The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World
by Steve Brusatte.
William Morrow, 2018 ($29.99)
They are film stars, the beloved fascinations of children and adults alike, and the stuff of wild imagination—both terrifying and intoxicating. But despite our cultural obsession with dinosaurs, there is much to their story that has been left untold until now. In this biography of these creatures, paleontologist Brusatte weaves together the origins of dinosaurs, their rise to global dominance and their dramatic demise. He anchors the tale in riveting fossil discoveries from around the globe and his own love affair with these remarkable life-forms. Although theirs is perhaps the best-known mass extinction on Earth, by the author's account, the dinosaurs' reign was a massive success story—they thrived on the planet for more than 150 million years, and their descendants are the more than 10,000 species of birds that occupy almost every corner of the world today.
Rocket Men: The Daring Odyssey of Apollo 8 and the Astronauts Who Made Man’s First Journey to the Moon
by Robert Kurson.
Random House, 2018 ($28)
Apollo 11 is famous for landing astronauts on the lunar surface in 1969. But the flight of Apollo 8, which sent the first crew to orbit the moon seven months earlier, was in some ways even riskier and its success more surprising. Writer Kurson tells this lesser-known tale with suspense, describing how NASA decided to aim for the moon just 16 weeks before launching the mission, at a time when the Soviet Union seemed to be leading the space race. Against the odds, the Americans pulled it off and sent home the first pictures of Earth as a tiny blue marble from the perspective of the moon. The feat was a spark of hope at a time when assassinations, riots and war were ripping the country apart—a contentious era with many similarities to our own. “So far,” Kurson writes, “there has been no Apollo 8 for our time.” —Clara Moskowitz
Think Tank: Forty Neuroscientists Explore the Biological Roots of Human Experience
edited by David J. Linden.
Yale University Press, 2018 ($25)
How is it that when we drive, our sense of “self” expands to include the car we are driving, allowing us to precisely maneuver into a tight garage without crashing? What phenomenon is responsible for our “gut feelings”? Will it ever be possible to create a computer that can think like a human brain? Linden, a neuroscientist, asked 39 other researchers from around the country what they would most like to tell people about how the brain works. This collection of his and their answers covers the science related to timely topics such as the addictions behind the opioid crisis and why the phrase “time flies when you're having fun” rings true in the brain. Although these essays provide us with glimpses of the scientific underpinnings of thought, they also make us realize that what goes on in our minds is nothing short of magical. —Yasemin Saplakoglu
Losing the Nobel Prize: A Story of Cosmology, Ambition, and the Perils of Science’s Highest Honor
by Brian Keating.
W. W. Norton, 2018 ($27.95)
In 2014 a team of cosmologists using the BICEP2 (Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization) instrument announced it had glimpsed something spectacular: evidence of cosmic inflation, a long-theorized phenomenon thought to have occurred right after the big bang. Rumors swirled that the BICEP2 team would soon receive a Nobel Prize. Instead the finding crumbled under closer scrutiny, arguably because of “unforced errors” made while scrambling to secure credit for the discovery. Keating, an astrophysicist who formulated the original BICEP experiment, tells the story from his perspective, likening research in this field to “a Stockholm slot machine paying out in Nobel Prizes.” The book is an insider's account of a historical cosmological caper and an indictment of the Nobel Prizes themselves for being harmfully out of sync with modern scientific practices and progress. —Lee Billings