Where the Animals Go: Tracking Wildlife with Technology in 50 Maps and Graphics
by James Cheshire and Oliver Uberti.
W. W. Norton, 2017 ($39.95)
For all we know about animals, we know relatively little about their travel habits. New tracking technologies are quickly filling in this information gap, giving biologists insights about animal foraging, mating, migration, and more. Geographer Cheshire and designer Uberti teamed up to collect the stories of scientists who are tracking animals and to illustrate the maps of those animals' daily routes. The result is a stunning translation of movement onto paper: penguin nesting sites gathered from satellites; the restricted territories of mountain lions boxed in by freeways in California; the daily flight of an average bumblebee in Germany. The animal that inspired the book, however, has a sad story. She was an elephant named Annie whose GPS collar logged her 1,000-mile-plus journey over the course of 12 weeks in eastern Chad until she was brought down by poachers.
Making Contact: Jill Tarter and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence
by Sarah Scoles.
Pegasus Books, 2017 ($27.95)
Jill Tarter, the astronomer who overcame rampant sexism to become a global leader in the hunt for radio messages from aliens, is a household name among the science-interested set. Many know her as the real-life model for Jodie Foster's character in the blockbuster movie adaptation of Carl Sagan's 1985 novel, Contact. Tarter famously avoids self-promotion, so for most of us she is far from familiar. Journalist Scoles's intimate biography—the first ever about Tarter and written with her full cooperation—could change that. Her story is inextricably intertwined with the past, present and future of our search for life around distant stars, but its core is more about “a fierce, determined, stubborn, smart woman who asked big questions about the universe and didn't hear ‘No’ as ‘No’ but as ‘Keep trying.’” —Lee Billings
Dinner with Darwin: Food, Drink, and Evolution
by Jonathan Silvertown.
University of Chicago Press, 2017 ($27.50)
Evolutionary ecologist Silvertown knows how old your food is. He knows who in history ate it first and why humans pursued each particular form of sustenance. People have spent millennia altering food's attributes to complement our digestive tracts and lifestyles. Silvertown breaks down the sociology, selective breeding and nutritional evolution behind each contemporary dietary staple. Bread, for example, was perfected after centuries spent plucking only the best wild grasses. Humans have adapted to foods as well: we came to love spice plants such as thyme and rosemary in spite of their chemical defenses, which other animals do not tolerate. This tour—from animal to vegetable to beer—will give even the most ambitious foodie something to chew on. —Leslie Nemo
Significant Figures: The Lives and Work of Great Mathematicians
by Ian Stewart.
Basic Books, 2017 ($27)
In the third century A.D., Chinese mathematician Liu Hui proved the Pythagorean theorem independently of the more famous eponymous author of the proof.* Around 1400 a poem by Indian mathematician Madhava of Sangamagrama used “gods,” “elephants” and “snakes” to symbolize numbers to approximate the value of pi. Sofia Kovalevskaia, the second woman ever to receive a Ph.D. in math, made breakthroughs in partial differential equations and mechanics in 19th-century Europe—inspired by nursery wallpaper made from pages of a calculus textbook. These biographies and more illustrate the history—and personalities—of mathematics. As Stewart, a mathematician himself, writes: “Mathematics doesn't arise in a vacuum: it's created by people.” —Clara Moskowitz
*Editor's Note (8/10/17): This sentence was edited before it was posted online to correct an error that appeared in the published print edition.