and artists who made it possible.
Astronomy Bible: The Definitive Guide to the Night Sky and the Universe by Heather Couper and Nigel Henbest (Feb. 1, paper, $19.95, ISBN 978-1-77085-482-6). A comprehensive guide to the study of what lies beyond our planet helps readers easily navigate the night sky and identify constellations, planets, comets, and galaxies.
Forensics by Val McDermid (May 5, hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-0-8021-2391-6). Bestselling crime writer McDermid uncovers the history of this science alongside real-world murders and the people who must solve them as she journeys through war zones, fire scenes, and autopsy suites.
H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald (Mar. 3, hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-0-8021-2341-1). Winner of the 2014 Samuel Johnson Prize for Nonfiction, Macdonald’s memoir chronicles how she turned to falconry to battle the grief of her father’s death. Heart-wrenching and humorous, this book is an unflinching account of bereavement and a unique look at an extraordinary beast.
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari (Feb. 10, hardcover, $29.99, ISBN 978-0-06-231609-7). From a renowned historian comes a groundbreaking narrative of humanity’s creation and evolution that explores the ways in which biology and history have defined us and enhanced our understanding of what it means to be “human.”
To Explain the World: The Discovery of Modern Science by Steven Weinberg (Feb. 10, hardcover, $28.99, ISBN 978-0-06-234665-0). Nobel Prize–winning physicist Weinberg examines historic clashes and collaborations between science and the competing spheres of religion, technology, poetry, mathematics, and philosophy in this illuminating exploration of the way we consider and analyze the world around us.
The Invaders: How Humans and Their Dogs Drove Neanderthals to Extinction by Pat Shipman (Mar. 10, hardcover, $29.95, ISBN 978-0-674-73676-4). This alliance between two predator species, Shipman hypothesizes, made possible unprecedented success in hunting large Ice Age mammals—a distinct and decisive advantage for human invaders at a time when climate change made both humans and Neanderthals vulnerable.
The Boy Who Played with Fusion: Extreme Science, Extreme Parenting, and How to Make a Star by Tom Clynes (June 9, hardcover, $27, ISBN 978-0-544-08511-4) is an account of the successful quest of Taylor Wilson, a child genius, to build his own nuclear reactor at the age of 14, and an exploration of how gifted children can be nurtured to do extraordinary things.
Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel by Carl Safina (July 14, hardcover, $30, ISBN 978-0-8050-9888-4). Conservationist Safina delves deeply into the lives of animals, witnessing their profound capacity for perception, thought, and emotion. Weaving observation with new understanding of brain functioning, his narrative erases many previously held distinctions between humans and other animals.
Head Case: My Brain and Other Wonders by Cole Cohen (May 19, hardcover, $25, ISBN 978-1-62779-189-2). This spirited, wry, and utterly original memoir traces one woman’s struggle to make her way and set up a life after doctors discover a hole the size of a lemon in her brain.
Johns Hopkins Univ.
The Rise of Birds: 225 Million Years of Evolution by Sankar Chatterjee (Mar. 19, hardcover, $59.95, ISBN 978-1-4214-1590-1). Since the first edition of The Rise of Birds in 1997, Chatterjee and his colleagues have searched the world for more transitional bird fossils. This second edition showcases a trove of new fossils that tell us more about avian evolution.
The Last Unicorn: A Search for One of Earth’s Rarest Creatures by William deBuys (Mar. 10, hardcover, $27, ISBN 978-0-316-23286-9). DeBuys journeys into one of the world’s most remote places on a stirring quest to find and understand an elusive and exceptionally rare species in the heart of Southeast Asia’s jungles.
The Man Who Touched His Own Heart: True Tales of Science, Surgery, and Mystery by Rob Dunn (Feb. 3, hardcover, $27, ISBN 978-0-316-22579-3) tells the raucous, gory, mesmerizing story of the heart, from the first “explorers” who dug up cadavers and plumbed their hearts’ chambers through the first heart surgeries to the latest medical marvels.
(dist. by Perseus)
The Math Myth: And Other STEM Delusions by Andrew Hacker (June 23, hardcover, $26.95, ISBN 978-1-62097-068-3). A professor of mathematics extols the glories and goals of math education yet worries that a frenzied emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) is diverting resources from other pursuits and subverting the spirit of the country.
New York Review Books
Dreams of Earth and Sky by Freeman Dyson (Apr. 21, hardcover, $27.95, ISBN 978-1-59017-854-6). The renowned physicist and mathematician explores the wonders of scientific method and discovery from antiquity to the present age in this new collection of pieces from the New York Review of Books.
Beyond: Our Future in Space by Chris Impey (Apr., hardcover, $27.95, ISBN 978-0-393-23930-0). With accessible prose and relentless curiosity, Impey reports on China’s plan to launch its own space station by 2020, proves that humans could survive on Mars, and unveils cutting-edge innovations such as space elevators poised to replace rockets at a fraction of the cost.
Domesticated: Evolution in a Man-Made World by Richard Francis (May, hardcover, $27.95, ISBN 978-0-393-06460-5) weaves history, archeology, and anthropology to tell the amazing story of how certain ancient animals chose to live near humans, thus sealing their evolutionary fate.
Biocode: The New Age of Genomics by Dawn Field and Neil Davies (May 26, hardcover, $29.95, ISBN 978-0-19-968775-6) tells of a new age of scientific discovery: the growing global effort to read and map the biocode—the sum of all DNA on Earth—and what that might mean for the future.
Planck: Driven by Vision, Broken by War by Brandon R. Brown (June 1, hardcover, $29.95, ISBN 978-0-19-021947-5). A brilliant man living in a dangerous time, Max Planck, the father of quantum theory, gets his rightful place in the history of science; Brown shows how war-torn Germany deeply influenced his life and work.
The Strange Case of the Rickety Cossack and Other Cautionary Tales from Human Evolution by Ian Tattersall (June 9, hardcover, $27, ISBN 978-1-137-27889-0). A curator emeritus at the American Museum of Natural History, Tattersall shows how a long tradition of “human exceptionalism” in paleoanthropology has distorted the picture of human evolution, arguing that humans are largely the result of random happenstance.
The Upright Thinkers: The Human Journey from Living in Trees to Understanding the Cosmos by Leonard Mlodinow (May 5, hardcover, $27.95, ISBN 978-0-307-90823-0). In this fascinating and illuminating work, Mlodinow guides readers through the critical eras and events in the development of science, all of which, he demonstrates, were propelled forward by humankind’s collective struggle to know.
(dist. by Norton)
Gods of the Morning: A Bird’s-Eye View of a Changing World by John Lister-Kaye (June 15, hardcover, $26.95, ISBN 978-1-60598-796-5). This celebration of birds by one of Britain’s foremost naturalists reflects a year in the wild, revealing how these amazing creatures embody our changing world.
Humankind: How Biology and Geography Shape Human Diversity by Alexander Harcourt (June 15, hardcover, $27.95, ISBN 978-1-60598-784-2) is an innovative and illuminating look at how the evolution of the human species—from anatomy and physiology to cultural diversity and population density—has been shaped by the world around us.
A Beautiful Question: Finding Nature’s Deep Design by Frank Wilczek (July 14, hardcover, $29.95, ISBN 978-1-59420-526-2). This mind-shifting book from Nobel laureate Wilczek thrillingly synthesizes the age-old quest for beauty and the age-old quest for truth as it asks, “Does the universe embody beautiful ideas?”
A Buzz in the Meadow: The Natural History of a French Farm by Dave Goulson (Apr. 28, hardcover, $25, ISBN 978-1-250-06588-9). In this conservationist’s deeply personal and fascinating reflection on owning and revitalizing a farm in rural France, the author discusses vital issues surrounding insect lives, particularly bee colony collapse.
How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction by Beth Shapiro (Apr. 4, hardcover, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-691-15705-4). Could extinct species, such as mammoths and passenger pigeons, be brought back to life? The science says yes. Shapiro, evolutionary biologist and pioneer in “ancient DNA” research, walks readers through the astonishing and controversial process of de-extinction.
The Physicist and the Philosopher: Einstein, Bergson, and the Debate That Changed Our Understanding of Time by Jimena Canales (May 25, hardcover, $35, ISBN 978-0-691-16534-9). In 1922, Albert Einstein and Henri Bergson publicly debated the nature of time, an explosive debate that transformed our understanding of time and drove a rift between science and the humanities that persists today.
Life’s Engines: How Microbes Made Earth Habitable by Paul G. Falkowski (Apr. 26, hardcover, $29.95, ISBN 978-0-691-15537-1). Microbes transformed the chemistry of Earth to make it habitable for plants, animals, and humans. Falkowski takes readers deep into the microscopic world to explore how these marvelous creatures made life on Earth possible and how human life would cease to exist without them.
Everyone Is African: How Science Explodes the Myth of Race by Daniel J. Fairbanks (Apr. 7, paper, $18, ISBN 978-1-63388-018-4). What does science say about race? A distinguished research geneticist presents abundant evidence showing that traditional notions about distinct racial differences have little scientific foundation.
Rowman & Littlefield/Taylor
Reef Libre: Cuba—The Last, Best Reefs in the World by Robert Wintner (Feb. 1, hardcover, $45, ISBN 978-1-63076-073-1). Famed diver/photographer “Snorkel Bob” Wintner showcases the magnificent reefs of Cuba with his astounding underwater images while also capturing life in the cities and villages of the island nation.
The Reason for Flowers: Their History, Culture, Biology, and How They Change Our Lives by Stephen Buchmann (July 14, hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-1-4767-5552-6) is the engaging, lively, and definitive story of the beauty, sexuality, ecology, myths, lore, and economics of the world’s flowers, written by a passionately devoted scientist, and illustrated with his stunning photographs.
Simon & Schuster
The Next Species: The Future of Evolution in the Aftermath of Man by Michael Tennesen (Mar. 17, hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-1-4516-7751-5). While examining the history of our planet and actively exploring our present environment, science journalist Tennesen describes what life on Earth could look like after the next mass extinction.
Rust: The Longest War by Jonathan Waldman (Mar. 10, hardcover, $26.95, ISBN 978-1-4516-9159-7). It has been called “the great destroyer” and “the evil.” The Pentagon refers to it as “the pervasive menace.” In this thrilling drama of man versus nature, Waldman details the fierce, ongoing fight against the mightiest and unlikeliest enemy: rust.
Fire and Ice: Soot, Solidarity, and Survival on the Roof of the World by Jonathan Mingle (Mar. 24, hardcover, $28.99, ISBN 978-1-250-02950-8). A remote Himalayan mountain village’s fate holds the key to averting global warming, in this brilliant, wide-ranging debut by an award-winning young journalist and adventurer.
Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery by Henry Marsh (May 26, hardcover, $25.99, ISBN 978-1-250-06581-0). A revealing look into the life and work of a modern neurosurgeon—its triumphs and disasters—has already become an international bestseller since it was published in the U.K. last year.
Univ. of Chicago
Infested: How the Bed Bug Infiltrated Our Bedrooms and Took Over the World by Brooke Borel (Apr. 27, hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-0-226-04193-3) is a closeup, no-gross-outs-barred look at the horrid bedbug, its natural history, interactions with humanity, and its not-at-all-welcome comeback.
Elephant Don: The Politics of a Pachyderm Posse by Caitlin O’Connell (Apr. 6, hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-0-226-10611-3) tells the story of the rise and fall of a bull elephant pack leader in Etosha National Park, Namibia, investing it with the drama and tragedy of The Godfather.
Invisible: The Dangerous Allure of the Unseen by Philip Ball (Apr. 6, hardcover, $27.50, ISBN 978-0-226-23889-0). Science writer Ball tackles his most complicated subject yet: invisibility, and how the idea of the unseen has driven curiosity, science, and discovery for centuries, with forays into chemistry, war, and even ghost hunting.
The Ghost in My Brain: How a Concussion Stole My Life and How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Helped Me Get It Back by Clark Elliott (June 2, hardcover, $27.95, ISBN 978-0-525-42656-1). The dramatic story of one man’s recovery offers new hope to those suffering from concussions and other brain traumas.
Black Hole: How an Idea Abandoned by Newtonians, Hated by Einstein, and Gambled on by Hawking Became Loved by Marcia Bartusiak (Apr. 28, hardcover, $27.50, ISBN 978-0-300-21085-9). Renowned science writer Bartusiak shows how the black hole helped revive Einstein’s greatest achievement, the general theory of relativity, after decades during which it had been pushed into the shadows.
Private Doubt, Public Dilemma: Religion and Science Since Jefferson and Darwin by Keith Stewart Thomson (May 26, hardcover, $30, ISBN 978-0-300-20367-7) considers the ideas and writings of Thomas Jefferson and Charles Darwin, who struggled mightily to reconcile their religion and their science, before looking at other scientific challenges to religion that have given rise to powerful political responses from religious believers.