Karl Deisseroth Random House (2021)
“I still value literature as much as science in thinking about the mind,” writes bioengineer and psychiatrist Karl Deisseroth, co-inventor of optogenetics. His scintillating and moving analysis of the human brain and emotions, based on observations of his patients, proves he is not exaggerating. It is also a great read. Young Deisseroth was inspired to follow psychiatry by a chance encounter with a patient who abused him with novel words — including one resembling ‘telmetale’, a word invented by James Joyce.
Minerva’s French Sisters
Nina Rattner Gelbart Yale Univ. Press (2021)
Of the 72 scientific names engraved on the Eiffel Tower, none is female. Omissions include the six Enlightenment women dubbed “Minerva’s sisters” by historian Nina Gelbart in her pioneering, evocative rescue. Naturalist Jeanne Barret was the first woman to circumnavigate the world (disguised as a man); chemist Geneviève d’Arconville, the first person to suspect, long before Louis Pasteur, that putrefaction was caused by airborne agents. Others worked in mathematics, astronomy, mechanics, the physics of light, epistemology, botany and anatomy.
The Ascent of Information
Caleb Scharf Riverhead (2021)
In 1989, physicist John Wheeler coined “it from bit” to express his view that “all things physical are information-theoretic in origin”. Astronomer Caleb Scharf agrees in this demanding disquisition, drawing on archaeology, evolutionary biology, neuroscience, astrobiology, computer science and information theory. He coins “dataome” — modelled on ‘genome’ — defined as “all of the non-genetic data we carry externally and internally”. Data are the reason humans exist, he argues. So how can we stop our dataome from overwhelming us?
Elinor Cleghorn Dutton (2021)
“Medicine has been complicit, for centuries, in the punishment, silencing and oppression of women,” argues this powerful history of misogyny and racism in health care. That male physicians once posited that women were too highly strung to be educated is the least of it. Elinor Cleghorn, a researcher in medical humanities, asks: how is it that many people still believe menstruation and menopause make women unsuited to power? She also draws on her own gruelling journey to be diagnosed with the autoimmune condition lupus.
Jocelyn C. Zuckerman Hurst (2021)
How did palm oil come to be in everything from toothpaste to bread, detergent and animal feed, asks journalist Jocelyn Zuckerman in her unflinching guide to a vast industry that threatens the ecosphere. Visiting deforested wastes in Liberia, wildfires in Sumatra and people living precarious lives in Guatemala, Zuckerman tells a tale of colonialism, stolen land, slave labour and globalization. Like salt, cotton and sugar, she writes, palm oil has “reshaped our economies and landscapes and reshuffled our geopolitics and health”.