Book recommendations from the editors of Scientific American
Influenza: The Hundred Year Hunt to Cure the Deadliest Disease in History
by Jeremy Brown.
Touchstone, 2018 ($26.99).
In 1918, as the First World War was ending, “something fierce” was spreading. Troops in the battlefield camps and in their home countries, along with civilians, were falling sick with flu. The pandemic killed up to 100 million people within a year. A century later emergency room doctor Brown traces the complex history of misguided flu remedies such as bloodletting, inhalation of toxic gases, use of mercury chloride, misuse of aspirin and not very effective vaccines. Although we know a lot more about the virus today, which kills 30,000 people in the U.S. annually, we do not know enough to stop the next pandemic. Brown argues that a critical preparatory step should be to place the 1918 pandemic in our collective memory as we have for wars and battles—perhaps with a physical memorial—to honor our losses and to remind us how much there is yet to do. —Ankur Paliwal
Anti-Science and the Assault on Democracy: Defending Reason in a Free Society
edited by Michael J. Thompson and Gregory R. Smulewicz-Zucker.
Prometheus Books, 2018 ($26)
The Enlightenment saw the development of a widespread scientific worldview, centered in skepticism, objectivity and reason. The technology that, hundreds of years later, grew out of that intellectual blossoming—the Internet, smartphones, social media—now enables people to entertain their bizarre, antiscience worldviews in insulated online forums and communities, argue the essayists in this robust collection. Such thinking fosters a “broader political climate in which a resistance to science shapes public opinion and a more general hostility to scientific reason.” In the book, edited by political scientists Thompson and Smulewicz-Zucker, contributors theoretical physicist Lee Smolin, science historian Michael Ruse, political scientist Diana M. Judd, and others rely on philosophy, history, the law and sound reasoning to trace the origins of antiscience thinking. What is best for the planet and humans, they say, is a reliance on the self-correcting scientific method and its demand for objectivity.
Out There: A Scientific Guide to Alien Life, Antimatter, and Human Space Travel (for the Cosmically Curious)
by Michael Wall.
Grand Central Publishing, 2018 ($27).
“Are we alone in the universe?” is just the first—though rarely the last—question that many people have about aliens. What might they look like—the “Greys” from alien-abduction tales, or silicon-based robotic beings, or quivering clumps of unthinking protoplasm? If we ever found them, would they befriend us, breed with us—or even see us as “breakfast”? Science writer Wall delivers marvelously witty and informed speculations to these common queries underpinning the still fruitless scientific search for alien life. Along the way, he ruminates on related ideas, such as the long-term fate of life in our solar system and the prospects for humanity someday visiting other stars or building time machines. Out There is a refreshingly playful romp through the most exciting aspects of space exploration. —Lee Billings