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From Plants to Planets: Our Favorite Coffee-Table Books of 2012

The Editors

Each winter we peruse the year’s large-format books about science and present brief reviews of the ones we like best


A Supersized View of the Universe

Fenella Saunders

A brief review of Planetfall: New Solar System Visions, by Michael Benson


At the Heart of Pine

Katie L. Burke

A brief review of Longleaf, Far as the Eye Can See: A New Vision of North America’s Richest Forest, by Bill Finch, Beth Maynor Young, Rhett Johnson and John C. Hall


The Power of Two Wheels

David Schoonmaker

A brief review of Cycling Science: How Rider and Machine Work Together, by Max Glaskin


Modern-day Botanicals

Anna Lena Phillips

A brief review of Natural Companions: The Garden Lover’s Guide to Plant Combinations, by Ken Druse. Botanical photographs by Ellen Hoverkamp


A Map of the Universe

Fenella Saunders

A brief review of Space Atlas, by James Trefil


Series of Milestones

Fenella Saunders

A brief review of The Math Book, The Physics Book and The Medical Book, by Clifford Pickover


Conservation for the Win

Daniel Simberloff

A review of Wild Hope: On the Front Lines of Conservation Success, by Andrew Balmford. Balmford presents seven conservation efforts that are working, says Simberloff, primarily because they begin by trying to understand the human actors involved


A Tale of Tales

Michael Bérubé

A review of The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human, by Jonathan Gottschall. Evolutionary biology and neuroscience may have lessons for the study of literature, says Bérubé, but thus far the concept is not entirely convincing


A History of Racket-Making

Peter Pesic

A review of Discord: The Story of Noise, by Mike Goldsmith. This social history of noise tells the story of the phenomenon from the Big Bang to the present


King Solomon Revisited

William A. Searcy

A review of Calls Beyond Our Hearing: Unlocking the Secrets of Animal Voices, by Holly Menino. Menino’s recounting of various research on animal vocalizations is a pleasure to read, but the scientific explanations don’t all pass muster, says Searcy


Online Optimism

Jacqueline Olds

A review of Networked: The New Social Operating System, by Lee Rainie and Barry Wellman. Drawing on research from the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life project, the authors provide suggestions for how to thrive as “networked individuals”


Dreamland

Katie L. Burke

A brief review of Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep, by David K. Randall


Beautiful Corn

Anna Lena Phillips

A brief review of Beautiful Corn: America’s Original Grain from Seed to Plate, by Anthony Boutard


Sex, Genes and Arms Control

Anna Lena Phillips

Our review of reviews published during the first 100 years of the Scientists’ Bookshelf continues, with content ranging from landscape architecture to clouds to alternative energy


Sex Is for Real

Mary S. Calderone

A 1969 review of Sex Is for Real (Human Sexuality & Sexual Responsibility), by W. Dalrymple


Mathematical Models of Arms Control and Disarmament

Gerald H. Kramer

A 1969 review of Mathematical Models of Arms Control & Disarmament: Application of Mathematical Structures to Politics, by T. L. Saaty


Civilizing American Cities, Autokind vs. Mankind and Anatomy of a Park

Paul J. Mitarachi

A 1972 review of Civilizing American Cities, by Frederick Law Olmstead, edited by S. B. Sutton; Autokind vs. Mankind, by Kenneth R. Schneider; and Anatomy of a Park, by Albert J. Rutledge


Patterning of Time

Ernest R. Hilgard

A 1972 review of Patterning of Time, by Leonard W. Doob


Clouds of the World

Barry Saltzman

A 1973 review of Clouds of the World: A Complete Color Encyclopedia, by Richard Scorer


Alternatives to the Internal Combustion Engine

John B. Heywood

A 1973 review of Alternatives to the Internal Combustion Engine: Impacts on Environmental Quality, by Robert U. Ayres and Richard P. McKenna


Ecology and Environment

Jay Martin Anderson

A 1974 review of Ecology and Environment: Civilized Man’s Eight Deadly Sins, by Konrad Lorenz, translated by Marjorie Kerr Wilson


Machine Takeover

Peter M. Will

A 1978 review of Machine Takeover: The Growing Threat to Human Freedom in a Computer-Controlled Society, by Frank George


The Ultimate Experiment: Man-Made Evolution

Yaakou Schechter

A 1978 review of The Ultimate Experiment: Man-Made Evolution, by Nicholas Wade


Food Production and Its Consequences

Margaret Dittemore

A 1978 review of Food Production and Its Consequences, by Philip E. L. Smith


Doctors Wanted: No Women Need Apply and The Hidden Malpractice

Elizabeth C. Patterson

A 1978 review of Doctors Wanted: No Women Need Apply: Sexual Barriers in the Medical Profession, 1835–1975, by Mary Roth Walsh, and The Hidden Malpractice:How American Medicine Treats Women as Patients and Professionals, by Gena Corea


In a Class by Itself

Veit Elser

A review of The Nature of Computation, by Cristopher Moore and Stephan Mertens. The authors "have produced one of the most successful attempts to capture the broad scope and intellectual depth of theoretical computer science as it is practiced today," says Elser


Fortean Flora

Andrea Wills

A review of What a Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses, by Daniel Chamovitz. Plants’ ability to sense and respond to their surrounding environment is stranger and more surprising than one might think, and Chamovitz recounts the stories of scientists’ discoveries in plant biology with wit and charm, says Wills


Making the Land Our Own

Christine Casson

A review of American Georgics: Writings on Farming, Culture, and the Land, edited by Edwin C. Hagenstein, Sara M. Gregg, and Brian Donahue. The United States has always embodied the tension between the ideals of agrarianism and industrialism, says Casson, and this book provides a compelling history of that tension





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