A Taste for the Beautiful: The Evolution of Attraction
by Michael J. Ryan.
Princeton University Press, 2018 ($29.95)
If a female túngara frog doesn't fancy the call of a singing male, she moves on to another suitor or may give him a body slam. A male bowerbird builds large huts from sticks and decorates them, sometimes even using berry juice as wall paint. Humans buy showy cars, bathe in perfume and pour money into elaborate beauty routines. Mating is the end goal of most of these bizarre efforts to attract, but what defines which colors in plumage, which notes of birdsong or which facial features prove alluring? Zoologist Ryan charms readers with his account of attraction in the animal kingdom, including humans. As he puts it, beauty is in the “brain of the beholder.” —Yasemin Saplakoglu
The Spinning Magnet: The Electromagnetic Force That Created the Modern World—And Could Destroy It
by Alanna Mitchell.
Dutton, 2018 ($28)
In a patch of the Atlantic Ocean between Africa and South America, the earth's magnetic field runs opposite to its normal direction. And this patch might be a harbinger of things to come. Our planet's magnetic field has flipped directions hundreds of times in its history, the north and south magnetic poles swapping locations, and some scientists think we are overdue for another switch, explains science journalist Mitchell. She details the evidence building up and canvases the fascinating history of the study of the earth's magnetic field. If another pole swap is coming, the process could prove catastrophic for life, disrupting animals' magnetic navigation and letting in harmful space particles that could fry organic cells and electronic circuits alike. —Clara Moskowitz
A Wilder Time: Notes from a Geologist at the Edge of the Greenland Ice
by William E. Glassley.
Bellevue Literary Press, 2018 ($17.99)
The jagged and intricate coastline of Greenland, with its thousands of fjords, islands and skerries, measures longer than the circumference of the planet. But the geologic origin of the landscape remains controversial. Over the course of several field trips to this wilderness, geologist Glassley and two colleagues went in search of evidence that the land is in fact the remnant of an ancient mountain chain and the site of tremendous geologic upheaval. In this nonlinear telling of those travels, Glassley ponders the nature of perception and the human mind, describes the dramatic physical features of Greenland's makeup and recounts the thrilling adventures of his extended visits there: “Wandering alone in that infinite, ancient wilderness ... that, to me, was heaven.”
Close Encounters with Humankind: A Paleoanthropologist Investigates Our Evolving Species
by Sang-Hee Lee.
W. W. Norton, 2018 ($26.95)
Although we may marvel at our unique human attributes, the biological details of hominin evolution can seem convoluted and dry. Paleoanthropologist Lee quickly discovered this when she first began teaching undergraduate classes at the University of California, Riverside—she was often met with a general lack of interest. Years later Lee was contacted out of the blue by a journalist from her home country of South Korea and asked to write a series of columns about human evolution for a broad readership. Her articles became popular, and Lee started teaching her students in the same way she was telling stories to the Korean audience. This book is a collection of those stories—short tidbits that answer intriguing questions of evolution, from why we eat meat to where back pain comes from.