Buzz: The Nature and Necessity of Bees
by Thor Hanson.
Basic Books, 2018 ($27)
Bees have been in the spotlight since the emergence about a decade ago of a mysterious bee ailment dubbed “colony collapse disorder,” now responsible for the loss of millions of U.S. hives. The crisis brought attention to the benefits bees bring to humans, but long before they received such notice, the insects were vital to our own species. Through his engaging first-person narrative, biologist Hanson tells the full story of bees: They evolved from carnivorous wasps during the time of dinosaurs, opting for the protein-rich pollen of flowers with which they coevolved. Bees developed fuzz to better trap and transport pollen from flower to flower, and the structure of many flowers evolved to suit specific pollinators. The insects' honey has been an essential food source since the dawn of humankind and has been adapted to everything from alcohol to medicine.
Through Two Doors at Once: The Elegant Experiment That Captures the Enigma of Our Quantum Reality
by Anil Ananthaswamy.
Dutton, 2018 ($27)
“A simpler and more elegant experiment would be hard to find” is how journalist Ananthaswamy describes the double-slit experiment, one of the most important trials in the history of physics. By shooting particles at a wall with two slits cut into it, physicists revealed the dual nature of electrons, photons and other tiny bits of the cosmos as both particles and waves. Although the experiment itself is simple, with versions of it dating back to 1801, its results confound even the most brilliant scientists. It exposes the gaps in our understanding of quantum mechanics—such as why measuring what happens at the slits causes electrons to act like particles but leaving the slits alone results in wavelike behavior. This book is also a fascinating tour through the cutting-edge physics the experiment keeps on spawning. —Clara Moskowitz
The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life
by David Quammen.
Simon & Schuster, 2018 ($30)
When Charles Darwin devised his theory of natural selection, he envisaged an orderly progression of new species evolving one after another, like limbs branching out on a tree. But it turns out the tree of life is more of a tangled mess. Science writer Quammen gives a lively account of how new genetic research is upending the fundamental history of life. Genes, for example, can flit between the cells of vastly different species. The genes of eukaryotes (life-forms with cells that have an enclosed nucleus), which include humans, also contain “living ghosts” of captured bacteria. Recent work suggests eukaryotes originally descended from archaea, only recognized as a different domain of life in the 1970s, not separately from them. These discoveries blur the lines of what defines a species and raise the question of just what it means to be human. —Andrea Thompson
by Steven Weinberg.
Harvard University Press, 2018 ($25.95)
We are at a “watershed” moment in physics, Weinberg, co-winner of the 1979 Nobel Prize in Physics, said nearly 10 years ago, soon after the opening of CERN's Large Hadron Collider. (He also serves on our board of advisers.) Ten years on, that sentiment remains and is woven throughout this collection of essays, including some previously unpublished. He covers the ground nearest and dearest to him—cosmology and physics—in a 2011 review of Stephen Hawking's book The Grand Design, in which he analyzes Hawking's speculations on the nature of a multiverse. Weinberg also ventures into art theory, comparing the constraints of both art and theoretical physics (there are indeed commonalities, he argues). This collection is an easily digestible glimpse into the mind of a thoughtful scientific communicator and shows the truly all-encompassing nature of theoretical physics.