This review was first published by Booklist on February 15, 2020.
In They Are Already Here, science writer Scoles (Making Contact, 2017) turns her attention not to UFOs but to the people obsessed with them: believers, skeptics, and open-minded explorers. Intrigued by the recent revelation that the U.S. government has been studying UFOs, she set out to understand why some people are willing to believe outlandish explanations for mysterious occurrences and why others are completely closed to the idea. She recounts her experiences exploring and interacting with various UFO communities and organizations. Readers meet people from across the spectrum of belief and hear their perspectives. Scoles also offers a concise history of UFO phenomena in the United States, and examines how some of the most compelling UFO myths were born. It’s a fascinating journey; the depth of her research is impressive and her curiosity is infectious. At times the author tries too hard to clarify her own position, which, though her honesty is appreciated, occasionally steals focus from the people she examines. Overall, it’s a fun and insightful book.
This review was first published by Booklist on February 1, 2020.
Why does the universe exist? How will it end? What does it all mean? Greene (The Fabric of the Cosmos, 2004), a leading cosmic thinker and popular science writer, attempts to tackle these questions with an eye to explaining our deep need to believe we can be part of something eternal that is focused on the central role of entropy and Darwinian evolution in the unfolding of the universe. He begins with the Big Bang and concludes with explorations of how the universe might end. He explores the development of planets and complex life, the birth of mind, language, and creativity, awareness of mortality, the rise of storytelling, religion, and our attempts to leave some kind of permanent testament to our existence. He serves broad, high level summaries of ideas from physics, biology, neuroscience, philosophy, the arts, storytelling, and anthropology. He provides enough background to follow the meat of the discussion but he doesn’t water it down for nonspecialists. There’s tremendous joy in witnessing a brilliant and curious mind wrestle with such profound issues. He takes readers on a remarkable journey.
This review was first published by Booklist on January 17, 2020.
This science-focused photography book looks at the different ways that animals, fish, birds, and insects use camouflage in nature. The heart of the work is the photographs. They’re stunning, high quality, glossy work. It must be difficult to take pictures of effective camouflage in the wild. If the camouflage is effective, it’s hard to see. The images strike a perfect balance between showing the reader what they need to see and making it clear how effective naturally evolved camouflage can be. The accompanying text explains the different types of camouflage in living beings, how each affects survival prospects, and describes a variety of species that use these strategies. Most of the species mentioned in the text are also featured in photographic examples. The text is a very basic overview designed to explain these images, but readers will have to look elsewhere for deeper research. Still, readers will admire the photography and be left in awe of what evolution can accomplish.
This review was first published by Booklist on December 1, 2019.
**STARRED REVIEW** This comprehensively researched and beautifully designed reference work contains profiles of over 80 scientists, mathematicians, engineers, and inventors whose work changed the world. Each profile is between 1-4 easily digested pages that cover essential information. What differentiates this work from similar ones is its scope and inclusivity. It covers history from approximately 650 BCE through the present and includes figures from Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and the modern Americas. Effort has been made to include many women, too often overlooked by historians for their contributions to science. A broad scope of scientific fields are represented: mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, medicine, technology, geology, oceanography. All the giants are here: Archimedes, Galileo, Newton, Curie, Einstein, Turing, Goodall. Alongside them are lesser known but equally impressive people: Zhang Heng, Al-Khwarizmi, Hildegard of Bingen, António Egas Moniz, Tu Youyou. Profiles are organized based on historical era to highlight the progression of scientific thought and discovery. At the end of each section is a directory of other individuals from the era, each accompanied by a paragraph of basic information. This is an excellent resource to both browse and to serve as a launch pad for further research. Appropriate for middle school and up.
This title has been recommended for young adult readers:
YA/Curriculum Support: Easily digested, inclusive profiles of influential scientists will bolster both STEM and history coursework.
This review was first published by Booklist on November 15, 2019.
Mainstream histories of sf and fantasy cover the main eras, the big names, the important publications and events. But there’s more to any history than just the mainstream. There are obscure authors, forgotten works, and a plethora of what might have beens, plus the myriad ways sf and fantasy have influenced and been influenced by art, design, architecture, fashion, music, and fandom. Lost Transmissions explores some of these often-overlooked pieces of the history of sf and fantasy. How would the genre be different if Jules Verne had successfully published the first novel he submitted? If William Gibson’s screenplay for Alien III had been made, or if E.T. had been a creepy goblin movie? From the sf fashion of David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, to the Afrofuturism of Janelle Monáe’s music, to Soleri’s architecture of arcology (best recognized as Luke Skywalker’s dome house on Tatooine,) to contributed essays by a roster of luminaries reflecting on their favorite obscurities, this is a fascinating enrichment of the history of sf and fantasy.
This review was first published by Booklist on October 15, 2019.
**STARRED REVIEW** Medieval Bodies was a Sunday Times History Book of the Year when published in Britain last year, and it is now coming out in the U.S. Hartnell, a professor of the history of art and visual culture, brings together his vast knowledge of medieval art and writing to examine how European and Middle Eastern peoples of the time understood the workings of their own bodies. He starts with medical texts and illustrations, explores the legacy of classical Greek and Roman teachings, and surveys the general practices of medicine and healing during this period. But he doesn’t stop there. The body becomes a metaphor for medieval culture overall that informs our understanding of everything from the politics, religious beliefs, and class structures of this swath of Western history to the arts and interpersonal relationships of those who peopled it. Armed with Hartnell’s telling, readers will reassess their traditional view of the Middle Ages. Far from a Dark Age of superstition and ignorance, this was a time of curiosity, inquiry, and experimentation—a collision of the legacies of the past and the realities of the present. His knowledge and insight are impressive, and he shows uses [sic] with wit and humor.
This review was first published by Booklist on October 1, 2019.
**STARRED REVIEW** The works in this annual anthology are lyrical, emotional, moving, and insightful—proof that long-form science journalism boasts some of our best writers. Many selections offer dreary outlooks for the future: the effects of climate change, the rise of infectious diseases, species extinction. Despite this, many are uplifting—science will always carry a sense of wonder and the joy of discovery, and awe for our ability to look deeply into existence and grapple with what we find. The strongest theme of this collection is the humanity of science. These articles all focus to some degree on the human nature of scientific endeavor. Science is work done by people seeking to understand our world; it’s passionate and flawed, subject to whim and error, driven by socioeconomic pressures and cults of personality. Science impacts real people, and these outcomes must be accounted for. For all its vaunted objectivity, science cannot be separated from its human components. Nor should it be, as series editor Green argues in a fiery foreward about the inescapable political nature of science. These pieces challenge us to look deeper and to understand better, to see the beating human heart in the soul of science.