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.
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.
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…
7-minute read keywords: climate change, ecology, popular science
If you had asked me last week how animals and plants will respond to climate change, I probably would have told you that they are expected to move towards the poles, shifting their home ranges as temperatures rise. This is indeed one possible response, but the challenges and opportunities for organisms are far more diverse and unpredictable. Biologist Thor Hanson has previously written much-praised books on feathers, seeds, and bees. Here, he gives a well-structured and terribly interesting whistle-stop tour of the nascent field of climate change biology and some of the fascinating research that is underway.
4-minute read keywords: paleontology, popular science
When it comes to popular science books, some of the books I admire most are the smallest ones. It takes great skill to capture the essence of a subject into a short book, steer clear of well-trodden ground, and contribute something novel that will educate and enthuse your reader. Palaeontologist and science communicator Dean Lomax here collects ten short essays on dinosaurs, convincingly showing that good things come in small packages.
Given my academic background, I often overlook the fact that fossils are not just objects of scientific study, but also sought-after collectables. While the previously reviewed Trilobite! by Richard Fortey focused on the former aspect, Andy Secher’s Travels with Trilobites combines an enthusiastic insider’s perspective of the world of trilobite collectors with photography of his extensive collection. This, then, is the second of a two-part dive into the world of that most enigmatic extinct creature: the trilobite.
8-minute read keywords: ethology, popular science, sensory biology
Imagine you are a Pulitzer Prize–winning science journalist for your reporting on the pandemic for The Atlantic. What do you do in your downtime? How about cranking out a New York Times bestseller? An Immense World is a multisensory exploration of the many ways in which animals perceive their environment. Some of these senses are familiar to us, others are utterly alien, all of them reveal that the world humans perceive through their senses is only a slice of a much larger world.