Profiles of planet-saving entrepreneurs, an Oxford physicist's unintimidating look at antimatter, a science-driven obesity doc.

The Eco Barons: The Dreamers, Schemers, and Millionaires Who Are Saving Our Planet
By Edward Humes (Ecco)
For $600,000 — less than the price of a many Manhattan apartments — you can buy 100 square kilometers of Chilean Patagonia. When scruffy mountain climber-turned billionaire CEO Doug Tompkins first heard this, something deep within him stirred; he soon began plowing profits from Esprit, a company he cofounded, into conservation parks. As Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Humes recounts, Tompkins and other “eco barons” like him compose a new generation of philanthropists who do not seek financial gain from their planet-saving entrepreneurship, but rather a redefinition of what we count as valuable.
March 3 | Buy

The Ego Tunnel
By Thomas Metzinger (Basic Books)
Metzinger, a German cognitive scientist, philosopher, and leader in consciousness studies, argues that our sense of “self” is a virtual reality created by our brains — and that we perceive only a small fraction of what actually exists. Calling on experiments in neuroscience, like the rubber-hand illusion, to buttress his largely philosophical argument, Metzinger also includes Q&A’s with experts such as neurophysiologist Wolf Singer and physiologist Vittorio Gallese. The result, likely to incite ardent rebuttal, is a bold recasting of subjective experience.
March 16 | Buy

By Frank Close (Oxford University Press)
The concept of antimatter is still strange, but it’s far less opaque after a read through Oxford physicist Frank Close’s compact, surprisingly unintimidating book. The nuanced mini-chapters on the behavior of positrons (small particles of antimatter), the lingering mysteries of the Big Bang (where antimatter dominated), and present-day science at CERN (where antimatter has been successfully created, stored, and destroyed) are awe-inspiring and very real — and therefore more provocative than recent headlines hyping antimatter as the ultimate WMP or an endless alternative energy source.
March 30 | Buy

Killer at Large
Produced and directed by Steven Greenstreet (Shinebox Media Productions)
A cartoon paleo-human chases its prey across the screen early in this distressing and engrossing documentary that reframes the obesity epidemic as a societal problem. Explaining first the science — that we’re evolutionarily hardwired to seek out high-fat, high-energy foods — the film goes on to argue that our biology has met with bad food policy and pervading cultural attitudes (obesity is the fault of weak individuals) to produce a lethal combination. Tell that to the 200-pound 12-year-old getting liposuction in the opening scene.
March 31 | Buy

Life List: A Woman’s Quest for the World’s Most Amazing Birds
By Olivia Gentile (Bloomsbury)
As much about meaningful living as about sparrows and chickadees, this intimate piece of reportage follows Phoebe Snetsinger, a housewife who in the 1960s takes refuge from banality in bird watching. Gradually sacrificing family ties and personal safety in her quest to see 8,000 birds before dying, she becomes a mythic figure among birders and leads Gentile to ruminate on how obsession with the natural world — so often touted as a scientist’s best asset — can be destructive as well as fulfilling.
March 31 | Buy

The Universe Collector’s Edition Megaset
Produced by The History Channel
It’s been some 13.7 billion years since the big bang, and it will be unthinkably longer before our universe could be said to have ended. Consequently, any “biography” of the cosmos that manages to squeeze such immensities of time and space into a single presentation must be applauded. Comprising two complete seasons of The Universe, the documentary series The Planets, and four stand-alone documentaries, this 14-DVD collector’s edition establishes a gold standard for breadth and accuracy in visualizing the universe.
February 24 | Buy

Originally published March 2, 2009


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