If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating
by Alan Alda.
Random House, 2017 ($28)
Alda is practiced at getting scientists to explain their research to a broad audience. The longtime M*A*S*H actor hosted Scientific American Frontiers (produced in association with this magazine) on PBS for more than 11 years. The program took viewers to research sites and inside laboratories, with Alda as their inquisitive guide. In this book, he proposes improv classes for scientists in which they participate in games that require close observation, active listening and mirroring emotions. Afterward, the scientists become more at ease and in touch when addressing a group. Alda also discusses the science behind what makes a good communicator and offers advice from experts on effective storytelling, all in hopes of better conveying research to the public. —Andrea Marks
American Eclipse: A Nation's Epic Race to Catch the Shadow of the Moon and Win the Glory of the World
by David Baron.
Liveright, 2017 ($27.95)
Total eclipses in which the moon completely obscures the sun are rare, only gracing any given part of the planet once every 360 years on average (at least 12 states in the U.S. will be able to witness one in August). In antiquity, they were often interpreted as omens of doom, but the eclipse that occurred over the American West in 1878 signified the young nation's arrival as a global scientific power. Baron, an award-winning journalist, uses exhaustive research to reconstruct a remarkable chapter of U.S. history. He tells the surprising story of how the eclipse spurred three icons of the 19th century—inventor Thomas Edison, planet hunter James Craig Watson, and astronomer and women's-rights crusader Maria Mitchell—to trek into the wild Western frontier to observe it. —Lee Billings
The Seeds of Life: From Aristotle to da Vinci, from Sharks' Teeth to Frogs' Pants, the Long and Strange Quest to Discover Where Babies Come From
by Edward Dolnick.
Basic Books, 2017 ($28)
Where do babies come from? People pondered this question for millennia, yet it was not until 1875 that an answer finally materialized. Science journalist Dolnick documents the centuries-long hunt for answers by intrepid scientists who charged forward, only to be drawn, time and again, into misguided hypotheses and off-base conclusions. Some spent decades convinced, for example, that tiny, fully formed humans are tucked inside eggs and sperm like an infinite set of Russian nesting dolls. Fights broke out, and sides were chosen, as these scientists circled a truth that was simply too far-fetched for them to grasp. Dolnick weaves a suspenseful tale of discovery, failure and often just plain weirdness while never losing sight of the mystery at hand. —Catherine Caruso
Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong—And the New Research That's Rewriting the Story
by Angela Saini.
Beacon Press, 2017 ($25.95)
The Enlightenment brought revolutions in science, philosophy and art while ushering in respect for human reason over religious faith. But the era also created a narrative about women—that they are intellectually inferior to men. Indeed, science itself is an establishment rooted in exclusion, writes science journalist Saini, citing a long history of unrecognized achievement by women scientists: Lise Meitner, Rosalind Franklin and Emmy Noether, to name a few. The process of science is also riddled with inherent biases that have done nothing to improve society's views of women. Neurosexism, for example, is a term that describes scientific studies that fall back on gender stereotypes. New science and awareness are overturning a great deal of flawed thinking, as Saini shows, but there is still a long way to go.