Fascinating Stories: Science and Nature
Posted on January 23, 2017
There’s been a renaissance in books and films on nature and science lately. Fascinating stories written and filmed by highly skilled writers and documentarians make learning an entertaining experience like never before.
Here’s just a small sample highlighting what you can find at the library:
Science and Nature Stories
More Science and Nature Books
|Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness and Family Secrets by Luke Dittrich
Formats: Print | Audiobook | eBook
In the summer of 1953, a renowned Yale neurosurgeon named William Beecher Scoville performed a novel operation on a 27-year-old epileptic patient named Henry Molaison, drilling two silver-dollar sized holes in his forehead and suctioning out a few teaspoons of tissue from a mysterious region deep inside his brain. The operation helped control Molaison’s intractable seizures, but it also did something else: It left Molaison amnesic for the rest of his life, with a short term memory of just thirty seconds. Patient H.M., as he came to be known, would emerge as the most important human research subject in history. Much of what we now know about how memory works is a direct result of the sixty years of near-constant experimentation carried out upon him until his death in 2008. Award-winning journalist Luke Dittrich brings readers from the gleaming laboratory in San Diego where Molaison’s disembodied brain — now the focus of intense scrutiny — sits today; to the surgical suites of the 1940s and 50s, where doctors wielded the powers of gods; and into the examination rooms where generations of researchers performed endless experiments on a single, essential, oblivious man: H.M.. In the process, Dittrich excavates the lives of Dr. Scoville and his most famous patient, and spins their tales together in thrilling, kaleidoscopic fashion, uncovering troves of well-guarded secrets, and revealing how the bright future of modern neuroscience has dark roots in the forgotten history of psychosurgery, raising ethical questions that echo into the present day.
|The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee
Formats: Print | Audiobook | eBook | eAudiobook
The extraordinary Siddhartha Mukherjee has a written a biography of the gene as deft, brilliant, and illuminating as his extraordinarily successful biography of cancer. Weaving science, social history, and personal narrative to tell us the story of one of the most important conceptual breakthroughs of modern times, Mukherjee animates the quest to understand human heredity and its surprising influence on our lives, personalities, identities, fates, and choices. Throughout the narrative, the story of Mukherjee’s own family—with its tragic and bewildering history of mental illness—cuts like a bright, red line, reminding us of the many questions that hang over our ability to translate the science of genetics from the laboratory to the real world. In superb prose and with an instinct for the dramatic scene, he describes the centuries of research and experimentation—from Aristotle and Pythagoras to Mendel and Darwin, from Boveri and Thomas Morgan to Crick, Watson and Rosa Franklin, all the way through the revolutionary twenty-first century innovators who mapped the human genome. As The New Yorker said of The Emperor of All Maladies, “It’s hard to think of many books for a general audience that have rendered any area of modern science and technology with such intelligence, accessibility, and compassion…An extraordinary achievement.” Riveting, revelatory, and magisterial history of a scientific idea coming to life, and an essential preparation for the moral complexity introduced by our ability to create or “write” the human genome, The Gene is a must-read for everyone concerned about the definition and future of humanity. This is the most crucial science of our time, intimately explained by a master.
|Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli
Formats: Print | Audiobook | eBook | eAudiobook
In Seven Brief Lessons, Italian theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli guides readers with admirable clarity through the most transformative physics breakthroughs of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. This playful, entertaining and mind-bending introduction to modern physics, already a major bestseller in Italy, explains general relativity, quantum mechanics, elementary particles, gravity, black holes, the complex architecture of the universe, and the role of humans in the strange world Rovelli describes. This is a book about the joy of discovery. It takes readers to the frontiers of our knowledge: to the most minute reaches of the fabric of space, back to the origins of the cosmos, and into the workings of our minds. “Here, on the edge of what we know, in contact with the ocean of the unknown, shines the mystery and the beauty of the world,” Rovelli writes. “And it’s breathtaking.”
|The Lion in the Living Room: How Cats Tamed Us and Took Over the World by Abigail Tucker
Cats are incredible creatures: they can eat practically anything and live almost anywhere. Tracing their rise from prehistory to the modern cat craze, Abigail Tucker presents an adventure through history, natural science, and pop culture. With keen reporting and lively wit, Tucker investigates the way house cats have used their relationship with humans to become one of the most powerful animals on the planet.
|Hidden Life of Trees: What they Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World by Peter Wohlleben
Are trees social beings? In this international bestseller, forester and author Peter Wohlleben convincingly makes the case that, yes, the forest is a social network. He draws on groundbreaking scientific discoveries to describe how trees are like human families: tree parents live together with their children, communicate with them, support them as they grow, share nutrients with those who are sick or struggling, and even warn each other of impending dangers. Wohlleben also shares his deep love of woods and forests, explaining the amazing processes of life, death, and regeneration he has observed in his woodland.
|I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes within Us and a Grander View of Life by Ed Yong
This book lets us peer into the world of microbes — not as germs to be eradicated, but as invaluable parts of our lives — allowing us to see how ubiquitous and vital microbes are: they sculpt our organs, defend us from disease, break down our food, educate our immune systems, guide our behavior, bombard our genomes with their genes, and grant us incredible abilities. While much of the prevailing discussion around the microbiome has focused on its implications for human health, Yong broadens this focus to the entire animal kingdom, prompting us to look at ourselves and our fellow animals in a new light: less as individuals and more as the interconnected, interdependent multitudes we are. I Contain Multitudes is the story of extraordinary partnerships between the familiar creatures of our world and those we never knew existed. It will change both our view of nature and our sense of where we belong in it.
|The Invention of Nature: Alexander Von Humboldt’s New World by Andrea Wulf
Formats: Print | eBook | eAudiobook
The acclaimed author of The Brother Gardeners and Founding Gardeners reveals the forgotten life of the visionary German naturalist whose ideas continue to influence how we view ourselves and our relationship with the natural world today. Alexander von Humboldt (1769 – 1859) was an intrepid explorer and the most famous scientist of his age. His restless life was packed with adventure and discovery, whether climbing the highest volcanoes in the world or racing through anthrax-infested Siberia. He came up with a radical vision of nature, that it was a complex and interconnected global force and did not exist for man’s use alone. Ironically, his ideas have become so accepted and widespread that he has been nearly forgotten. Now Andrea Wulf brings the man and his achievements back into focus: his investigation of wild environments around the world; his discoveries of similarities between climate zones on different continents; his prediction of human-induced climate change; his remarkable ability to fashion poetic narrative out of scientific observation; and his relationships with iconic figures such as Simón Bolívar and Thomas Jefferson. Wulf examines how his writings inspired other naturalists and poets such as Wordsworth, Darwin, and Goethe, and she makes the compelling case that it was Humboldt’s influence on John Muir that led him to his ideas of preservation and that shaped Thoreau’s Walden. Humboldt was the most interdisciplinary of scientists and is the forgotten father of environmentalism. With this brilliantly researched and compellingly written book, she makes clear the myriad, fundamental ways that Humboldt created our understanding of the natural world.
|The Weather Experiment: The Pioneers Who Sought to See the Future by Peter Moore
In 1865 Admiral Robert FitzRoy locked himself in his dressing room and cut his throat. His grand meteorological project had failed. Yet only a decade later, FitzRoy’s storm warning system and “forecasts” would return, the model for what we use today.
In an age when a storm at sea was evidence of God’s wrath, nineteenth-century meteorologists had to fight against convention and religious dogma. Buoyed by the achievements of the Enlightenment, a generation of mavericks set out to decipher the secrets of the atmosphere and predict the future. Among them were Luke Howard, the first to classify clouds; Francis Beaufort, who quantified the winds; James Glaisher, who explored the upper atmosphere in a hot-air balloon; Samuel Morse, whose electric telegraph gave scientists the means by which to transmit weather warnings; and FitzRoy himself, master sailor, scientific pioneer, and founder of the U.K.’s national weather service.
Reputations were built and shattered. Fractious debates raged over decades between scientists from London and Galway, Paris and New York. Explaining the atmosphere was one thing, but predicting what it was going to do seemed a step too far. In 1854, when a politician suggested to the Commons that Londoners might soon know the weather twenty-four hours in advance, the House roared with laughter.
Peter Moore’s The Weather Experiment navigates treacherous seas and rough winds to uncover the obsession that drove these men to great invention and greater understanding.
|What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe
Formats: Print | eBook | eAudiobook
Millions of people visit xkcd.com each week to read Randall Munroe’s iconic webcomic. His stick-figure drawings about science, technology, language, and love have a large and passionate following. Fans of xkcd ask Munroe a lot of strange questions. What if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90 percent the speed of light? How fast can you hit a speed bump while driving and live? If there was a robot apocalypse, how long would humanity last? In pursuit of answers, Munroe runs computer simulations, pores over stacks of declassified military research memos, solves differential equations, and consults with nuclear reactor operators. His responses are masterpieces of clarity and hilarity, complemented by signature xkcd comics. They often predict the complete annihilation of humankind, or at least a really big explosion. The book features new and never-before-answered questions, along with updated and expanded versions of the most popular answers from the xkcd website. What If? will be required reading for xkcd fans and anyone who loves to ponder the hypothetical.
|Our Mathematical Universe by Max Tegmark
Formats: Print | eAudiobook
Max Tegmark leads us on an astonishing journey through past, present, and future, and through the physics, astronomy and mathematics that are the foundation of his work, most particularly his hypothesis that our physical reality is a mathematical structure and his theory of the ultimate multiverse. In a dazzling combination of both popular and ground-breaking science, he not only helps us grasp his often mind-boggling theories (his website gives a flavor of how they might boggle the mind), but he also shares with us some of the often surprising triumphs and disappointments that have shaped his life as a scientist. Fascinating from first to last–here is a book for the full science-reading spectrum.
|The World Without Us by Alan Weisman
Formats: Print | Audiobook | eAudiobook
A penetrating, page-turning tour of a post-human Earth.
In The World Without Us, Alan Weisman offers an utterly original approach to questions of humanity’s impact on the planet: he asks us to envision our Earth, without us.
In this far-reaching narrative, Weisman explains how our massive infrastructure would collapse and finally vanish without human presence; which everyday items may become immortalized as fossils; how copper pipes and wiring would be crushed into mere seams of reddish rock; why some of our earliest buildings might be the last architecture left; and how plastic, bronze sculpture, radio waves, and some man-made molecules may be our most lasting gifts to the universe.
The World Without Us reveals how, just days after humans disappear, floods in New York’s subways would start eroding the city’s foundations, and how, as the world’s cities crumble, asphalt jungles would give way to real ones. It describes the distinct ways that organic and chemically treated farms would revert to wild, how billions more birds would flourish, and how cockroaches in unheated cities would perish without us. Drawing on the expertise of engineers, atmospheric scientists, art conservators, zoologists, oil refiners, marine biologists, astrophysicists, religious leaders from rabbis to the Dali Lama, and paleontologists—who describe a prehuman world inhabited by megafauna like giant sloths that stood taller than mammoths—Weisman illustrates what the planet might be like today, if not for us.
From places already devoid of humans (a last fragment of primeval European forest; the Korean DMZ; Chernobyl), Weisman reveals Earth’s tremendous capacity for self-healing. As he shows which human devastations are indelible, and which examples of our highest art and culture would endure longest, Weisman’s narrative ultimately drives toward a radical but persuasive solution that needn’t depend on our demise. It is narrative nonfiction at its finest, and in posing an irresistible concept with both gravity and a highly readable touch, it looks deeply at our effects on the planet in a way that no other book has.
|In Search of Thomas Browne: The Life and Afterlife of the Seventeenth Century’s Most Inquiring Mind by Hugh Aldersey-Williams
Formats: Print | eAudiobook
The extraordinary life and ideas of one of the greatest–and most neglected–minds in history. Sir Thomas Browne (1605-1682) was an English writer, physician, and philosopher whose work has inspired everyone from Ralph Waldo Emerson to Jorge Luis Borges, Virginia Woolf to Stephen Jay Gould. In an intellectual adventure like Sarah Bakewell’s book about Montaigne, How to Live, Hugh Aldersey-Williams sets off not just to tell the story of Browne’s life but to champion his skeptical nature and inquiring mind. Mixing botany, etymology, medicine, and literary history, Aldersey-Williams journeys in his hero’s footsteps to introduce us to witches, zealots, natural wonders, and fabulous creatures of Browne’s time and ours. We meet Browne the master prose stylist, responsible for introducing hundreds of words into English, including electricity, hallucination, and suicide. Aldersey-Williams reveals how Browne’s preoccupations–how to disabuse the credulous of their foolish beliefs, what to make of order in nature, how to unite science and religion–are relevant today. In Search of Sir Thomas Browne is more than just a biography–it is a cabinet of wonders and an argument that Browne, standing at the very gates of modern science, remains an inquiring mind for our own time. As Stephen Greenblatt has written, Browne is “unnervingly one of our most adventurous contemporaries.
|Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks
Formats: Print | Audiobook | Playaway | eBook | eAudiobook
An investigation into the types, physiological sources, and cultural resonances of hallucinations traces everything from the disorientations of sleep and intoxication to the manifestations of injury and illness.
|The Human Age: The World Shaped By Us by Diane Ackerman
Formats: Print | eAudiobook
Ackerman is justly celebrated for her unique insight into the natural world and our place in it. In this landmark book, she confronts the unprecedented reality that one prodigiously intelligent and meddlesome creature, Homo sapiens, is now the dominant force shaping the future of planet Earth.Humans have “subdued 75 percent of the land surface, concocted a wizardry of industrial and medical marvels, strung lights all across the darkness.” We tinker with nature at every opportunity; we garden the planet with our preferred species of plants and animals, many of them invasive; and we have even altered the climate, threatening our own extinction. Yet we reckon with our own destructive capabilities in extraordinary acts of hope-filled creativity: we collect the DNA of vanishing species in a “frozen ark,” equip orangutans with iPads, and create wearable technologies and synthetic species that might one day outsmart us. With her distinctive gift for making scientific discovery intelligible to the layperson, Ackerman takes us on an exhilarating journey through our new reality, introducing us to many of the people and ideas now creating—perhaps saving—our future and that of our fellow creatures.A beguiling, optimistic engagement with the changes affecting every part of our lives, The Human Age is a wise and beautiful book that will astound, delight, and inform intelligent life for a long time to come.
Science and Nature DVDs
Looking for more on the topics above? Search the catalog using the following terms:
- Cats — History
- Civilization — History
- Climatologists — Biography
- Cosmology — Mathematics
- Dogs — Psychology
- Environmental conservation
- Genetics — History
- Human-animal relationships
- Human beings — History
- Human Ecology
- Human-plant relationships
- Man and Nature
- Mathematical physics
- Meteorologists — Biography
- Meteorology — History
- Naturalists — Biography
- Nature — Effect of human beings on
- Perception in animals
- Science, Ancient
- Science, Medieval
- Science — History
- Science — Methodology — History
- Scientists — Biography
- Weather forecasting — History
Did you like this blog post? Keep up to date with all of our posts by subscribing to the Library’s newsletters!