Richly illustrated with over four hundred color images, How Plants Work: Form, Diversity, Survival (Princeton, $35) is an informative account and a celebration of the complex world of plants. And just as medical practitioners specialize in different parts of the human body, botanist and professor Stephen Blackmore focuses on investigating specific organs and processes in plants. Each section of the book emphases how “deceptively simple” plants are in that they are constructed from very familiar organs: roots, stems, leaves, flowers, and cones. But the keynote of the book is its exploration of the diversity of each major organ in order to lay out the plants’ life cycles and reproduction. Blackmore also wants us to be conscious of the role plants play for humanity. He shares his passion for plants and hopes to attract people to look more closely at plants and to understand how diverse and how important they are for our future.
Years ago, talk of a space race referred to competition between the United States and Soviet Union to put men in orbit and then send them to the moon. Nowadays, it applies to a few billionaires vying to go where only the most powerful nations went before—that is, beyond planet Earth. Christian Davenport, a Washington Post journalist who covers the space and defense industries, was able to talk to these billionaire entrepreneurs, and he chronicles their rivalries and ambitious, out-of-this-world projects in The Space Barons: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and the Quest to Colonize the Cosmos (PublicAffairs, $28). It’s a thrilling and important story that Davenport tells with well-honed reporting and narrative skills. These private, commercial space efforts are only about a decade-and-a-half old or less, yet they have made tremendous strides in a relatively short time and hold considerable promise for the future.
An award-winning science writer, Marcia Bartusiak has the knowledge and the enthusiasm to make even complex principles of quantum theory accessible and fascinating to non-scientists. In the thirty-three essays gathered as Dispatches from Planet 3 (Yale, $26), she gives us a thorough grounding in the history of astronomy, tracing its many revolutions from heliocentrism to the discoveries of double stars, supernovae, spiral galaxies, and the whole expanding universe. Each discussion traces the science as well as the impact of the ideas themselves, showing how our evolving understanding of physical phenomena affected our sense of our place in the universe—and in turn led to our next foray into the unknown. As she traces the evolution of cosmology, Bartusiak chronicles the major questions scientists asked and how they answered them, details the technological advances that made key discoveries possible, summarizes the debates surrounding revelations that were often as unsettling as they were thrilling, and profiles the key thinkers involved. Her account is especially valuable for introducing many women scientists-- Beatrice Tinsley, Vera Rubin, Margaret Burbidge, and Henrietta Swann Leavitt, whose work is probably familiar, but whose names are not.