The wonderfully prolific Bill Bryson has taken us on trips around Europe and across America; he’s sent us Notes from a Small Island and showed us what life is like Down Under. But this time out, he launches us on a different kind of adventure—taking us on a journey within ourselves. As charming and funny as ever, in his new book, The Body (Doubleday, $30), the inimitable Bryson explores, head to toe, what we’re made of, examining certain body parts, explaining their purpose, and showing us how it all works. Can you believe that just six elements—carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus—comprise 99.1 percent of us? And these can be easily found and purchased, so that if you want to build your own Benedict Cumberbatch, it will cost you around $150,000. But here’s the thing: you won’t be able to do it (massive shame, I know!) because even though we are all made of the same basic elements that can be found in a pile of dirt, we are all beautifully unique and special. This book will educate, entertain, caution, and delight you.
Following his previous books, What If and Thing Explainer, Randall Munroe is back with How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems (Riverhead, $28). In this indispensable and, as always, lavishly illustrated—in his signature stick-figure style—volume, Munroe offers solutions to how to “dig a hole,” “play the piano,” “play tag,” and “power your house,”—among many other common conundrums and problems. Some of these are so commonplace they don’t seem to require a solution, but Munroe demonstrates that physical laws underlie even the most straightforward things we do. How To is part entertaining collection of scientific facts—such as how many piano keys you will need to add to your keyboard to be able to play music for dogs—to tongue-incheek, possibly dubious advice on how to move all your boxes to another house just by pushing them with a pickup truck. This volume might not be 100% useful, but it is 100% fascinating—and fun.
An award-winning science writer with an advanced degree in physics, Marcia Bartusiak has the knowledge and the enthusiasm to make even complex principles of quantum theory accessible and fascinating to non-scientists. In these thirty-three brief, elegant essays, she gives a thorough grounding in the history of astronomy, tracing its many revolutions from heliocentrism to the discoveries of double stars, supernovae, spiral galaxies, quasars, black holes, dark matter, and the whole expanding universe. Each discussion traces the science as well as the impact of the ideas themselves, showing how our evolving understanding of physical phenomena affected our sense of our place in the universe—and in turn led to our next foray into the unknown. As she traces the evolution of cosmology, Bartusiak chronicles the major questions scientists asked and how they answered them, details the necessary technological advances, summarizes the debates surrounding revelations that were often as unsettling as they were thrilling, and profiles the key thinkers involved. This parade of giants includes many iconic names—Copernicus, Newton, Einstein, Hubble, Hawking—as well as many that will be new to most readers, though their achievements may be familiar. Cecilia Helena Payne, for instance, proved that hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, a discovery with far-reaching implications, and Jocelyn Bell discovered pulsars, though the Nobel for this breakthrough went to two male scientists. And so on, for Beatrice Tinsley, Vera Rubin, Margaret Burbidge, and Henrietta Swann Leavitt, all brilliant, dedicated women whose contributions to science have been overlooked for too long. They’ve found an eloquent and spirited advocate in Bartusiak.