Scientists' Nightstand, Vol. 2 No. 1

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, March–April 2014

The Cosmic Tourist: Visit the 100 Most Awe-Inspiring Destinations in the Universe!

by Brian May, Patrick Moore, and Chris Lintott

Packed with stunning photographs, this cosmic travel guide is a boon for armchair tourists. The authors—a lunar researcher, an authority on space dust in our solar system, and a specialist on the formation of stars and galaxies—combine their expertise, making awesomely distant objects seem as accessible as near neighbors. (And yes, coauthor Brian May is that Brian May: astrophysicist and guitarist for the band Queen.) Review by Corey S. Powell.

The Great Extinctions: What Causes Them and How They Shape Life

by Norman MacLeod

Covering 500 million years of life and death on Earth, paleontologist Norman MacLeod examines eight extinction events, including “the big five” mass extinctions (check your scorecard here). He argues that these die-offs typically resulted from sundry “perfect storms” of environmental shifts rather than a single catastrophic change. Looking ahead, MacLeod assesses how human activity could trigger a sixth mass extinction event in the next 100 to 1,000 years. Review by Fenella Saunders.

Bergen-Belsen 1945: A Medical Student’s Journal

by Michael John Hargrave

In May 1945, London medical student Michael John Hargrave traveled to Celle, Germany, to aid gravely ill and severely malnourished former Bergen-Belsen concentration camp inmates who remained quarantined there following the camp’s liberation. Bergen-Belsen 1945 , a facsimile edition of Hargrave's typed, illustrated journal, is a portal to a time and place almost unimaginable otherwise. Scenes of the camp and its internees intermix with those of the relief work itself as Hargrave details everything from the vagaries of military transport to the medical treatments he provided and their rates of success. Review by Dianne Timblin.

Off the Table

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

Fred Andrews discusses Diane Coyle’s book GDP: A Brief but Affectionate History for the New York Times , noting that Coyle gives the GDP, as an economic measure that has outlived certain aspects of its utility, “two cheers.”

The New York Times also reviews Infinitesimal: How a Dangerous Mathematical Theory Shaped the Modern World , praising the “fascinating narrative” spun by author Amir Alexander. An excerpt accompanies the review.

For the New York Review of Books , Freeman Dyson considers Mario Livio’s Brilliant Blunders: From Darwin to Einstein—Colossal Mistakes by Great Scientists That Changed Our Understanding of Life and the Universe .

Kirkus plumbs The Depths: The Evolutionary Origins of the Depression Epidemic , commending author Jonathan Rottenberg for broadening the cultural conversation around depression. In addition, both Mindless, by Simon Head, and The Sixth Extinction, by Elizabeth Kolbert, earn starred reviews.

Reviewer Robin Marantz Henig in the New York Times reports having a mixed reaction to Amanda Gefter’s science memoir Trespassing on Einstein’s Lawn.

NPR interviews physicist Michio Kaku on neuroscience, human consciousness, technology, and their intersections. An excerpt of his book The Future of the Mind accompanies the interview.

The Los Angeles Times praises Train , Tom Zoellner’s exploration of six legendary railways that deepens into “a train lover's celebration of the great epic story of rail travel itself.”

Brain Pickings and NPR blog 13.7 Cosmos and Culture dip into the ideas found in What Should We Be Worried About? , edited by John Brockman—founder of discussion forum Edge —the latest compendium of leading thinkers’ answers to Brockman’s annual question. (Past questions include “What are you optimistic about?” and “What scientific concept would improve everybody’s cognitive toolkit?”)

Colin Dayan discusses neuroeconomist Gregory Berns’s book How Dogs Love Us in the Boston Review .

Booklist offers a list of the top ten books on sustainability from 2013. Also, in case you missed it Brain Pickings ran a worthy roundup of science and technology books published in 2013. If you wish to time travel a bit further back than 2013 for your best-of lists, our classic compilation of “100 or so Books That Shaped a Century of Science" includes popular science texts and monographs, as well as a handful of fiction.

Publishing News

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

Naturalist, reporter, and novelist Peter Matthiessen—author of The Snow Leopard, The Cloud Forest: A Chronicle of the South American Wilderness, Blue Meridian: The Search for the Great White Shark, and The Tree Where Man Was Born , among many other books about the natural world—has died.

New online life-sciences magazine Mosaic has published a conversation with cognitive psychologist and author Steven Pinker.

In the L.A. Times Carolyn Kellogg notes that a film adaptation of Blake Harris’s book Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle that Defined a Generation , due May 13, is already in the works.

Publisher’s Weekly reports that audiobook sales continue to increase. Incidentally, its 2013 Listen Up Awards list for the year’s best audiobooks includes Confessions of a Sociopath , authored by the pseudonymous M. E. Thomas and read by Bernadette Sullivan.

David Waltner-Toews’s book The Origin of Feces: What Excrement Tells Us About Evolution, Ecology, and a Sustainable Society was among the finalists for the Bookseller ’s annual Diagram Prize, which honors the oddest book title. Alas, science ultimately lost out to etiquette: A book from Prion Press, How to Poo on a Date, has won.


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