April Book Picks

Seed Picks

New works on the human cost of fear, the paradigm-shifting astronomer Edwin Hubble, and the comic failings of religious fundamentalists.

The Day We Found the Universe
By Marcia Bartusiak (Pantheon)
Hardly a year passes without one paradigm shift or another in astronomy. But this progress pales in comparison to a brief period last century, the 1920s, when Edwin Hubble and others showed that the universe is not a placid place with our solar system at its center, but rather is an ever-expanding vastness of countless galaxies. With her trademark mix of meticulous research and vibrant prose, Bartusiak weaves these discoveries into a narrative equal to the excitement of that convulsive decade.
April 7 | Buy

Dread: How Fear and Fantasy have Fueled Epidemics from the Black Death to the Avian Flu
By Philip Alcabes (Public Affairs)
Our species has an almost mythic fear of the uncontrolled spread of disease—plague—and its characterization as a killer of millions is certainly not without historical precedent. But Alcabes, a professor of Urban Public Health, deconstructs the epidemic as a social narrative; its rhetoric, he argues, has been used to ascribe meaning to class, race, risk, blame, and death. With its analysis of historical and modern epidemics, both real and imagined, Dread convinces that the fear can be worse than the disease.
April 13 | Buy

Kharma, Dharma, Pudding & Pie
By Philip Appleman, Illustrated by Arnold Roth (The Quantuck Lane Press)
“We’re on the spot, Free Will or not:/ We may think it bathetic,/ But the shape we’ve got was not begot/ By choice—it’s all genetic.” In a book brimming with playful such verse, Darwin expert Philip Appleman takes aim at the comic failings of fundamentalists and evolution deniers. Accompanied by the raucous doodles of New Yorker cartoonist Arnold Roth, poems such as “Why Lamarck Became Extinct” and “Et Tu Galileo?” hold a scrutinizing lens to our many unscientific practices and presumptions.
April 21 | Buy

Wednesday is Indigo Blue: Discovering the Brain of Synesthesia
By Richard E. Cytowic and David M. Eagleman (MIT Press)
Two esteemed synesthesia researchers describe the genetics and neuroscience behind the condition of mingled sensory perceptions of words, sounds, numbers, and tastes, while touching on deeper questions, such as how metaphor appears in the brain. Flush with evocative description of these sensations, the book explores synethesia’s effects on literature and poetry. Vladimir Nabokov and his wife were synesthetes, for instance, as is their composer son Dmitri, who writes the foreword to this truly original examination of how a brain makes sense of its world.
April 24 | Buy

Originally published April 1, 2009

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