Book Review: They Are Already Here: UFO Culture and Why We See Saucers by Sarah Scoles

Cover of the book They Are Already Here: UFO Culture and Why We See Saucers by Sarah Scoles
They Are Already Here: UFO Culture and Why We See Saucers
by Sarah Scoles
Pegasus, 2020

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.

Book Review: Until the End of Time: Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe by Brian Greene

Cover of the book Until the End of Time: Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe by Brian Greene
Until the End of Time: Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe
by Brian Greene
Knopf, 2020

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.

Book Review: The Champions of Camouflage by Jean-Philippe Noël

Cover of the book The Champions of Camouflage by Jean-Philippe Noel
The Champions of Camouflage
by Jean-Philippe Noël
Firefly, 2019

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.

Book Review: Scientists Who Changed History edited by Victoria Heyworth-Dunne, Kathryn Hennessy, Rose Blackett-Ord, Kim Bryan, Andy Szudek, Debra Wolter

Cover of the book Scientists Who Changed History edited by Victoria Heyworth-Dunne, Kathryn Hennessy, Rose Blackett-Ord, Kim Bryan, Andy Szudek, Debra Wolter
Scientists Who Changed History
edited by Victoria Heyworth-Dunne, Kathryn Hennessy, Rose Blackett-Ord, Kim Bryan, Andy Szudek, Debra Wolter
DK, 2019

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.

Book Review: The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2019 edited by Sy Montgomery and Jaime Green

Cover of the book The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2019 edited by Sy Montgomery and Jaime Green
The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2019
edited by Sy Montgomery and Jaime Green
HMH, 2019

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.

Book Review: Reality ahead of Schedule: How Science Fiction Inspires Science Fact by Joel Levy

Cover of the book Reality ahead of Schedule: How Science Fiction Inspires Science Fact by Joel Levy
Reality ahead of Schedule: How Science Fiction Inspires Science Fact
by Joel Levy
Smithsonian, 2019

This review was first published by Booklist on September 15, 2019.

Science fiction starts with science and extrapolates possibilities. But how, and how often, does science fiction influence the course of science and technology? Levy does an admirable job of teasing apart this relationship by exploring the history of science fiction and tracing the origins of many ideas which came to dominate science over the years: H.G. Wells envisioned the atom bomb and tanks, for example; credit cards were predicted in a work written in 1888; and Star Trek gave us ideas for 3D printing, telecommunications, and health apps. In some cases, science fiction explores scientific ideas before they enter the mainstream. In others, people who grew up on science fiction work to make those stories a reality. Much of what Levy illuminates is already well-known but there are some surprising connections here, too. Most notably, he argues that telepresence (as portrayed in the movie Avatar) belongs to the evolution of videophones. He presents information in an accessible and engrossing way, highlighting many forgotten classic works of science fiction. This work should appeal to anyone who’s interested in the history of science, technology, and science fiction.

This title has been recommended for young adult readers:

YA/S – special interest: High school and even advanced middle school readers with an interest in science fiction and technology will appreciate this accessible book.

Book Review: The Science of Monsters: The Truth about Zombies, Witches, Werewolves, Vampires, and Other Legendary Creatures by Meg Hafdahl and Kelly Florence

Cover of the book The Science of Monsters: The Truth about Zombies, Witches, Werewolves, Vampires, and Other Legendary Creatures by Meg Hafdahl and Kelly Florence
The Science of Monsters: The Truth about Zombies, Witches, Werewolves, Vampires, and Other Legendary Creatures
by Meg Hafdahl and Kelly Florence
Skyhorse, 2019

This review was first published by Booklist on September 1, 2019.

Hafdahl and Florence, cohosts of the popular podcast, Horror Rewind, explore some of the real-world, factual basis for 30 popular horror films from the early days of Hollywood to today. The authors don’t offer specific analyses of each film so much as use the movies as jumping off points to explore ideas that arise from them. In some cases, the ideas are directly related to a specific kind of movie: slashers based on the psychology of real-life serial killers, rare physical conditions that inspired movie monsters. In other chapters, the ideas are only tenuously connected; for example, the chapter on Alien discusses dark matter and neutrinos, which have nothing to do with the movie. But this is part of the book’s appeal. It’s fascinating how these films can inspire curiosity about a wide range of topics. The chapters are all brief, and none go into any depth, but brevity makes this a quick and fun read. If readers want to know more about the topics explored, there are good end notes to direct further research.

This title has been recommended for young adult readers:

YA/General Interest: Pop-culture hooks make for easy entry into scientific topics. —Julia Smith