Seeds on Ice: Svalbard and the Global Seed Vault
by Cary Fowler. Photography by Mari Tefre.
Prospecta Press, 2016 ($45)
To feed the world's growing population, global food production must soar by 50 percent by the middle of this century. That goal will be impossible if we do not protect and capitalize on the genetic diversity of the planet's crops. Enter the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a repository of roughly half a million types of seeds buried inside the Arctic ice of the eponymous Norwegian islands. There variations from all the major food crops—including species we eat everyday and heirloom varieties no longer grown—are stored for safekeeping in case local versions are destroyed by natural or political disaster. One of the founders of the seed vault, agriculturist Fowler, describes the project's mission in this large-format book illustrated with photographs of the seeds, their repository and the stark beauty of the barren landscape that has become home to humanity's hope for a fecund future.
Denying to the Grave: Why We Ignore the Facts That Will Save Us
by Sara E. Gorman and Jack M. Gorman.
Oxford University Press, 2016 ($29.95)
Perfectly intelligent people refuse to vaccinate their children, believe that owning guns protects them from violence, doubt the safety of genetically modified foods and hold many other scientifically untenable positions. Why do so many cling to beliefs that run counter to evidence? Sara Gorman, a public health expert, and Jack Gorman, a psychiatrist, investigate the psychological factors that lead to such self-defeating denial of facts and conclude that normal, evolutionarily adaptive tendencies act against us. These include fear of complexity, misestimating risk, and our propensity to look for patterns that confirm our beliefs and to lis-ten to charismatic leaders. “This means that simple education is not going to be sufficient to reverse science denial,” the authors write, but countering the mental predilections that lead to it offers hope.
All These Worlds Are Yours: The Scientific Search for Alien Life
by Jon Willis.
Yale University Press, 2016 ($30)
“The search for life beyond Earth is in the throes of a revolution,” writes astronomer Willis in this primer on the prospects for finding E.T. The plethora of exoplanets recently discovered, as well as advances in telescope technology and solar system exploration, has transformed astrobiology in the past couple of decades, giving scientists their first hard data about worlds both within our solar system and outside it that might be hospitable to life. Willis describes the pros and cons of looking for creatures in several likely hotspots, among them Mars, Saturn's moons Titan and Enceladus, Jupiter's moon Europa and planets farther afield. He also makes what he calls “informed speculation” about what types of organisms might call such locales home and how they might differ from familiar life-forms.
Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness and Family Secrets
by Luke Dittrich.
Random House, 2016 ($28)
Much of what we know about memory comes from a man who lost his. Henry Molaison, known as patient H.M., the most studied subject in the history of neuroscience, had brain surgery in 1953 to treat epilepsy. Not only did the operation fail to cure him; it permanently robbed him of the ability to form new memories. Until he died in 2008, Molaison could recall life before the surgery, but he never created lasting impressions of anything that happened afterward. The tragic consequences for Molaison were a turning point for science—for the first time researchers could locate the seat of memory in the area of his brain that was removed. Journalist Dittrich, the grandson of the surgeon who performed the operation, recounts Molaison's life, grapples with the damage his grandfather caused and parses the knowledge that came of it.