Ditch the romance novels and detective stories, and lie on the beach reading one of these summer releases recommended by the editors of Seed.

Storm World
By Chris Mooney (Harcourt)
In his second book, Chris Mooney, Seed‘s Washington correspondent and a native of New Orleans, trains his shrewd journalistic skills on the complex scientific and political backstory of American climate research. As he did with White House science policy in his 2005 bestseller, The Republican War on Science, Mooney focuses on political spin, scientific ego, and the underlying facts. This time, he examines one of the most contentious debates bearing on US science policy: Is man-made climate change creating bigger, more powerful, and more destructive hurricanes?

Weaving together multiple narratives, Storm World follows Kerry Emanuel and William Gray, the two most prominent meteorologists on both sides of the argument, and shows how both climate science and policy have evolved with each new stitch of evidence. It’s a fascinating and highly relevant insight into the process of scientific research, political influence, and ultimately, the mechanisms of our democracy at this moment of tremendous historical import.

A Tranquil Star
By Primo Levi, translated by Ann Goldstein and Alessandra Bastagli (W. W. Norton)
An unfortunate consequence of the well-deserved clamor over Primo Levi’s Holocaust memoirs is that much of his other writing has been overlooked, particularly among English-language readers. Nearly all the newly translated stories in this collection glow with the brilliance of a master storyteller, and three in particular (“The Molecule’s Defiance,” “The Magic Paint,” and the title story) incorporate the elegant treatments of scientific complexity for which Levi, a former chemist, is beloved by scientists.

The Richness of Life
Edited by Steven Rose (W. W. Norton)
As a science writer, Stephen Jay Gould had a way with metaphor. He could coax a lesson about evolutionary process out of the most disparate detail from art, architecture, or baseball. That virtuosity made the paleontologist and Harvard professor one of the most beloved science popularizers of the 20th century. The nearly 650 pages of writing collected here introduce Gould’s lifetime of influential thought in his own celebrated literary style.

Faust in Copenhagen
By Gino Segrè (Viking)
In 1932, in Copenhagen, a group of young physicists parodied their distinguished mentors in a play modeled after Goethe’s Faust. Gino Segrè eloquently sets the stage for this production, explaining the history that led to it and the fallout that followed as the pall of war forever changed those in attendance. The result is a beautiful work of scientific history and a magisterial look into the psyche of a discipline.

Gut Feelings
By Gerd Gigerenzer (Viking)
How do CIA agents “instinctively” identify suspects in large crowds? Why do “snap decisions” often turn out better than extensively researched ones? Because, says Gerd Gigerenzer, gut feelings have a logic all their own. Going beyond Gladwell’s Blink to reveal the evolutionary basis of intuition, Gigerenzer, director of the Center for Adaptive Behavior and Cognition at the Max Planck Institute, explains how the human brain uses cognitive shortcuts to make sense of a complex world.

Courage for the Earth
Edited by Peter Matthiessen (Houghton Mifflin)
Environmentalist, writer, zoologist, civil servant—Rachel Carson wore many hats in her lifetime. This collection celebrates exactly that, with essays ranging from the sweeping cultural-historical (E.O. Wilson) to the intimately personal (Robert Michael Pyle), to the politically instructive (Al Gore). Though the famously demure Carson would probably have been embarrassed by the lengthy praise, this synthesis of eclectic voices is a fitting tribute to a woman who taught the world to see things as a whole.

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The World Without Us
By Alan Weisman (St. Martin’s Press)
What would happen if humans disappeared from the Earth tomorrow? What remnants of our existence would decay, persevere, or flourish? To investigate these questions, Alan Weisman embarks on a global journey that takes him from Poland’s primordial forests to Korea’s DMZ. He presents plenty of jaw-dropping facts that illuminate our impact on the Earth’s biosphere, but his real revelation is how quickly the natural world could recover—if given the chance.

Why Beauty Is Truth
By Ian Stewart (Basic Books)
Ian Stewart has been publishing good popular accounts of math and mathematicians for several years. With this new book, he is completely comfortable with his subject and at the height of his powers. This tale takes us through the remarkably sordid history of group theory, a somewhat abstract branch of mathematics that has fostered the notion that symmetry and beauty are paramount to our understanding of the world. The result is a surprising intellectual romp that is itself quite beautiful.

The First Word
By Christine Kenneally (Viking)
Studying the origin of language was once thought to be such a useless endeavor, so unlikely to yield definitive answers, that scientific societies actually forbade it. But today, armed with new neuroscientific, genetic, and computational tools, scientists are seeking answers. Christine Kenneally deftly traces this ideological shift, weaving history with hard science, to provide an expansive account of what we know about the beginnings of language and how we came to know it.

Cover photographs by Mark Weiss

Originally published July 8, 2007


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