March 16 2015 12:00 AM

Science and Nature

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MONDAY, MARCH 16 — March is treating us well this year - far more lamb than lion, at least so far. I have friends whose tulips and crocuses (croci?) are already showing their first signs of life. Can leaves be far behind? Here's what we're reading:



SAPIENS
Yuval Noah Harari

There was a time when there were at least six different members of the human genus homo running around the planet. The particular species sapiens was a small band of hunter-gatherers tucked away in a corner of Africa, showing no particular aptitude for conquering the world and squeezing out all other branches of our extended family, while at the same time unlocking the secrets of the planet and the universe. But that's exactly what they (we) did. Mr. Harari's remarkable new book explains how, and it's a monumental and surprising story.

The giant game-changers are all here - agriculture, religion, language, empire, money, politics, science and industry - where they came from and how they changed us; but the most fascinating aspect of the book in my view was the author's clear-eyed perspective on the significant changes. He discusses at length not only what we gained in each new epoch of discovery, but also what we lost. Near the end, he looks at current scientific research into whether all we have conquered and accomplished is making our species happier and more fulfilled. A difficult question, and the journey through our whole history will show you why. kobo eBook



ANCIENT TREES: PORTRAITS OF TIME

Beth Moon

If you're a photographer and the King of Facebook starts spreading your work around, you know you've captured some intriguing images. Like his uncountable number of followers, I first became aware of Ms. Moon's amazing photos when George Takei shared her stunning portrait of a baobab tree in Madagascar. I knew I had to see more.

There were almost seventy more beautiful duotone prints to see, collected in this volume. The photographer traveled around the world to find examples of the oldest tree species still with us. As she points out, most of them are still with us because they're in inaccessible places, away from the effects of civilization. The baobabs survive on Madagasar, but are one of our most endangered species. The umbrella-shaped dragon's blood tree, named for its red sap, is found only on the archipelago known as Socotra in the Indian Ocean - also home to the even rarer cucumber tree. Indeed, some of these mysterious and fascinating giants are with us today only in protected nature preserves. If you're not free to travel to the remotest corners of the earth, these lovely photographs will introduce you to some of our oldest and most beautiful planet dwellers.



UNDENIABLE
Bill Nye

I'm certain this book is, at least in part, a follow-up to the author's highly publicized and controversial debate with the founder of the Creationist Museum, Ken Ham, last year. I remember Mr. Nye saying afterward that he didn't think the format was ideal for getting his ideas across to the general public, and that the controversy and press coverage overwhelmed the content. Here he has the stage all to himself, and makes the most of the opportunity.

Other authors have tackled the subject of evolution and creation, of course, and done so quite admirably. But none of them are The Science Guy; folksy and plainspoken, clear without being in-your-face about it. He's communicated the significance of the scientific method to kids for years on PBS, but Undeniable was written for grown-ups. He illuminates his subject for adults with the same grace, humor and sense of wonder about the universe that caused my kids (and yours, too, I'll bet) to look forward to the time spent with one of their favorite teachers. kobo eBook


Who do you read when you want to read about nature? Are you a Thoreau fan? Wendell Berry? Or does looking at a photo collection as marvelous as Beth Moon's satisfy that desire without words?

Until next time,


Neil

NeilNeil Rajala is Currently Director of Community & Business Services for Schuler Books, Neil's decade with the company has included the wearing of many different hats - and lots and lots of reading.