Books to Read Now

Seed Picks

November releases feature the mysteries of Grigori Perelman, the evolutionary origins of reading, and strategies for containing strains of flu.

Release date: Oct. 29
Buy now

Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens our Lives
By Michael Specter (The Penguin Press)

Fifty years ago, as men landed on the Moon, society saw science and technology as objective, reliable, and worthy of trust. We are not so convinced of that anymore, observes Michael Specter, a New Yorker staff writer. In chapters with titles like “Vioxx and the Fear of Science” and “The Organic Fetish,” Specter charts the rise of an anti-science attitude in America, epitomized by the exploding popularity of natural foods, homeopathy, and the anti-vaccine movement. He seeks to understand the roots of denialism in hopes of building a defense against it. This bizarre phenomenon arises, he finds, partly from our tendency to attribute what we do not understand to “big government,” “big business,” and other shadowy conspiracies—and in part from how easily we forget just how far humanity has progressed under the aegis of science.

Release date: Nov. 11
Buy now

Perfect Rigor: A Genius and the Mathematical Breakthrough of the Century
By Masha Gessen (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Grigori Perelman, the brilliant, reclusive mathematician who solved the Poincaré conjecture, turned down the Fields Medal, and subsequently stopped speaking to anyone except his mother, has baffled the world with his behavior. But Gessen, a product of the same era in Soviet mathematics, saw some familiar themes in Perelman’s life. Now, as the Clay Institute prepares to offer Perelman the Millennium Prize, Gessen has written a penetrating profile, exploring his intellectual development and drawing on extensive interviews with his teachers, mentors, and acquaintances. The strange figures and truth-seekers who frequented the math clubs, high schools, and institutes of the Iron Curtain intelligentsia come alive in this stirring account of a certain time and place that yielded a modern genius. 

Release date: Nov. 3
Buy now

Why Architecture Matters
By Paul Goldberger (Yale University Press)

“Buildings tell us what we are and what we want to be,” writes Goldberger, the New Yorker architecture critic. Goldberger looks to structures of all sorts—from the masterworks of Frank Lloyd Wright, to the Vietnam War memorial, to ordinary offices—in order to understand how architects balance the often contradictory aesthetic, artistic, and functional demands placed on their work. But perhaps the most significant accomplishment of the book is that it gives us an appreciation of the vast amount of information about ourselves encoded in the buildings we leave behind. New York townhouses of the 1800s, for instance, display the then-nascent concept of a city as a unified entity, where buildings exist not just for their inhabitants but for pedestrians, where even private homes have a public face.

Release date: Oct. 29
Buy now

Strange Maps: An Atlas of Cartographic Curiosities
By Frank Jacobs (Viking Studio)

Like an increasing number of new books, Frank Jacobs’ Strange Maps began as a blog. In 2006, he created a website devoted to being an “anti-atlas,” a compendium of bizarre and fascinating maps, including plots of mythical lands, the battle lines of a barbeque-sauce war in South Carolina, and the shorelines of mysterious lakes on Saturn’s moon Titan. By March 2009, his cartographic menagerie had garnered more than 10 million hits—and, thankfully, a book deal. Though the maps aren’t his creations, Jacobs’ curatorial and expository skills have rescued many of them from relative obscurity so that they can inspire fresh flights of fancy for readers online and off. Often educational, sometimes hilarious, and always fun, Strange Maps is an eclectic, one-of-a-kind visual feast.

Release date: Oct. 13
Buy now

Song of Two Worlds
By Alan Lightman (AK Peters)

“Electrons that weave in their willowy / Arcs, ordering the union of atoms / To make flawless crystals, to make / Every jot of amoebas and stars, / Each of my breaths in this instant. / And this is a thing I believe.” In a book filled with such introspective verse, physicist, novelist, and essayist Alan Lightman probes the connections between physical surroundings and inner states of mind. Through the eyes of an anonymous Islamic protagonist, this book-length poem weaves personal history (“I rise from my bed, middle aged”) with a sweeping grasp of scientific complexity (“Three billion steps folded thousands of times, / Going nowhere yet leading to all) as the speaker first turns to science, and then to philosophy and history, in search of something to believe in.

Release date: Oct. 11
Buy now

The Origin Then and Now: An Interpretive Guide to the Origin of Species
By David N. Reznick (Princeton University Press)

On the Origin of Species—groundbreaking, revered, and ponderous—is a classic in the Twainian sense: a book everyone wants to have read and no one wants to read. Now, this absorbing guide gives you an expert walkthrough of the most important tract in modern biology. Reznick, a professor at UC Riverside, succeeds where others have failed—instead of annotating the dense, Victorian prose of the Origin or recasting it as a popular narrative, he paraphrases each chapter of the book, adding fascinating elaborations on why Darwin chose a certain phrase, where he turned out to be wrong, and how the intervening 150 years have changed our theories. His account is a welcome tool for those who’d like to hear evolution from Darwin himself but find the master impenetrable.

Release date: Oct. 15
Buy now

Breeding Bio Insecurity: How US Biodefense is Exporting Fear, Globalizing Risk, and Making Us All Less Secure
By Lynn C. Klotz and Edward J. Sylvester
(University of Chicago Press)

A passionate polemic on emergency preparedness in the American public health system, Breeding Bio Insecurity is the second collaboration between biotechnology policy expert Klotz and science journalist Sylvester, who co-authored the Pulitzer Prize–nominated The Gene Age more than 25 years ago. While the duo spend ample time detailing the failures of various reactionary biodefense plans, they keep returning to a basic, crucial cost benefit analysis: consequences x likelihood = risk. If we spend billions on averting a very deadly but very unlikely bioterror attack, we do so at the expense of those who will very likely die of common natural biological agents. With the toll of the H1N1 flu just beginning to become apparent, the authors’ timing—unfortunately for us—could not be better.

Release date: Nov. 12
Buy now

Reading in the Brain: The Science and Evolution of a Human Invention
By Stanislis Dehaene (Viking)

Picture a series of shapes, aligned in rows. They may vary widely in size, shape, style, and position. Yet in a fraction of a second, in less time than it takes to form a conscious thought, we identify these as strings of letters and extract from them a world of meaning. How have our brains—primate organs, shaped by millions of years of survival-dependent evolution—so quickly adapted to this relatively new, highly complicated task? This is the question cognitive neuroscientist Stanislis Dehaene seeks to answer in this definitive account of the brain circuitry behind reading and the culture that shaped it. Combining research and narrative, Dehaene weaves a fascinating explanation of how the prefrontal cortex co-opted primeval neurological pathways to learn a uniquely human skill.

Release date: Nov. 2
Buy now

Eating Animals
By Jonathan Safran Foer (Little, Brown and Company)

The rambling lyricism of Foer’s Everything is Illuminated is alive and well in his first foray into reportage, in which he explores the daily acts of forgetfulness that accompany the carnivorous lifestyle and his own struggles on the way to meatlessness. Though Foer, like others before him, concludes that factory farming is a crime against humanity as well as against our fellow vertebrates—it contributes to water pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and biodiversity loss, and is a perfect venue for lethal viruses and bacteria to develop—his account goes beyond the usual veggie invective. Foer’s book is not an attempt to guilt-trip meat lovers into eating plants. It is, in fact, a deeply personal journey—one he feels every person should make—in order to know what is really at stake when he puts a piece of meat into his mouth or the mouths of his children.

Release date: Nov. 12
Buy now

The Fatal Strain: On the Trail of Avian Flu and the Coming Pandemic
By Alan Sipress (Viking)

According to Alan Sipress, former Asia correspondent for the Washington Post, the flu is more dangerous than we realize. Each year, up to 20 percent of the population gets influenza and some 36,000 Americans die from it. But even more dangerous than seasonal flu are the newly mutated strains, such as H5N1 in 1997 and H1N1 in 2009, which have not yet adapted to keep their hosts alive. In this masterfully paced, gripping work of popular epidemiology, Sipress calls for a defensive strategy against new flu viruses that involves better collaboration between local and international governments and an understanding of the cultural differences that may stand in the way of containing an epidemic.

Originally published November 2, 2009


Share this Stumbleupon Reddit Email + More


  • Ideas

    I Tried Almost Everything Else

    John Rinn, snowboarder, skateboarder, and “genomic origamist,” on why we should dumpster-dive in our genomes and the inspiration of a middle-distance runner.

  • Ideas

    Going, Going, Gone

    The second most common element in the universe is increasingly rare on Earth—except, for now, in America.

  • Ideas

    Earth-like Planets Aren’t Rare

    Renowned planetary scientist James Kasting on the odds of finding another Earth-like planet and the power of science fiction.

The Seed Salon

Video: conversations with leading scientists and thinkers on fundamental issues and ideas at the edge of science and culture.

Are We Beyond the Two Cultures?

Video: Seed revisits the questions C.P. Snow raised about science and the humanities 50 years by asking six great thinkers, Where are we now?

Saved by Science

Audio slideshow: Justine Cooper's large-format photographs of the collections behind the walls of the American Museum of Natural History.

The Universe in 2009

In 2009, we are celebrating curiosity and creativity with a dynamic look at the very best ideas that give us reason for optimism.

Revolutionary Minds
The Interpreters

In this installment of Revolutionary Minds, five people who use the new tools of science to educate, illuminate, and engage.

The Seed Design Series

Leading scientists, designers, and architects on ideas like the personal genome, brain visualization, generative architecture, and collective design.

The Seed State of Science

Seed examines the radical changes within science itself by assessing the evolving role of scientists and the shifting dimensions of scientific practice.

A Place for Science

On the trail of the haunts, homes, and posts of knowledge, from the laboratory to the field.


Witness the science. Stunning photographic portfolios from the pages of Seed magazine.

SEEDMAGAZINE.COM by Seed Media Group. ©2005-2015 Seed Media Group LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Sites by Seed Media Group: Seed Media Group | ScienceBlogs | Research Blogging | SEEDMAGAZINE.COM