With the holidays upon us, it’s time for many of us to catch up on some of the reading that we’ve been putting off for the rest of the year due to lack of time. And, as every year, we are back with our list of recommendations for great summer science reading. As readers can experience for themselves, their summer reading sessions are getting a bit hotter every year, so we are focusing special attention on new books about climate change and the environment, without neglecting other interesting science topics.
The Heat Will Kill You First: Life and Death on a Scorched Planet, Jeff Goodell (Little, Brown and Company, 2023)
There is no concession to moderation in the latest work by Jeff Goodell, a veteran of Rolling Stone magazine’s climate journalism who previously presented us with the dire prospect of rising sea levels in The Water Will Come (2017). For Goodell, the term “global warming” sounds like beach weather; instead, the future he describes looks more like a genuine breakdown of civilisation as we know it.
The Parrot and the Igloo: Climate and the Science of Denial, David Lipsky (W.W. Norton, 2023)
The curious title of the new work by David Lipsky, an author as acclaimed for his fiction as for his essays, is based on two historical anecdotes: in 1956 The New York Times predicted that global warming would lead to parrots in Antarctica, and in 2010 a US senator built an igloo in Washington to mock climate change. In between, Lipsky frames the history of climate science and the rise of the denialist movement.
Mozart’s Starling, Lyanda Lynn Haupt (Little, Brown and Company)
Even of the great figures about whom so much has been written that it seems everything has already been said, there is always something left to tell. And if there are lessons to be learned from them, so much the better. Ornithologist Lyanda Lynn Haupt draws on the story of the starling that Mozart kept as a pet, linking it with her own experience of raising one, to defend the value of these birds, often maligned as an invasive species.
Wilding: The Return of Nature to a British Farm, Isabella Tree (Picador, 2019)
Rewilding, the restoration of former ecosystems in the places from which they have disappeared, is not only a way to conserve the natural environment and biodiversity, but also to combat climate change. Among the many current initiatives, the British author Isabella Tree recounts her own experience in the Knepp Wildland project, which has transformed 1,400 hectares of a formerly unproductive farm into a glorious natural ecosystem.
Silent Earth: Averting the Insect Apocalypse, Dave Goulson (Harper, 2021)
In 1962, biologist Rachel Carson inspired the awakening of the modern environmental movement with her book Silent Spring, which warned of the devastating effects of the insecticide DDT on birds. Insect ecologist Dave Goulson’s new book echoes Carson from the title itself, warning of the terrible domino effect of the disappearance of these small creatures so vital to the ecosystems that sustain human society.
Breathless: The Scientific Race to Defeat a Deadly Virus, David Quammen (Simon & Schuster, 2022)
During the COVID-19 pandemic, David Quammen’s Contagion, published in 2013, became one of the most important references for the reading public to understand zoonoses and the origins of epidemics. With the same style, halfway between journalistic reportage and real-life thriller, the author’s latest work stands as an essential source for chronicling the scientific race against the great health crisis of our time.
The Song of the Cell: An Exploration of Medicine and the New Human, Siddhartha Mukherjee (Scribner, 2022)
The physician, oncologist and Pulitzer Prize winner Siddhartha Mukherjee has achieved overwhelming success with his popular works in which he has explained the mysteries of cancer and genes. In his new book, he offers a transformative view of the cell, the elementary unit of life, from the history of its discovery in the 17th century to the new therapies that have restored cell biology to a prominent role in cutting-edge medicine.
American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, Kai Bird, Martin J. Sherwin (Alfred A. Knopf, 2005)
With the 2023 release of Christopher Nolan’s biopic of the controversial physicist Robert Oppenheimer, there has been renewed interest in the work that inspired the film. Originally published in 2005 and the result of 25 years of research by its authors, the book won a Pulitzer Prize and has been hailed as the definitive biography of the father of the atomic bomb.