Books to Read Now

Seed Picks

July releases on how to join the commercial space race, a brief history of futurism, the inner world of mathematicians, and more.

Say Everything: How Blogging Began, What It’s Becoming, and Why It Matters
By Scott Rosenberg (Crown)
Scott Rosenberg, co-founder of Salon.com, is behind this smart and surprising insider history of the first 15 years of the blogosphere. He takes a coolheaded look at blogging’s transformative characters and unexpected triumphs, crediting the form with sparking “a renaissance of personal literacy and social participation” as well as organizing, humanizing, and ultimately democratizing the internet and the news media. Close-up interviews with blogging pioneers Dave Winer (creator of Scripting News) and Blogger founder Evan Williams help stretch the topic far longer than a blog post.
July 7 | Buy

$20 per Gallon: How the Inevitable Rising Cost of Gas Will Change Our Lives for the Better
Christopher Steiner (Grand Central Publishing)
The oil-hungry middle class is growing by the millions each year, just as oil production is peaking. The result will be steadily rising gas prices starting in the next few years—and that’s a good thing, according to Forbes writer Christopher Steiner’s provocative and farsighted book. In his vision, pricey oil will lead to an exhilarating burst of innovation in agriculture, personal and public transportation, and urban planning. That Wal-Marts will shutter, the air will be cleaner, and we’ll lose a few pounds walking to a work are merely bonuses in Steiner’s oil-free utopia.
July 15 | Buy

How to Build Your Own Spaceship: The Science of Personal Space Travel
By Piers Bizony (Plume)
For those itching to leave Earth’s gravity well, politics and economics might hold you back as much as the rocket science of trying to launch a 6-million-pound metal tube into space. Fortunately, space journalist Piers Bizony’s tongue-in-cheek guide to how to start a private space travel enterprise will help you navigate the industry. Even if you don’t have the billions of dollars needed to get in on the action, Bizony’s book serves as a charming guide to the recent history and major players of the commercial space race.
July 28 | Buy

Mathematicians: An Outer View of the Inner World
By Mariana Cook (Princeton University Press)
Mariana Cook has photographed everyone from Francis Crick to Barack and Michelle Obama but has chosen to turn her lens on a slightly more obscure subject for this collection of black-and-white portraits of mathematicians. She photographed 92 in all, some just beginning their careers, others Fields Medal winners with their fame secure. Accompanying the images are personal essays in which each subject reflects on the obsessions, disappointments, and relationships that continue to endear them to their profession. What emerges is a sincere and candid look inside an often insular field.
Out now | Buy

Future: A Recent History
By Lawrence R. Samuel (University of Texas Press)
In this exuberant chronicle, Fortune 500 consultant Lawrence Samuel traces predictions from a century of American pop culture, civics, economics, transportation, architecture, and science and technology. While running errands by airplane (predicted in 1929 to be in practice by 1979) and using pills to control your dreams (predicted in 1935 to be around by 2035 at the latest) may not have materialized—yet—air conditioning, an obsession of 1930s futurists, is obviously here to stay. This slender volume on the history of the future also packs in a thought-provoking chapter on the future of futurism, too, asking: With the advent of the internet, where the future is constantly revised, is the art of predicting the grand trend dead?
Out now | Buy

The BLDGBLOG Book
By Geoff Manaugh (Chronicle Books )
Since 2004, Geoff Manaugh has collected the most daring and forward-thinking ideas in architecture on his blog and has now packed this handsome book with BLDGBLOG‘s most provocative and prescient images, essays, and interviews. Manaugh’s freewheeling explorations of how we may come to interact with our buildings, our cities, and our planet draw from every branch of science (plus a few from science fiction). That these entries remain fresh years after their original publication is further testament to his inventiveness.
Out now | Buy

Notebooks From New Guinea: Field Notes of a Tropical Biologist
By Vojtech Novotny (Oxford University Press)
This partly anthropological, partly biological, and entirely idiosyncratic work is the story of Czech entomologist Vojtech Novotny’s attempt to build a lab in the highlands of New Guinea, populate it with native researchers, and construct the “Grand Matrix”—the first-ever comprehensive survey of insects in the tropics. Novotny eschews goggle-eyed accounts of native customs for humorous commentary on the curious tics of Western scientists like himself and “advanced” society at-large: “[Scientific] conferences are in general highly ritualized affairs,” he writes, “and New Guinean conferences depart from the international standard only in some minor folkloric details, such as the souvenir codpiece that each participant receives at the opening.”
Out now | Buy

Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future
Chris Mooney & Sheril Kirshenbaum (Basic Books)
Following up on his The Republican War on Science, science journalist Chris Mooney joins Sheril Kirshenbaum in explaining the disconnect between scientists and the public. This time the onus is on not just on obfuscating and interfering conservatives, but largely on scientists themselves. By talking down to the misinformed—and outright insulting the religious—scientists, they argue, do more harm than good in their quest to enshrine reason in American politics and culture. While the authors’ call for more friendly and magnanimous champions of science is far from a radical conclusion, it duly highlights the Sagan-and Gould-shaped holes we have in our current scientific discourse. 
Out now | Buy

What’s Next: Dispatches on the Future of Science
Edited by Max Brockman (Vintage)
This tightly curated batch of original essays, edited by Edge Foundation, Inc.’s Max Brockman, introduces readers to 18 young scientists whose work is actively shaping our future. Each entry introduces a piece of leading-edge research, delving into everything from experimental manipulations of time perception and the role of mirror neurons in ethics to the ways that climate change may affect our migration patterns. Though some subjects feel too familiar, essays like the one by theoretical physicist Sean Carroll on asymmetry in the cosmos take on some of the most mind-scrambling and exciting questions in science.
Out now | Buy

Originally published June 30, 2009

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