Tutira, The Seacoast Reader and more . . .
People who drive the back roads of New Zealand often will have noticed the steady replacement of the native bush by pasture and exotic trees. Herbert Guthrie-Smith in his 1921 classic, Tutira: The Story of a New Zealand Sheep Station, was the first to document this transition carefully. His pioneering ecological study, now available in paperback (Washington, $25) is fascinating reading for anyone interested in the dispersion of flora and fauna.
Not so much natural history as evocations of it, The Seacoast Reader (The Lyons Press, $30) and Soul of the Sky: Exploring the Human Side of Weather (Mount Washington Observatory, $12.95) are collections of essays, some new, some republished, by the best at their craft about places and conditions that anchor our humanity to the planet. If you've cowered in wonder as weather made small of our trappings or enjoyed life on the edge, where water meets land, there's plenty in these two volumes to carry you back in your mind's eye.
Certain episodes seem to attract attention over and over, even when there’s not much new to say. Such is the case with the latest rehash of the Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh dinosaur wars, David Rains Wallace's The Bonehunters' Revenge: Dinosaurs, Greed and the Greatest Scientific Feud of the Gilded Age (Houghton Mifflin, $24). Although Wallace offers fascinating details about the personal rivalry between the two paleontologists, he scarcely touches the serious issues of how Cope and Marsh tried to make sense of the fossils in evolutionary terms.
In The Undiscovered Mind (Free Press, $25), science writer John Horgan tries to save us from the delusion that science is actually making progress toward understanding the human mind. Scientists won't find any new arguments here, but the general reader might enjoy Horgan’s light, easy style. There’s no thinking involved; Horgan does it for you.
Ron Westrum admits that weaponry held no interest for him before he embarked on 12 years of research for Sidewinder: Creative Missile Development at China Lake (Naval Institute Press, $32.95), a remote Mojave Desert outpost that, in the 1950s, became the Los Alamos of guided missiles. Westrum chronicles how an under-funded group of scientists and engineers, battling rich weapons-makers and military bureaucrats, was able to turn out a host of technical marvels that included the Sidewinder, considered even today the standard for surface-to-air missiles.
New-in-paper picks: Totality: Eclipses of the Sun, 2nd ed., Mark Littmann, Ken Willcox & Fred Espenak (Oxford, $18.95); A Skywatcher's Year, Jeff Kanipe (Cambridge, $19.95); The Earth in Turmoil: Earthquakes, Volcanoes, and Their Impact on Humankind, Kerry Sieh and Simon LeVay (Freeman, $14.95); The Big Idea: Crick, Watson and DNA and Curie and Radioactivity, Paul Strathern (Doubleday, $9.95 each).
Nanoviewers: Peter Bowler, William J. Cannon, Michael Szpir, William Thompson