If you are looking to enlighten, educate or entertain someone on your gift list this holiday season, consider giving them a book or two on environmental topics. Here are some of our favorite recent titles…
For centuries, poets and philosophers extolled the benefits of a walk in the woods: Beethoven drew inspiration from rocks and trees; Wordsworth composed while tromping over the heath; and Nikola Tesla conceived the electric motor while visiting a park. Intrigued by our storied renewal in the natural world, Florence Williams set out to uncover the science behind nature’s positive effects on the brain.
The Evolution of Beauty: How Darwin’s Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal World – and Us
A major reimagining of how evolutionary forces work, revealing how mating preferences—what Darwin termed “the taste for the beautiful”—create the extraordinary range of ornament in the animal world. Yale University ornithologist Richard Prum details example after example of display traits that seem disconnected from, if not outright contrary to, selection for individual survival. To explain this, he dusts off Darwin’s long-neglected theory of sexual selection in which the act of choosing a mate for purely aesthetic reasons—for the mere pleasure of it—is an independent engine of evolutionary change.
To many, the brain is the seat of personal identity and autonomy. But the way we talk about the brain is often rooted more in mystical conceptions of the soul than in scientific fact. This blinds us to the physical realities of mental function. We ignore bodily influences on our psychology, from chemicals in the blood to bacteria in the gut, and overlook the ways that the environment affects our behavior, via factors varying from subconscious sights and sounds to the weather. As a result, we alternately overestimate our capacity for free will or equate brains to inorganic machines like computers. But a brain is neither a soul nor an electrical network: it is a bodily organ, and it cannot be separated from its surroundings. Our selves aren’t just inside our heads–they’re spread throughout our bodies and beyond. Only once we come to terms with this can we grasp the true nature of our humanity.
Solar energy, once a niche application for a limited market, has become the cheapest and fastest-growing power source on earth. What’s more, its potential is nearly limitless―every hour the sun beams down more energy than the world uses in a year. But in Taming the Sun, energy expert Varun Sivaram warns that the world is not yet equipped to harness erratic sunshine to meet most of its energy needs. And if solar’s current surge peters out, prospects for replacing fossil fuels and averting catastrophic climate change will dim. Innovation can brighten those prospects, Sivaram explains, drawing on firsthand experience and original research spanning science, business, and government.
Rigorously reported and winningly told, The Omega Principle is a powerful argument for a more deliberate and forward-thinking relationship to the food we eat and the oceans that sustain us. James Beard Award-winning author Paul Greenberg takes a closer look at the omega-3 sensation and assesses how the story of these tine molecules tells us a lot about the push-and-pull of science and business, the fate of our oceans in a human-dominated age, the explosion of land food at the expense of healthier and more sustainable seafood, and the human quest for health and long life at all costs.
As we approach a great turning point in history when technology is poised to redefine what it means to be human, The Fourth Age offers fascinating insight into AI, robotics, and their extraordinary implications for our species. Author Byron Reese provides extraordinary background information on how we got to this point, and how—rather than what—we should think about the topics we’ll soon all be facing: machine consciousness, automation, employment, creative computers, radical life extension, artificial life, AI ethics, the future of warfare, superintelligence, and the implications of extreme prosperity.