Books to Read Now

Seed Picks

October releases on the culture of consumption, the Golden Age of General Relativity, and how rumors spread on the internet.

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Release date: Oct. 19
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How We Live & Why We Die: The Secret Lives of Cells
By Lewis Wolpert (W.W. Norton & Co.)

Acclaimed developmental biologist Lewis Wolpert, author of Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast, traces life’s mysteries back to the level of cells in this engaging primer. Trained as an engineer, Wolpert brings to cell biology a clear organizational logic, and under such headings as “How We Live,” “How We Function,” and “How We Grow and Why We Age,” he describes how the cell is the basis of all we experience. Indeed, as Wolpert shows, concepts as broad as evolution can be understood using the cell as a starting point and charting the cell’s discovery reveals the greater shape of the history of science in this profound, yet eminently readable book.

Release date: Oct. 1
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Cracking the Einstein Code: Relativity and the Birth of Black Hole Physics
By Fulvio Melia (University of Chicago Press)

Einstein’s theory of general relativity was around for decades before it was possible for astrophysicists to study it. And when they finally cracked the code, they simultaneously discovered black holes. In this gripping intellectual history of the Golden Age of General Relativity, Melia, an astrophysicist, introduces a cast of driven, thoughtful young scientists who dedicated their careers to divining the physical manifestations of Einstein’s theories. The book, studded with candid photographs of everyone from Roger Penrose to Vitaly Ginzburg, follows mathematician Roy Kerr as he strives to develop the first exact solution to the Einstein equations, forever altering physics.

Release date: Oct. 15
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Am I Making Myself Clear?: A Scientist’s Guide to Talking to the Public
By Cornelia Dean (Harvard University Press)

Book-length lamentations over the state of American scientific literacy are in no short supply, though a consensus on who is to blame may never be reached. Fortunately, Harvard professor and New York Times science editor Cornelia Dean cuts through this debate, getting down to the practical aspect of improving scientists’ communication skills. Dean’s advice comes in the form of a concise handbook, touching on everything from interview preparation to blogging, so some suggestions come across as easier said than done. Nevertheless, she drives home her core idea: If society is unhappy with the way the public relates to scientists’ work, there are many simple things scientists can do to meet the public halfway.

Out now
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On Rumors: How Falsehoods Spread, Why We Believe Them, What Can Be Done
By Cass R. Sunstein (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)

Recently confirmed “regulatory czar” Cass Sunstein follows up his Going to Extremes with a short but powerful treatise on how misinformation is created and how it spreads through social networks. While there have always been rumors, the internet epitomizes Sunstein’s conditions for their growth and spread. And marrying his expertise as a law scholar and his work with behavioral economists, Sunstein cautions that the explosion of rumor-mongering on the internet could very well force a reconsideration of American libel laws. With clear examples and lucid arguments, On Rumors couldn’t come at a better time in the country’s increasingly divisive—and deceptive—public discourse.

Out now
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Change By Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation
By Tim Brown (HarperBusiness)

Design is not just about making things. It’s a tool for building better organizations, communities, and governments. It’s an approach, unbound to a specific discipline—a way to organize information; to problem-solve; to synthesize new ideas. This is the crux of design thinking, a concept introduced by IDEO’s Tim Brown in Change by Design. In this “blueprint for creative leaders,” Brown is clear, persuasive, and often funny, writing with an authority presumably honed by his years of advising Fortune 500 companies and high-level government officials. But even for those of us without our own sovereign nation or blue-chip corporation, design thinking offers a guide for rethinking and organizing our everyday creative processes.

Out now
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Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives
By Nicholas A. Christakis and James H. Fowler (Little, Brown and Company)

The “dynamic duo” behind Connected has already made waves with the research that forms the basis for this sure-to-be blockbuster. Christakas made headlines with a study that showed obesity could spread from person to person like a contagious disease; Fowler had similar coverage showing how political beliefs might act in the same way. Their interconnected social networks brought them together for this engaging and insightful book, which serves as an introduction to network theory and how it is present in almost every facet of our lives. Though the extended use of contagion as an explanatory device can lead to some mixed metaphors, Connected succeeds in connecting with its audience.

Originally published October 1, 2009

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