Welcome Summer –– and the books that beckon us to sit in a comfortable chair, dream, explore other places and other worlds. This month’s selection is the first of several book round-ups we are planning for summer 2016. Stimulate your senses with works on touch, taste, weather, animal intelligence, amazing seashells, understanding our place in the galaxies, and a bold proposal to save our planet (and us too) by setting aside half of Earth as a conservation zone!
Neuroscientist David J. Linden normally studies learning and memory, but he was drawn to the question of how touch – from early infancy to throughout life – affects who we are, our personality, health, and the entire human experience. Children abandoned to orphanages under Romania’s dictator Ceaucescu experienced extreme sensory deprivation, especially touch, which has devastating consequences for their mental and physical health. You’ll learn the mechanics of touch — four types of “mechanoreceptors” detect stimuli (vibration and pressure), with free nerve endings responsive to temperature, pain and specific chemicals. Biology, chemistry, physiology, our emotions, and culture all play a role in how touch affects everything from shopping to sex. Washington Post book review Audio interview with the author (National Public Radio) Linden’s TEXx talk
Tasty: The Art and Science of What We Eat, John McQuaid ( Scribner) $26
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist John McQuaid looks at flavor – there are five: bitter, salty, sour, sweet and umami (savory) – to decipher how it is woven into our genes, our cravings, our personalities and behavior. Believe it or not, the five basic tastes are central to our survival – and it begins in utero. Some people are predisposed to taste foods differently.
He points out you may be a “supertaster” if you dislike strong flavors—nearly 1 in 4 people fall in that category. Flavor was even a helpful evolutionary trait – a way for early hunter-gatherers to avoid poisonous berries or other dangerous plants or food that was decomposing. Losing your sense of taste? It’s normal as you age that your sense of taste is reduced. Read An Excerpt Of Tasty Listen to an radio interview with McQuaid
Tasting Rome: Fresh Flavors and Forgotten Recipes from an Ancient City, Katie Parla and Kristina Gill (Clarkson Potter) $30
Two American women adopted Italy as their home – and offer up cucina romana across many venues that offer classics, sensational fare, and new traditions: bars and trattorias to food stalls on the street, What better way to discover Rome’s unique character, culture and history than through food and drink – a 2,000 year journey.
In Tasting Rome, journalist Katie Parla and photographer Kristina Gill, you find cookbook, travel memoir, history, geography, and regional identity – from Caesar to carbonara! New York Times book review
Thunder and Lightning, Weather Past, Present, Future. Lauren Redniss (Random House) Illustrated. 261 pp. $35.
“[W]eather is the state of the atmosphere, whereas climate describes prevailing weather patterns on a larger scale. “But changes to climate, by definition, mean changes in the weather.” Redniss has her own point of view, which she shares visually and with words — a compilation of information, lore, legends, and interviews, plus fascinating artwork she has created – using illustration, photogravure, and photopolymer to keep you mesmerized.
You’ll travel through ice, snow, smog, fog, cold, wind, rain and more—there’s a fogbound journey to Newfoundland and another to the Global Seed Vault on Spitsbergen Island. This beautifully illustrated book is a keeper, for you and for your grandkids! Read the review
Spirals in Time: The Secret and Curious Afterlife of Seashells, Helen Scales (Bloomsbury Sigma) 304 pp $27
Does your powder room have a jar of long-collected shells from vacations? (Mine does!) Are you beach-bound this year? Perhaps this book is a take-along, whether or not you are beach-combing.
“…British marine biologist Helen Scales sees a vast and complicated universe inside a shell,” says reviewer Amy Stewart (The Drunken Botanist) for the Washington Post. You’ll learn that some shells absorb neurotoxins and can get you high; that the geography cone snail can kill you; that the chambered nautilus shell follows a specific mathematical progress; the Pinna nobilis grows a silken beard of about 1000 strands that has been collected and woven into a cap or glove! Even more astounding, early computers in the 1960s were programmed with mathematical formulas to create every possible shell shape. There is an “imaginary museum of all possible shells” (evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins expanded this idea in his book Climbing Mount Improbable.) The “museum” does not exist – although some museums have extraordinary shell collections. Some of the mathematically generated shells actually exist, some are now-extinct creatures, some yet to exist. Read the Washington Post review
Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? Frans de Waal (Norton) 340 pp $27.95
“What could be more dignified than primates who use their natural gifts to build a humane society?” Frans de Waal is a celebrated primatologist, and a prolific author, who manages to live in two worlds – as a serious researcher who has devoted nearly 40 years to the study of primate behavior and social intelligence, and as an author-communicator, with some dozen popular books that inform and illuminate the parallels between human and primate behavior His just-released book Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? investigates how other animals, including octopuses, birds, even insects, can be adept at solving problems. A recent essay in The New York Times is adapted from the new book.
The Empire of Things: How We Became a World of Consumers, From the 15th Century to the Twenty-First, Frank Trentmann (Harper) 862 pp $40
Mass consumption, material acquisition, consumption—the world’s history after the Dark Ages is replete with human desires for commodities and goods. Not a little of it has depended on conquest (land and natural resources such as mahogany, ebony, ivory), the establishment of colonies, and slave labor needed to produce commodities (sugar, coffee, rice).
This detail-laced history is a good companion to Ed Wilson’s book (below) that asks us to set aside a lot of land – much of it depleted by human consumption – to conserve the millions of species still on Earth. It’s no surprise that the Latin verb consumer means “to use up.” Book review in The Guardian Audio story on National Public Radio
Half-Earth: The Planet’s Fight for Life, Edward O. Wilson (Livewright)
Before you travel the globe for peak experiences – see Lonely Planet’s volume below – Ed Wilson wants to get your attention, thank you! His vision: to save half of earth’s surface as conservation zones that reduce the crisis in animal and plant extinction. In an interview with Claudia Dreifus of Audubon Magazine, Wilson laments the state of the world, ““Everywhere, you see it…In New Guinea, forests are cut wholesale. In Central America, trying to find the forests, you have to go such long distances. The extinction is accelerating. The conservation organizations, they’ve only saved 20% of the endangered species. It’s far below what’s needed.” At the same time he’s an optimist—and he’s got a plan.
“Half-Earth is his answer to the disaster at hand: a reimagined world in which humans retreat to areas comprising one half of the planet’s landmass. The rest is to be left to the 10 million species inhabiting Earth in a kind of giant national park. In human-free zones, Wilson believes, many endangered species would recover and their extinction would, most likely, be averted.”
Ed Wilson has written 32 books – and been awarded two Pulitzer Prizes — and the ideas in more than a few of them are controversial: Sociobiology and Consilience among them. He’s over 80, lives in a retirement community, but shows no sign of slowing down, at least in his literary-scientific ventures. Certainly he has not finished his vision of how to keep the planet from imploding when we reach 10 billion at the end of the 21st century. Q and A with Ed Wilson Audubon article on Ed Wilson
Green News Update has been sharing Ed Wilson’s books and knowledge with our followers since 2012. Here are several Green News pieces worth reading:
Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travel: Our List of the 500 Best Places to See…Ranked, 328 pp illus in color
Depending on your age and savings account, this is the perfect book to plan the “bucket list” of amazing cities, sites and attractions for around-the- world travel for 10-20-30 years ahead. Your choice: travel planner or armchair comfort, it could be an indispensable tool or an excellent way to see places in absentia. Check out sights 11-20 with full color photos. Check out the book. Next edition won’t be out until 2019.
The second option: the Ultimate Travel Coloring Book with 100 greatest places in line drawings that you can color in whatever shades you wish ! Great for kids at the beach, or a soothing way for adults to wind down. Here
Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, Carlo Rovelli (Translated by Simon Carnell and Erica Segre) (Riverhead Books) 80 pp illus $18
Rovelli’s eloquent lecture has been translated into a book of modest size and considerable effort to make physics accessible to all — from black holes to Einstein’s theory of relativity. It’s more important than ever, as theoretical physics and quantum mechanics make new advances to understand what it’s all about.
Mr. Rovelli is director of the quantum gravity group at the Centre de Physique Theorique of Aix-Marseille University in Provence. He’s been pondering this stuff for awhile, and this book became a recent best-seller that attempts to explain where everything (we humans are just stardust, he says) fit into the galaxies.
Think about this: “The gravitational field is not diffused through space; the gravitational field is that space itself. An entity that undulates, flexes, curves, twists. We are immersed in a gigantic flexible snail-shell. A colorful and amazing world where the unbounded extensions of interstellar space ripple and sway like the surface of the sea.” Read the New York Times book review . Listen to the Science Friday interview with Rovelli
Read about the book, learn about the seven lessons
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