Science Books: Top New Picks – Nature Magazine

Andrew Robinson reviews five of the week’s best science picks.

Spark

Timothy J. Jorgensen Princeton Univ. Press (2022)

The use of electricity in medicine has long been controversial, notes health physicist Timothy Jorgensen. Eighteenth-century polymath Benjamin Franklin applied shocks to paralysed muscles with temporary success. In the 1930s, neurologist Ugo Cerletti pioneered painful but effective electroconvulsive therapy for schizophrenia and depression. Yet even today, “no one is sure exactly how ECT works”, says Jorgensen in his brilliant book. Now, business magnate Elon Musk plans to implant computer chips to treat brain disorders.

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The New Fire

Ben Buchanan & Andrew Imbrie MIT Press (2022)

Artificial intelligence (AI) is not like electricity, but like fire, say Ben Buchanan and Andrew Imbrie — academic specialists in emerging technology — in their authoritative, coruscating analysis of its current and future significance. Its potential impact ranges from illuminating to catastrophic, according to three rival and sometimes overlapping views from observers whom they label “evangelists, warriors and Cassandras”. “Three sparks ignite the new fire,” say the authors: data, algorithms and computing power.

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Tomorrow’s People

Paul Morland Picador (2022)

“To most of us, the influence of demography on our future is far from obvious,” writes demographer Paul Morland. City dwellers tend to have low fertility, thereby creating an older population and eventually population decline, which could prompt migration and ethnic change, as in today’s United Kingdom — or might not, as in Japan. Morland’s careful book discusses ten indicators, one per chapter: infant mortality, population growth, urbanization, fertility, ageing, old age, population decline, ethnic change, education and food.

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Restarting the Future

Jonathan Haskel & Stian Westlake Princeton Univ. Press (2022)

In the past few decades, growth has stagnated in advanced economies. This is odd, given low interest rates, high business profits and a wide belief that we live with “dizzying technological progress”, write economists Jonathan Haskel and Stian Westlake. They argue that the old economic model based on material production fails when it comes to intangible assets — such as software, data, design and business processes — that hinge on ideas, knowledge and relationships. Financial and state institutions must update to cope.

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Inequality

Carles Lalueza-Fox MIT Press (2022)

Inequality and its origins will always preoccupy humans. In 2014, biologist Carles Lalueza-Fox led the retrieval of a genome from a European forager’s skeleton more than 7,000 years old; his later studies revealed genetic evidence of “inequality and discrimination in different times and periods”, as he describes in this significant book, written during the pandemic. He concludes by observing that COVID‑19 has had an enhanced impact on poor people, which he anticipates will feature in future genetic studies.

Waterfall Views: Reedy River In South Carolina

“Sunday Morning” takes us under waterfalls on the Reedy River near Greenville, South Carolina. Videographer: Kevin Kjergaard.

The Reedy River is a tributary of the Saluda River, about 65 miles long, in northwestern South Carolina in the United States. Via the Saluda and Congaree rivers, it is part of the watershed of the Santee River, which flows to the Atlantic Ocean.

Views: BBC Earth’s ‘Most Loved Animal Moments’

From the world’s smallest cat to death-defying impalas; these are some of BBC Earth’s most loved animal moments from the last year.

Coastal Views: Cornwall In Southwest England (8K)

Cornwall is a county on England’s rugged southwestern tip. It forms a peninsula encompassing wild moorland and hundreds of sandy beaches, culminating at the promontory Land’s End. The south coast, dubbed the Cornish Riviera, is home to picturesque harbour villages such as Fowey and Falmouth. The north coast is lined with towering cliffs and seaside resorts like Newquay, known for surfing.

City Walking Tour: Oslo – Capital Of Norway (4K)

Oslo, the capital of Norway, sits on the country’s southern coast at the head of the Oslofjord. It’s known for its green spaces and museums. Many of these are on the Bygdøy Peninsula, including the waterside Norwegian Maritime Museum and the Viking Ship Museum, with Viking ships from the 9th century. The Holmenkollbakken is a ski-jumping hill with panoramic views of the fjord. It also has a ski museum.