Scientists' Nightstand, Vol. 2 No. 2

The Scientists’ Nightstand e-newsletter offers news of book reviews published in American Scientist and around the Web, as well as other noteworthy happenings in the world of science books.

As always, we welcome your letters and comments. You’ll find us at Thanks for reading!

Reviews from American Scientist, May–June 2014

How We Do It: The Evolution and Future of Human Reproduction

by Robert Martin

A primatologist takes on the subject of how human reproduction and child rearing evolved, comparing human evolution with that of our primate cousins and showing how misguided (and at times colorful) research has complicated our understanding of reproductive science. Martin goes on to discuss current practices in human communities, evaluating them in this evolutionary light. Review by Katie L. Burke.

The Secret Language of Color: Science, Nature, History, Culture, Beauty, and Joy of Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, and Violet

by Joann Eckstut and Arielle Eckstut

We all know better than to judge a book by its (very snazzy) cover. In this case, however, it’s completely fair to judge a book by its subtitle. Intriguingly ambitious and richly illustrated, The Secret Language of Color takes stock of cultural, artistic, and psychological aspects of hues along the visible spectrum. Alternating chapters examine the nature and influence of color within the disciplines of physics, chemistry, geology, biology, and astronomy. Review by Dianne Timblin.

Plastic Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

by Patricia Newman

This lively book, intended for kids grades 2 through 6, takes as its topic the plastic floating in the North Pacific Gyre, and follows three marine researchers as they go about their work in that region, sharing their discoveries along the way. Striking, memorable photographs by Annie Crawley illuminate the plastic’s extensive environmental impact. Review by Katie-Leigh Corder.

Off the Table

Here we feature a selection of reviews and other science books content from around the Web.

The New York Times dishes on big data in a combined review of Patrick Tucker’s The Naked Future: What Happens in a World That Anticipates Your Every Move? and Alex Pentlands’s Social Physics: How Good Ideas Spread—The Lessons from a New Science.

San Francisco Chronicle reviewer and third-generation beekeeper Meredith May considers My Adventures with Bumblebees, by scientist and Bumblebee Conservation Trust founder Dave Goulson, alongside The Bees, a novel by Laline Paull.

The NPR health blog Shots discusses The Drinkable Book, an educational text with an innovative twist. In addition to providing tips about water safety, the book itself is a tool that puts potable water within reach: Each page of the book can be used as a water filter that uses silver nanoparticles to kill disease-bearing microbes.

For the New York Review of Books, Jerome Groopman reviews a bonanza of recent texts about the workings of human memory: I Forgot to Remember: A Memoir of Amnesia, by Su Meck, with Daniel de Visé; Memory: From Mind to Molecules, by Larry R. Squire and Eric R. Kandel; Madness and Memory: The Discovery of Prions—A New Biological Principle of Disease, by Stanley B. Prusiner; The Alzheimer Conundrum: Entanglements of Dementia and Aging, by Margaret Lock; and The Answer to the Riddle Is Me: A Memoir of Amnesia, by David Stuart MacLean.

Kirkus warmly reviews E. O. Wilson’s A Window on Eternity: A Biologist's Walk Through Gorongosa National Park, describing it as “a big story about a small place.” The MayJune issue of American Scientist features an excerpt from the book.

Jared Keller ponders the universe and its intellectual history in his review of Mary-Jane Rubenstein’s Worlds Without End: The Many Lives of the Multiverse.

The New York Times reviews Cured, by Nathalia Holt, and discusses the complexity of distinguishing anomalies and finding functional cures for disease.

Greg Miller takes Globes: 400 Years of Exploration, Navigation, and Power, by Sylvia Sumira, for a spin in Wired’s entertaining Map Lab blog. An accompanying gallery features images from the book, including several of pocket-sized globes (one of them a mere 1.5 inches in diameter) housed in casings that map the constellations.

Publishing News

News from the world of science books publishing, including book review venues, presses, new technologies for books and more.

Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation, by Dan Fagin, has won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction.

In the London Review of Books blog, Gill Partington reports on buying an invisible book. He muses of texts more generally, “The book is certainly not dead, but it is having something of an identity crisis.”

Mosaic presents Jane Goodall’s recent conversation with Henry Nicholls, in which Goodall discusses, among other things, changes she made for the revised edition of her latest book, Seeds of Hope, in response to allegations of plagiarism that surfaced with the first edition.

Nick Yee, author of The Proteus Paradox (a very interesting read), reports on a Danish study that reveals the “surprisingly unsurprising reason” some men select female avatars when playing World of Warcraft. He then discusses these findings in the context of his own research.

Author Sam Kean has been busy writing about Phineas Gage, whose frontal lobe injury became a famous neuroscience case study, for the New York Times and Slate, expanding on the discussion of Gage that appears in his book The Dueling Neurosurgeons: And Other True Stories of Trauma, Madness, Affliction, and Recovery That Reveal the Surprising History of the Human Brain.


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