Phantoms in the Brain, The De-Voicing of Society and more . . .
Phantoms in the Brain (William Morrow, $26.50) by V. S. Ramachandran and Sandra Blakeslee is based largely on Ramachandran's sleuth-like investigations into the eerieness of phantom limbs. The trail leads to discussions on how the mind creates one's sense of "self" and the possibility of neural circuitry in the human brain that is specialized for religious behavior. It may be the most fun you will ever have reading about the brain.
A recent study suggests that people may become more depressed and lonely when they begin using the Internet. Surprising? At least one man can claim to have predicted it. In The De-Voicing of Society: Why We Don’t Talk to Each Other Anymore (Simon & Schuster, $24.50), John L. Locke, who trained as a speech and language pathologist, diagnoses a distrustful, fragmented technological society suffering "an intimacy deficit arising from social de-voicing." Drawing his evidence from diverse fields, a deeply pessimistic Locke argues that we rely increasingly on remote styles of interaction that lack the face-to-face social cues needed to build community and nourish the psyche.
Leonardo's Mountain of Clams and the Diet of Worms (Harmony, $25) is Steven Jay Gould's eighth collection of essays from Natural History magazine. In addition to the favorites alluded to in the title—"The Upwardly Mobile Fossils of Leonardo's Living Earth," "The Clam Stripped Bare by Her Naturalists, Even" and "The Diet of Worms and the Defenestration of Prague"—this volume includes 18 other Gould ruminations on art and science, evolution, history and the way we as a species and he as a geologist-turned-"humanistic naturalist" look at the world.
If you happen to find some odd beast washed up on the shore, it's a good bet that Leland W. Pollock's A Practical Guide to the Marine Animals of Northeastern North America (Rutgers, $29 paper) will help you identify it. There are plenty of useful line drawings (1,315!) and concise descriptions to aid even the novice marine biologist. A nice supplement to the Peterson Field Guides on the subject.
Martin Wells's Civilization and the Limpet (Helix/Perseus, $22), a portrait of humanity reflected off tidal pools, reads like Stephen Jay Gould meets Roald Dahl—stripped of Gould's erudition and Dahl's artistry. The childlike prose is accessible yet, like a child, can be annoying. Wells, a Cambridge University zoologist, argues that we should care about animals for their own sake, then narcissistically suggests that the real reason we should learn about sea urchins and limpets and others is for what they can teach humankind about eternal youth and world peace. More limpet, less civilization, please.
Paul Strathern's Newton and Gravity and Hawking and Black Holes (Anchor, both $9.95, paper) are brief histories of the times and lives of two famous Cambridge physicists, telling how Isaac Newton (17th century) and Stephen Hawking (late 20th century) revolutionized our world by discovering universal gravitation and properties of black holes. They are quick reads that will be enjoyed by science students from high school age and beyond.
If you've ever wondered why the dinosaur supplanted the railroad train as the motif for decorating the bedrooms of seven-year-old males or whether such attention has influenced the practice of paleonotology, you'll enjoy and profit from reading English professor W. J. T. Mitchell's cultural analysis of the dinosaur phenomenon, The Last Dinosaur Book (Chicago, $35).
Rick Bass's The New Wolves (Lyons, $18.95) covers sadly familiar terrain: man’s inhumanity to non-human—in this case, the lobo, or Mexican wolf. Along the way, Bass smartly chronicles a quixotic attempt to reintroduce the lobo to its native Southwest, after a similar effort in Yellowstone for its northern cousin, the gray wolf. But the cattle-ravaged dry land is less forgiving than temperate north, and Bass must often check his pessimism about the lobo's chances even as he spins this hopeful tale.
Whether you're a budding Indiana Jones or just curious, translating ancient tomb inscriptions is now possible with How to Read Egyptian Hieroglyphs (California, $18.95) by Mark Collier and Bill Manley. They reveal the bizarre idiosyncrasies of hieroglyph construction, syntax and grammar, but, being limited to the collection in the British Museum, the book lacks a variety of interesting texts.
For the serious science-book collector who doesn't have serious money to spend on first editions of, say, Newton's Optiks, Hooke's Micrographia or Franklin's Electricity, Octavo's CD-ROM editions may be the next best thing—if you don’t mind pretending you're leafing through musty old folios.
Nanoviewers: Randall Black, William J. Cannon, Rosalind Reid, David Schoonmaker, Michael Szpir, William Thompson