My last blog post inspired me to write up a post about science books. I’ve tracked down a list of new or upcoming books on topics ranging from pandemics to mycology. I’ve included the publisher’s description of the book under each listing.
COVID-19: The Pandemic That Never Should Have Happened and How to Stop the Next One by Debora Mackenzie
“Over the last 30 years of epidemics and pandemics, we learned nearly every lesson needed to stop this coronavirus outbreak in its tracks. We heeded almost none of them. The result is a pandemic on a scale never before seen in our lifetimes. In this captivating, authoritative, and eye-opening book, science journalist Debora MacKenzie lays out the full story of how and why it happened: the previous viruses that should have prepared us, the shocking public health failures that paved the way, the failure to contain the outbreak, and most importantly, what we must do to prevent future pandemics.
Debora MacKenzie has been reporting on emerging diseases for more than three decades, and she draws on that experience to explain how COVID-19 went from a potentially manageable outbreak to a global pandemic. Offering a compelling history of the most significant recent outbreaks, including SARS, MERS, H1N1, Zika, and Ebola, she gives a crash course in Epidemiology 101–how viruses spread and how pandemics end–and outlines the lessons we failed to learn from each past crisis. In vivid detail, she takes us through the arrival and spread of COVID-19, making clear the steps that governments knew they could have taken to prevent or at least prepare for this. Looking forward, MacKenzie makes a bold, optimistic argument: this pandemic might finally galvanize the world to take viruses seriously. Fighting this pandemic and preventing the next one will take political action of all kinds, globally, from governments, the scientific community, and individuals–but it is possible.”
The Scientist and the Spy: A True Story of China, the FBI, and Industrial Espionage by Mara Hvistendahl
“A riveting true story of industrial espionage in which a Chinese-born scientist is pursued by the U.S. government for trying to steal trade secrets, by a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction.
In September 2011, sheriff’s deputies in Iowa encountered three ethnic Chinese men near a field where a farmer was growing corn seed under contract with Monsanto. What began as a simple trespassing inquiry mushroomed into a two-year FBI operation in which investigators bugged the men’s rental cars, used a warrant intended for foreign terrorists and spies, and flew surveillance planes over corn country—all in the name of protecting trade secrets of corporate giants Monsanto and DuPont Pioneer. In The Scientist and the Spy, Hvistendahl gives a gripping account of this unusually far-reaching investigation, which pitted a veteran FBI special agent against Florida resident Robert Mo, who after his academic career foundered took a questionable job with the Chinese agricultural company DBN—and became a pawn in a global rivalry.”
Girl Decoded by Rana el Kaliouby
“Rana el Kaliouby is a rarity in both the tech world and her native Middle East: a Muslim woman in charge in a field that is still overwhelmingly white and male. Growing up in Egypt and Kuwait, el Kaliouby was raised by a strict father who valued tradition—yet also had high expectations for his daughters—and a mother who was one of the first female computer programmers in the Middle East. Even before el Kaliouby broke ground as a scientist, she broke the rules of what it meant to be an obedient daughter and, later, an obedient wife to pursue her own daring dream.
After earning her PhD at Cambridge, el Kaliouby, now the divorced mother of two, moved to America to pursue her mission to humanize technology before it dehumanizes us. The majority of our communication is conveyed through nonverbal cues: facial expressions, tone of voice, body language. But that communication is lost when we interact with others through our smartphones and devices. The result is an emotion-blind digital universe that impairs the very intelligence and capabilities—including empathy—that distinguish human beings from our machines.”
The Apocalypse Factory: Plutonium and the Making of the Atomic Age by Steve Olson
“It began with plutonium, the first element ever manufactured in quantity by humans. Fearing that the Germans would be the first to weaponize the atom, the United States marshaled brilliant minds and seemingly inexhaustible bodies to find a way to create a nuclear chain reaction of inconceivable explosive power. In a matter of months, the Hanford nuclear facility was built to produce and weaponize the enigmatic and deadly new material that would fuel atomic bombs. In the desert of eastern Washington State, far from prying eyes, scientists Glenn Seaborg, Enrico Fermi, and many thousands of others―the physicists, engineers, laborers, and support staff at the facility―manufactured plutonium for the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, and for the bombs in the current American nuclear arsenal, enabling the construction of weapons with the potential to end human civilization.
With his characteristic blend of scientific clarity and storytelling, Steve Olson asks why Hanford has been largely overlooked in histories of the Manhattan Project and the Cold War. Olson, who grew up just twenty miles from Hanford’s B Reactor, recounts how a small Washington town played host to some of the most influential scientists and engineers in American history as they sought to create the substance at the core of the most destructive weapons ever created. The Apocalypse Factory offers a new generation this dramatic story of human achievement and, ultimately, of lethal hubris.”
Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds, and Shape Our Futures by Merlin Sheldrake
“When we think of fungi, we likely think of mushrooms. But mushrooms are only fruiting bodies, analogous to apples on a tree. Most fungi live out of sight, yet make up a massively diverse kingdom of organisms that supports and sustains nearly all living systems. Fungi provide a key to understanding the planet on which we live, and the ways we think, feel, and behave.
In Entangled Life, the brilliant young biologist Merlin Sheldrake shows us the world from a fungal point of view, providing an exhilarating change of perspective. Sheldrake’s vivid exploration takes us from yeast to psychedelics, to the fungi that range for miles underground and are the largest organisms on the planet, to those that link plants together in complex networks known as the “Wood Wide Web,” to those that infiltrate and manipulate insect bodies with devastating precision.
Fungi throw our concepts of individuality and even intelligence into question. They are metabolic masters, earth makers, and key players in most of life’s processes. They can change our minds, heal our bodies, and even help us remediate environmental disaster. By examining fungi on their own terms, Sheldrake reveals how these extraordinary organisms—and our relationships with them—are changing our understanding of how life works.”