Explorers’ Sketchbooks: The Art of Discovery & Adventure
by Huw Lewis-Jones and Kari Herbert
Chronicle Books, 2017 ($40)
Alexander von Humboldt, one of the founding fathers of the natural sciences, traveled the world in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, recording his observations as sketches of everything from the stars to plant distribution on a mountainside—some of which appear in this collection of adventurers' drawings, compiled by writers and explorers Lewis-Jones and Herbert. Also here are drawings by Charles Darwin, father of modern taxonomy Carl Linnaeus and fearless flower hunter Margaret Mee. Each braved the unknown to discover the world at large. As 20th-century travel writer Freya Stark (whose work is featured in the collection) quoted a man she met on one of her journeys as saying, “I have no reason to go, except that I have never been, and knowledge is better than ignorance.” —Andrea Gawrylewski
The Greatest Story Ever Told—So Far: Why Are We Here?
by Lawrence M. Krauss
Atria Books, 2017 ($27)
The story of the past 50 years of physics has been a slow realization that symmetry rules the particles and forces that make up our universe. Symmetry, in this case, refers to properties of nature that do not change when our perspective or mathematical descriptions of them alter—for instance, rotating a sphere does not modify its shape. Theoretical physicist (and Scientific American advisory board member) Krauss makes the concept of scientific symmetry accessible and shows how it allowed physicists to put together a coherent description of the fundamental particles and forces of nature. One type of symmetry, he writes, called gauge symmetry, “has allowed us to discover more about the nature of reality at its smallest scales than any other idea in science.”
Not a Scientist: How Politicians Mistake, Misrepresent, and Utterly Mangle Science
by Dave Levitan
W.W. Norton, 2017 ($15.95)
“I'm not a scientist” is a line officials love to use to avoid having to acknowledge that what actual scientists say is true—for example, that human-caused climate change is ravaging the planet. “It is a dodge,” journalist Levitan writes, “a bit of down-home hucksterism designed to marginalize those eggheads over there who actually are scientists as somehow out of touch or silly.” He identifies several ways politicians misrepresent science, such as “the certain uncertainty,” in which they argue that “since we don't know it all, we don't know anything.” This well-argued guide should help readers see through such smoke screens and encourage lawmakers to be more accountable and accurate when it comes to science.
How to Tame a Fox (and Build a Dog): Visionary Scientists and a Siberian Tale of Jump-Started Evolution
by Lee Alan Dugatkin and Lyudmila Trut.
University of Chicago Press, 2017 ($26)
Our furry companions evidently descended from wild wolves—resulting from thousands of years of human selection. Nearly 60 years ago Russian researchers Trut and Dmitri Belyaev decided to domesticate wild foxes to learn in detail how the journey from wild beast to household pet happens. They set up their experiment on a farm in Siberia and over the following decades mated the tamest animals from each successive generation. In this book, biologist and science writer Dugatkin and Trut recount this grand experiment. The result: a host of docile foxes and the identification of the genetic underpinnings for their domestication. —A.G.