Seed Picks 2008

Seed Picks

Seed selects the year's outstanding book releases, from Mary Roach's sex book, Bonk, to E.O. Wilson's ant colony opus, The Superorganism.

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Autism’s False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure
By Paul A. Offit (Columbia University Press)
In a perfect world, the public’s knowledge would mirror the scientific consensus. In Autism’s False Prophets, vaccine expert Offit dissects how shady lawyers, suspect science, self-interested politicians, and equivocating journalists have derailed this hope, convincing millions that vaccines cause autism even as the scientific community has proven the theory false. More than a book about a disease, it is an ode to uncorrupted science and a cautionary tale that data alone is never enough. Buy

Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex
By Mary Roach (W.W. Norton)
There are many humorous science books. There are not many hilarious science books. With Bonk, a review of science’s study of sexual behavior, Mary Roach has written a volume so viscerally funny, it’s easy to overlook how obsessively she researched her subject. But Roach’s tales of a day with pig inseminators, a hands-on experience with penile implants, and a romp under an ultrasound machine serve as not-so-subtle reminders of her commitment to writing the first-ever comprehensive book on sex research.  Buy

Bottlemania: How Water Went on Sale and Why We Bought It
By Elizabeth Royte (Bloomsbury)
Convenient, trendy, and calorie-free, bottled water is ubiquitous, global consumption having doubled in the past decade alone. Yet, according to Royte, packaged H2O has entered our lives without due consideration. From inside the water labs of Nestlé to a small Maine town engulfed in water-rights disputes to places experiencing early “bottle backlash,” Royte narrates a meticulously researched yet lively account sure to earn this issue its overdue attention. Buy

Doctor Olaf van Schuler’s Brain
By Kirsten Menger-Anderson (Algonquin Books)
After a routine bleeding goes terribly awry, Dr. Olaf van Schuler flees Europe for New Amsterdam and becomes the first in a long line of eccentric physicians: practitioners of phrenology and psychosurgery, believers in animal magnetism and spontaneous combustion. Menger-Anderson’s fictional take on the harsh realities of old-world medical science is at once grotesque and utterly compelling, as are her madcap characters, who desire so earnestly to find a cure — whatever the cost. Buy

The Dominant Animal: Human Evolution and the Environment
By Paul R. Ehrlich and Anne H. Ehrlich (Island Press)
In 2005 Paul Ehrlich, along with Donald Kennedy, editor-in-chief of Science, proposed that the nations of the world launch a Millennium Assessment of Human Behavior, a project intended to emphasize that changing our behavior, our “individual motives and values,” is as pivotal for long-term sustainability as tallying carbon levels and degrees of temperature rise. Ehrlich and Kennedy noted a striking disconnect between the scientific recommendations most of us can dutifully recite — arrest population growth, curb greenhouse-gas emissions, limit consumption — and the measures that we are willing to adopt in our day-to-day lives (and that our politicians are willing to endorse, perhaps especially in an election year). How, they asked, might human cultures evolve to permit the kinds of behavioral changes that bootstrap a sustainable and equitable global society? Read the full review. Buy

Eating the Sun: How Plants Power the Planet
By Oliver Morton (Harper Collins)
Oliver Morton’s Eating the Sun is a poetic account of photosynthesis. Weaving the biomechanics of sun-to-sugar into a natural history of the planet, he provides context for the current climate crisis, then considers plant-inspired alternative energies, including hydrogen-producing algae and large-scale biomass developments in the tropics. Within photosynthesis Morton finds inspiration for both an ode to nature and reason for optimism about the technologies designed to mimic it. Buy

The Endless City
Edited by Ricky Burdett and Deyan Sudjic (Phaidon)
Today, for the first time in history, more than half the world’s population lives in urban areas — a figure likely to reach 75 percent by 2050. The product of the “Urban Age” conferences, this 500-pager takes as its focal point six major world cities — New York, London, Shanghai, Johannesburg, Mexico City, and Berlin. Hundreds of color photographs, maps, designs, and statistics provide a visually arresting and comprehensive survey of the key factors in creating — and sustaining — a thriving modern metropolis.  Buy

The Hot Topic: What We Can Do About Global Warming
By Gabrielle Walker and Sir David King (Harcourt)
In The Hot Topic, former science advisor to the British government Sir David King teams up with veteran science writer Gabrielle Walker to offer perhaps the most thoughtful and scientifically rigorous work to date on how we got the Earth into this fix, and how we can help get it out. Allying with neither the do-nothing denialists, the geo-engineering technophiles, nor the orthodox environmentalists, King and Walker build a nuanced case for, above all, science-based judiciousness.  Buy

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