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Our World Explained: Illuminating Science & Nature Reads Of 2022

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Our World Explained: Illuminating Science & Nature Reads Of 2022

A great variety of  interesting science and nature books were published in 2022 that helped to feed our curious brains, helped us understand the workings of life in and around us, and reinforced our sense of wonder and awe in our natural and material worlds.

Here are some noteworthy and engaging titles to end the year with, available with your Livingston Library card.

(Note: Descriptions are taken from the publishers)

The Biggest Ideas In The Universe : Space, Time, And Motion by Sean Carroll

Carroll, with his genius for making complex notions entertaining, presents in his uniquely lucid voice the fundamental ideas informing the modern physics of reality.  Carroll shows that equations in physics are really like meaningful poems that can help us fly over sierras to discover a miraculous multidimensional landscape alive with radiant giants, warped space-time, and bewilderingly powerful forces.

Breathless : The Scientific Race To Defeat A Deadly Virus by Daniel Quammen (also available as an ebook and audiobook)

Breathless is the story of SARS-CoV-2 and its fierce journey through the human population, as seen by the scientists who study its origin, its ever-changing nature, and its capacity to kill us. David Quammen expertly shows how strange new viruses emerge from animals into humans as we disrupt wild ecosystems, and how those viruses adapt to their human hosts, sometimes causing global catastrophe. He explains why this coronavirus will probably be a “forever virus,” destined to circulate among humans and bedevil us endlessly, in one variant form or another. As scientists labor to catch it, comprehend it, and control it, with their high-tech tools and methods, the virus finds ways of escape.

Dancing Cockatoos And The Dead Man Test : How Behavior Evolves And Why It Matters by Marlene Zuk

A lively exploration of animal behavior in all its glorious complexity, from tiny wasps to lumbering elephants-and humans.  Drawing from a wealth of research, including her own on insects, Zuk explores how genes and the environment work together to produce cockatoos that dance to rock music and ants that heal their injured companions.  She shows how neither our behavior nor that of other animals is dictated solely by genes, and that animal behavior can be remarkably similar to human behavior and wonderfully complicated in its own right.

Endless Forms : The Secret World Of Wasps by Seirian Sumner

In this eye-opening and entertaining work of popular science, a leading behavioral ecologist transforms our understanding of wasps, exploring these much-maligned insects’ secret world, their incredible diversity and complex social lives, and revealing how they hold our fragile ecosystem in balance.

Existential Physics : A Scientist’s Guide To Life’s Biggest Questions by Sabine Hossenfelder (also available as an ebook)

In this lively, thought-provoking book, Hossenfelder takes on the biggest questions in physics: Does the past still exist? Do particles think? Was the universe made for us? Has physics ruled out free will? Will we ever have a theory of everything? She lays out how far physicists are on the way to answering these questions, where the current limits are, and what questions might well remain unanswerable forever.

The Hidden Kingdom Of Fungi : Exploring The Microscopic World In Our Forests, Homes, And Bodies by Keith Seifert

Seifert traces the intricate connections between fungi and all life on Earth to show how these remarkable microbes enrich our lives: from releasing the carbon in plants for the benefit of all organisms to transmitting information between trees, to producing life-changing medicine, to adding umami flavor and B vitamins to our food. Divided into sections, each one exploring an environment where fungi live, this enthralling, science-backed book ventures into our homes, bodies, farms, and forests to profile the fungi that inhabit these environments, most of them invisible to the naked eye.

Horizons : The Global Origins Of Modern Science by James Poskett

Poskett presents a history of science that focuses on the contributions from non-Western cultures in Africa, Asia, and the Pacific region and how they influenced and guided great minds such as Copernicus, Newton, Darwin and Einstein.

How The World Really Works : The Science Behind How We Got Here And Where We’re Going by Vaclav Smil

An essential analysis of the modern science and technology that makes our twenty-first century lives possible–a scientist’s investigation into what science really does, and does not, accomplish. This book explains seven of the most fundamental realities governing our survival and prosperity. From energy and food production, through our material world and its globalization, to risks, our environment and its future, it offers a much-needed reality check–because before we can tackle problems effectively, we must understand the facts.

How To Speak Whale : A Voyage Into The Future Of Animal Communication by Tom Mustill

From seventeenth-century Dutch inventors, to the whaling industry of the nineteenth century, to the cutting edge of Silicon Valley, this book looks at how scientists and start-ups around the world are decoding animal languages. Whales, with their giant mammalian brains, offer one of the most realistic opportunities for this to happen.

If Nietzsche Were A Narwhal : What Animal Intelligence Reveals About Human Stupidity by Justin Gregg

This book overturns everything we thought we knew about human intelligence, and asks the question: would humans be better off as narwhals? Or some other, less brainy species? Gregg persuasively argues, there’s an evolutionary reason why human intelligence isn’t more prevalent in the animal kingdom. Simply put, non-human animals don’t need it to be successful. And, miraculously, their success arrives without the added baggage of destroying themselves and the planet in the process.

An Immense World : How Animal Senses Reveal The Hidden Realms Around Us by Ed Yong

This book welcomes us into a previously unfathomable dimension-the world as it is truly perceived by other animals. We encounter beetles that are drawn to fires (and fireworks), songbirds that can see the Earth’s magnetic fields, and brainless jellyfish that nonetheless have complex eyes. We discover that a crocodile’s scaly face is as sensitive as a lover’s fingertips, that the eyes of a giant squid evolved to see sparkling whales, and that even fingernail-sized spiders can make out the craters of the moon. We meet people with unusual senses, from women who can make out extra colors to blind individuals who can navigate using reflected echoes like bats. Yong tells the stories of pivotal discoveries in the field, and also looks ahead at the many mysteries which lie unsolved.

Impact : How Rocks From Space Led To Life, Culture, And Donkey Kong by Greg Brennecka

A noted meteoriticist shows how meteorites have helped build our planet and influenced humanity since the start of civilization.

The Insect Crisis : The Fall Of The Tiny Empires That Run The World by Oliver Milman

A devastating exploration of how the collapse in insect populations around the world threatens everything from wild birds to the food on our plate. Milman delves into why insect numbers are plummeting and outlines the dire consequences of losing the tiny empires that hold life aloft on Earth. 

The Last Days Of The Dinosaurs : An Asteroid, Extinction, And The Beginning Of Our World by Riley Black

Black walks readers through what happened in the days, the years, the centuries, and the million years after the impact of an asteroid, tracking the sweeping disruptions that overtook this one spot, and imagining what might have been happening elsewhere on the globe. Life’s losses were sharp and deeply-felt, but the hope carried by the beings that survived sets the stage for the world as we know it now.

The Milky Way : An Autobiography Of Our Galaxy by Moiya McTier

Astrophysicist and folklorist Dr. McTier channels The Milky Way in this approachable and utterly fascinating autobiography of the titular galaxy, detailing what humans have discovered about everything from its formation to its eventual death, and what more there is to learn about this galaxy we call home.

The Mind Of A Bee by Lars Chittka

Chittka draws from decades of research, including his own pioneering work, to argue that bees have remarkable cognitive abilities. He shows that they are profoundly smart, have distinct personalities, can recognize flowers and human faces, exhibit basic emotions, count, use simple tools, solve problems, and learn by observing others. Chittka illustrates how bee brains are unparalleled in the animal kingdom in terms of how much sophisticated material is packed into their tiny nervous systems. 

Origin : A Genetic History Of The Americas by Jennifer Raff

The story of who the first peoples in the Americas were, how and why they made the crossing, how they dispersed south, and how they lived based on a new and powerful kind of evidence: their complete genomes. Raff provides an overview of these new histories throughout North and South America, and a glimpse into how the tools of genetics reveal details about human history and evolution.

The Rise And Reign Of The Mammals : A New History, From The Shadow Of The Dinosaurs To Us by Steve Brusatte

Beginning with the earliest days of our lineage some 325 million years ago, Brusatte charts how mammals survived the asteroid that claimed the dinosaurs and made the world their own, becoming the astonishingly diverse range of animals that dominate today’s Earth. Brusatte also brings alive the lost worlds mammals inhabited through time, from ice ages to volcanic catastrophes. Entwined in this story is the detective work he and other scientists have done to piece together our understanding using fossil clues and cutting-edge technology.

The Song Of The Cell : An Exploration Of Medicine And The New Human by Siddhartha Mukherjee (also available as an audiobook on CD, e-audiobook, and ebook)

Presenting revelatory and exhilarating stories of scientists, doctors, and the patients whose lives may be saved by their work, the author draws on his own experience as a researcher, doctor, and prolific reader to explore how the discovery of cells created a new kind of medicine based on the therapeutic manipulation of cells.

Sounds Wild And Broken : Sonic Marvels, Evolution’s Creativity, And The Crisis Of Sensory Extinction by David George Haskell (also available as an e-audiobook)

A rich exploration of how the evolution of both natural and manmade sounds have shaped us and the world, and how the world’s acoustic diversity is currently in grave danger of being destroyed.  From the powers of animal sexuality and environmental change, to the unpredictable, improvisational whims of genetic evolution and cultural change, sounds on Earth are the products of and catalysts for vibrant ecosystems. As wild sounds disappear forever and human noise smothers other voices, the Earth becomes flatter, blander.

Transformer : The Deep Chemistry Of Life And Death by Nick Lane

A renowned biochemist’s illuminating inquiry into the Krebs cycle and the origins of life.  Lane reveals the beautiful, violent world within our cells, where hydrogen atoms are stripped from the carbon skeletons of food and fed to the ravenous beast of oxygen. Yet this same cycle, spinning in reverse, also created the chemical building blocks that enabled the emergence of life on our planet. Now it does both. How can the same pathway create and destroy? What might our study of the Krebs cycle teach us about the mysteries of aging and the hardest problem of all, consciousness? 

Virology : Essays For The Living, The Dead, And The Small Things In Between by Joseph Osmundson (also available as an ebook)

A leading microbiologist tackles the scientific and sociopolitical impact of viruses in twelve striking essays. Drawing on his expertise in microbiology, Joseph Osmundson brings readers under the microscope to understand the structure and mechanics of viruses and to examine how viruses like HIV and COVID-19 have redefined daily life. 

Ways Of Being : Animals, Plants, Machines : The Search For A Planetary Intelligence by James Bridle

This book offers a brilliant, searching exploration of different kinds of intelligence–plant, animal, human, artificial–and how they transform our understanding of humans’ place in the cosmos.  The animals, plants, and natural systems that surround us are slowly revealing their complexity, agency, and knowledge, just as the technologies we’ve built to sustain ourselves are threatening to cause their extinction, and ours. What can we learn from them, and how can we change ourselves, our technologies, our societies, and our politics, to live better and more equitably with one another and the non-human world?

Archana Chiplunkar, Adult Services & Acquisitions Librarian

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