Staff Pick

Jellyfish are among the oldest creatures on the planet, yet not much is known about them. Three hundred species have been named, but twice that are thought to exist. They range in size from a millimeter to more than six feet, live for hours or years. Most sting, and one kind can kill a person in less than three minutes. Collecting in massive “blooms,” they literally stop ship traffic and frequently clog intake valves and shut down power plants. And they are “heartbreakingly beautiful.” Juli Berwald, a one-time science textbook writer, became smitten with jellyfish while diving in Israel in 1987. She didn’t plan to pursue them around the world, but she has, and Spineless (Riverhead, $27) is both the story of what Berwald has learned about jellyfish and the story of how the jellyfish made her a scientist.  A wife and mother of two, Berwald found in jellyfish “the intellectual playground …[she] craved,” but scheduled reporting and diving trips around the family’s needs. She nonetheless met with marine researchers in Europe, Japan, and throughout the U.S., and her book examines all facets of jellyfish physiology, from how the animals swim—pulling water, not pushing it, and moving deliberately, not drifting—to how they sting, how they use bioluminescence to communicate, how one species appears every thirty years, like a marine locust, and how another type reverses stages of its life cycle, as if it finds time as fluid as water. Berwald’s driving question is whether jellyfish thrive or suffer in warmer, more acidic seas, and as she presents the conflicting evidence, her book expands into an urgent and illuminating look at the ocean as a complex eco-system beset by climate change.

Spineless: The Science of Jellyfish and the Art of Growing a Backbone Cover Image
ISBN: 9780735211261
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Riverhead Books - November 7th, 2017

Staff Pick

Cetaceans: we think of them as “smart,” but what does that mean in creatures so different from us? Their environment is under the sea, their bodies are adapted for swimming, yet, like us, they are mammals with complex brains. If you’ve ever wondered what use a whale, dolphin, or porpoise makes of that brain, Deep Thinkers: Inside the Minds of Whales, Dolphins, and Porpoises (Chicago, $35), edited by Georgetown professor Janet Mann, will give you some insight. As an overview of cetacean research, Mann and her contributors, who each bring their own expertise in marine mammal research, go from brain structure to cognition, communication, society, and culture, giving examples of the animals forming social groups, using tools, and hunting cooperatively. Each chapter is broken down into two- or three-page topics interspersed with graphics and vivid photographs of animals—alone, in groups, or interacting with humans. This clearly written and thoughtfully organized book makes it easy to understand the cetaceans’ place in what has become our world, filled with the threats to their existence, such as pollution, that we caused, but also changes we can make to maintain their presence in the seas.

Deep Thinkers: Inside the Minds of Whales, Dolphins, and Porpoises Cover Image
By Janet Mann (Editor)
ISBN: 9780226387475
Availability: Not On Our Shelves—Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: University of Chicago Press - October 11th, 2017

Staff Pick

Miles’s detailed survey of earthquakes is timely not just because of the recent temblors in Mexico, but because the probability of an earthquake  exists all the time almost everywhere. Earthquakes are  notoriously hard to predict, even along known geological faults. New faults  are discovered and created all the time, as we mine, frack, inject wastewater underground, and even build skyscrapers. While science knows a lot about the variables that influence how strong a quake will be, there are so many facets involved - depth, soil type, presence or absence of water - that every earthquake is unique. Miles has traveled all over, talking with seismologists,  geologists, miners, and activists. She profiles history’s major earthquakes, looks at likely sites for future Big Ones, explains liquefaction and subduction, defines key terms such as hypocenter, mantel, and crusts; distinguishes between  sheer and compressed waves, discusses plate tectonics, and much more. A veritable field guide to earthquakes, her book is also full of vivid stories about how earthquakes have literally changed the lay of the land, and how people have survived them.

Quakeland: On the Road to America's Next Devastating Earthquake Cover Image
ISBN: 9780525955184
Availability: Not On Our Shelves—Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Dutton - August 29th, 2017