Viruses are possibly even more maligned than bacteria, spoken of exclusively in terms of disease. Here, virologist Marilyn J. Roossinck ranges far beyond human pathogens to convince you how narrow that picture is. She instead reveals them as enigmatic entities that are intimately entwined with the entirety of Earth’s biosphere, exploiting and enabling it in equal measure. Backed by numerous infographics, the book alternates between chapters on basic principles of virology and brief portraits of noteworthy viruses. The result is an entry-level introduction to virology that fascinated me more than I expected.
7-minute read keywords: microbiology, popular science
As the invisible glue that holds the world together, microbes might well be some of the most underappreciated life forms on our planet. While the previous review of The Curious World of Bacteria dealt with “the who” by discussing fifty noteworthy bacteria, Invisible Friends deals with “the what and how” by discussing the many beneficial and vital roles microbes play in our lives. This is an enthusiastic and hopeful romp through microbiology that encourages readers to rethink their relationship with nature and see themselves as embedded in it. Keep your critical thinking caps at hand though, as the book gets starry-eyed in places.
Bacteria might well be some of the most underappreciated lifeforms on our planet. With this book, former microbiologist and current science communicator Ludger Wess introduces fifty different bacteria to show how they are much, much more than just pathogens. With short, bite-sized chapters, this is a popular science introduction to microbiology that you can dip into at any time.
This is the second of a two-part dive into the world of extinct marine reptiles, following on from my review of Darren Naish’s new book Ancient Sea Reptiles. These two books were in the making simultaneously, with The Princeton Field Guide to Mesozoic Sea Reptiles by independent palaeontologist and palaeoartist Gregory S. Paul making it into print four months before Naish’s book. If a field guide to extinct creatures sounds unusual, think of it as an illustrated guide for the palaeo-enthusiast that revolves around Paul’s signature skeletal reconstructions.
The marine reptiles that roam Earth’s oceans today are but a whisper of a once vast and varied group of marine reptiles that included plesiosaurs, ichthyosaurs, and mosasaurs. As palaeontologist Darren Naish shows here, there were many more, less-familiar organisms and the evolutionary history of the group as a whole is fascinating. Ancient Sea Reptiles is a richly illustrated introduction to their biology and taxonomic diversity that hits the sweet spot when it comes to scientific content, offering a substantive read. Books are a bit like buses: you wait forever and then suddenly two come along. After a dearth of books on this topic, Ancient Sea Reptiles was published just four months after Gregory S. Paul’s The Princeton Field Guide to Mesozoic Sea Reptiles. This, then, is the first of two reviews that takes a deep dive into the world of these extinct marine reptiles.
I admit that I was excited when the University of Pittsburgh Press announced this beast. An 811-page environmental history that argues that our current predicament is not a one-way ticket to sudden collapse but rather death by a thousand cuts? I am game, but perhaps I am just strange that way. In The Vortex, professor of environmental humanities Frank Uekötter fully leans into the messy nature of history by imagining it as a vortex with all its twists, turns, and crosscurrents. Eschewing linear narrative in favour of forty judiciously chosen examples of historical events or developments, this is an ambitious, slightly intimidating, but ultimately edifying book. One potential problem though: The Vortex follows just one month after Bloomsbury released their environmental history blockbuster The Earth Transformed. Since this might fly under people’s radar, I decided to read them back to back. This, then, is the second of a two-part review of two brand-new behemoths that discuss the impact that humans and the environment have had on each other.
8-minute read keywords: climate change, environmental history
After writing two history bestsellers, The Silk Roads in 2015 and The New Silk Roads in 2018, professor of global history Peter Frankopan now turns his attention to environmental history. Bloomsbury is gunning for another bestseller and has thrown the full weight of its marketing machine behind it; you will have been hard-pressed to miss The Earth Transformed if you have visited a UK bookshop recently. Amidst all this, it is easy to overlook that another voluminous environmental history title was released almost simultaneously by the University of Pittsburgh Press: Frank Uekötter’s The Vortex. This, then, is the first of a two-part review of two brand-new behemoths that discuss the impact that humans and the environment have had on each other.
Like every other species on the planet, humans suffer from infectious diseases caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microorganisms. What sets us apart is a set of nifty tricks—the fruits of several centuries of scientific and medical advances—that allow us to strike back and gain a measure of control. And yet, as Norwegian professor of medicine Stig S. Frøland writes, this is a duel without end: we can win many battles, but we will never win the war. This book, driven by his interest in history and backed by his medical expertise, provides a good all-round introduction to the history of infectious diseases and the many ways in which we have sought to prevent and cure them.
You would think that wildlife conservation organisations are a force for good in the world. Yet, despite their undoubtedly best intentions today, historian Guillaume Blanc argues that colonialist shadows still loom large over their actions and ideas. The Invention of Green Colonialism is a searing critique of wildlife conservation in Africa. Establishing national parks often means the forced eviction of poor people, all to recreate an unspoilt version of African nature that never existed in the first place. This thought-provoking book has already ruffled quite some feathers but forces critical reflection.
When done well, palaeoart represents one of the finest examples of science and art intersecting. As a genre, it continues to advance and reinvent itself, especially in its professionalism and scientific accuracy. Mesozoic Art might represent Bloomsbury’s entry into this market but the book has two experienced editors at the helm. Artist Steve White and palaeozoologist Darren Naish both have more than their fair share of producing and thinking about palaeoart. Featuring twenty artists, Mesozoic Art is a gorgeously produced, large-format portfolio that shows palaeoart at its current pinnacle. For lovers of dinosaur illustrations, this book is a no-brainer, and I imagine that many will have already gone ahead and purchased it. But just in case you still need convincing…