"Must read" or "Don't buy" - Not quite sure? Here you can find critical reviews of new science books, movies and calendars.
- NEW: Nick Lane: The Vital Question: Why is life the way it is? Complex life has arisen only once in four billion years. Why have prokaryotes never managed to evolve the complex traits that all eukaryotes share? The Vital Question presents an intriguing answer: energy makes all the difference!
- Mark Brake and Jon Chase: The science of Star Wars. The scientific facts behind the force, space travel, and more! Will humans one day settle on Mars? Will we ever be able to build a functional lightsaber or use the Force to perform Jedi mind control? Mark Brake and Jon Chase set out to find the truth.
- Michael Charles Tobias: Codex Orféo An American Jew sets out in search of his brother, believed long since dead, and discovers not only his personal limits but also the limit of what a human can endure and survive. Whilst he plunges into Europe’s most inaccessible neck of the woods, the world’s secret services are hot on his heels.
- Bodil Holst (author) & Jorge Cham (illustrator): Scientific Paper Writing – A Survival Guide This humorous guideline won't improve your results nor lengthen your list of publications. But it might improve your papers and it will definitely make the laborious writing procedure more entertaining.
- Lajos Kovács, Dezső Csupor, Gábor Lente and Tamás Gunda: 100 Chemical Myths. A band of Hungarian scientists unravels persistent scientific myths. Your Lab Times reviewer was absolutely thrilled.
- Michael Roberts & Anne Kruchten: Receptor Biology. Compiling all available information about receptor-mediated communication, receptor types and the processes involved, is a laborious and commendable endeavour. But in the case of Receptor Biology less could have been more.
- Pernille Rørth: Raw Data. Science is both utterly rewarding and frustrating. The temptation to cut corners is high. Follow Danish cell biologist and author, Pernille Rørth, into the exciting world of life sciences!
- Andreas Wagner: Arrival of the Fittest: Solving Evolution’s Greatest Puzzle. Andreas Wagner shows how evolution depends on the sheer number of possible genotypes. Can this bioinformatician live up to Richard Dawkins as a writer?
- Werner Müller, Monika Hassel and Maura Grealy: Development and Reproduction in Humans and Animal Model Species. How does development occur in embryonic life, and how do stem cells grow and differentiate in adult organisms? A heavy German text book competes with the English top dog.
- Klaus Hausmann & Renate Radek (eds.): Cilia and Flagella, Ciliates and Flagellates: Ultrastructure and Cell Biology, Function and Systematics, Symbiosis and Biodiversity. Protists, the unicellular dinosaurs of evolution, have little in common apart from their hair-like organelles. A dozen renowned experts summarise the diverse biological aspects of these single-celled, flagellated and ciliated creatures.
- William Cortvriendt: Living a Century or More. A Scientifically Fact-Based Journey to Longevity. For those who want to live for 100 years, William Cortvriendt carefully discusses the influence of 25 factors. The inspiration to leading a carefree life must, however, be found elsewhere.
- Jonathan Tweet & Karen Lewis (Illustrator): Grandmother Fish. A child’s first book of evolution. It may be that “The first book on evolution for pre-schoolers”, reviewed here, isn’t the very first at all. Your Lab Times reviewer was nevertheless full of praise.
- David Attenborough and other authors: Life from Bygone Days. Why keep looking for the newest material when the best has been available for decades? David Attenborough’s legendary 1980s fossil documentaries are still available on DVD – and remain unbeaten, argues your Lab Times reviewer.
- Eugene Byrne & Simon Gurr: Darwin. A Graphic Biography. I had already read one of Carl Djerassi’s books. In the 1990’s, my PhD student Eva loaned me Cantors Dilemma. Because it was so boring I gave it back to Eva, although I usually keep borrowed books. From the Pill to the Pen is my second Djerassi tome. An old lady with an interest in biographies gifted it to me.
- Carl Djerassi: In Retrospect: From the Pill to the Pen. The biography of the most influential natural scientist of all time has been rewritten – in black and white, but as multicoloured as one could possibly imagine.
- Thomas Suddendorf: The Gap. The Science of What Separates Us from Other Animals. The evolution of the human mind is a truly multidisciplinary field. For biologists entering with a genetics and neuroscience perspective, this popular science book by Thomas Suddendorf is a good starting point for an exploration of the behaviour side of research.
- Igor Kaltashov & Stephen Eyles: The Fall of the House of Rascher. Mass spectrometry-based approaches to problems in structural biology are becoming more mainstream. This new research-oriented publication might provide a good opportunity to catch up on what mass spectrometry has to offer at your lab bench.
- Siegfried Bär: The Fall of the House of Rascher. During the Third Reich, he was the prototype of a Nazi monster. If he were alive today, however, he would probably be a popular physician in alternative medicine, claims the author of an equally disturbing and entertaining biography on Nazi medical experimenter, Dr Sigmund Rascher.
- Rebecca Gowland & Tim Thompson: Human Identity and Identification. How does our body define us? How does it connect with our environment and influence others’ perceptions of us? What role does it play in human identification in the context of forensics and archaeology? Two English scientists explore these and similar questions.
- Stanley Prusiner: Madness and Memory: The Discovery of Prions. Stanley Prusiner recounts his discovery of prions – and his struggle to convince his peers that they were real.
- Daniel Davis: The Compatibility Gene. An RAF bomber crashes in the Oxfordshire countryside in 1940, during the Battle of Britain. The pilot is rescued, alive but badly burned, and in need of skin grafts to survive. A young zoologist, Peter Medawar, is called to assist the medical team. For Medawar, it is the beginning of a spectacularly successful scientific career dedicated to understanding graft rejection and its flipside, immunological tolerance, culminating in winning the 1960 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Frank Macfarlane Burnet.
- Enrico Coen: Cells to Civilizations: The Principles of Change That Shape Life. Are there general principles that unify life at different levels? The British plant biologist, Enrico Coen, argues that there are. He proposes the idea of a “creative recipe” that lies beneath important transformative processes.
- Eron Sheean: Errors of the Human Body. For a desperate genius, there are no limits or taboos but one: the screenplay. Did Australian writer/director Eron Sheean master this challenge and inspire the audience?
- Adrian Raine: The Anatomy of Violence: The Biological Roots of Crime. Is it objectionable when a brain researcher propagates biological peculiarities as “root causes” for criminal behaviour? Not inevitably. But Adrian Raines goes wide off the mark when he outlines a prediction model for criminal phenotypes and pleads for radical measures.
- David Quammen: ESpillover: Animal infections and the next human pandemic. The last few years have been good to popular microbiology. After Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 medical thriller Contagion, David Quammen’s new book is bringing layman’s viral epidemiology to a whole new level.
- Anton Amann & David Smith: Volatile Biomarkers. Non-Invasive Diagnosis in Physiology and Medicine. Gases from our body orifices hold clues about health, disease and therapy. Can this outrageously expensive book educate you on such volatile biomarkers? Yes – if you overlook its manifold shortcomings.
- Ian Glynn: Elegance in Science: The Beauty of Simplicity. If you want to know whether elegant experiments are better than ugly ones you will be disappointed by this book. But this entertaining read does explain the elegant experiments that led Galilei, Joule and Mendel to formulate their insightful descriptions of nature.
- Dorothy H. Crawford: Virus Hunt: The Search for the Origin of HIV. “Early in 1981, doctors in Los Angeles reported a completely new disease”, Dorothy H. Crawford, a Scottish virologist, describes the event that spurred panic in western countries and instigated many research projects.
- Cedric Gondro, Julius van der Werf and Ben Hayes (Eds.): Genome-Wide Association Studies and Genomic Prediction Genomes, big data and new age medicine. What’s the connection? Another new specimen from the popular “Methods in Molecular Biology” series joins the dots. Laymen, however, should stay away.
- Joel Dudley & Konrad Karczewski: Exploring Personal Genomics Have you ever thought about sequencing your own genome? Ten years ago, it would have cost you tens of millions of euros (and required a good relationship with an academic laboratory). Today, the price has dropped to just a few thousand euros. Sequencing human genomes has become routine work. But what’s in it for you?
- Giovanni Bignami: We are the Martians: Connecting Cosmology with Biology Are we alone in the universe or are there millions of alien civilisations out there? The Italian astronomer Giovanni Bignami presents what we know about the time between the Big Bang and the genesis of life on Earth.
- Stephen Davies: The Artful Species. Aesthetics, Art, and Evolution Is making art part of human nature? How does it fit in with evolution? Stephen Davis takes a critical view of what philosophers, evolutionary psychologists, neurobiologists and other academics have said about the topic.
- Mark Derr: How the Dog Became the Dog Some 10,000 years ago, in the late Stone Age, art entered the archeological record (bone engravings, cave paintings and Venus figurines). Our ancestors started fishing, designed a variety of sophisticated stone tools, and got a new friend, the dog. Here’s his story.
- Marcelo Sánchez: Embryos in Deep Time What do palaeontology and developmental biology have in common? Can one of them provide insights into the other? Marcelo Sánchez explores the close but not always recognised relationship between both disciplines.
- Richard Hammond: Miracles of Nature Dropping a lightbulb from space to test a protective cover designed like a woodpecker’s head – the British TV entertainer Richard Hammond is notorious for spectacular do-it-yourself experiments. But is it science or trash when he puts himself in harm’s way to investigate the extraordinary super-powers of the animal kingdom?
- Christophe Degueurce: Fragonard Museum: The Ecorches The human body’s hidden secrets have always fascinated people. An ancient master of the art of preservation of internal organs was French anatomist, Honoré Fragonard, whose remarkable collection of flayed figures can be admired at Musée Fragonard near Paris along with his impressive book.
- Ben Goldacre: Bad Pharma When patients do not get the best treatment available it’s not always due to cost. It’s rather that clinical trials often aren’t available or are based on poor data, poor statistics and poor design. Ben Goldacre, who is renowned for mockingly bashing esoterism and bad science, has found another issue: the pharmaceutical industry.
- Michael Green & Joseph Sambrook: Molecular Cloning: A Laboratory Manual 30 years ago, a unique collection of lab protocols conquered molecular biologists’ work benches. Has the 4th edition of Molecular Cloning retained its unique characteristics?
- Gordon MacPherson and Jon Austyn: Exploring Immunology If you’d like to know how the immune system evolved in the face of all those viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites (and vice versa), this marvellous book will keep you gripped.
- Corinna Engelhardt: Stradivari’s Heirs A violin made of wood treated with a fungus beats a Stradivari in blind testing. A German TV documentary examines the science behind the sensation.
- David Moore et al.: 21st Century Guidebook to Fungi There are probably 1.5 million fungal species worldwide, but no more than 100,000 have been described so far. While fungi comprise a scientifically neglected group, three British mycologists have taken measures to change this.
- Michael Nielsen: Reinventing Discovery.In his first book, Reinventing Discovery, Nielsen motivates scientists to revolutionise their trade by making their data available to everyone.
- Björk: Biophilia Björk’s latest album is an interdisciplinary project that translates nature into an audio and visual experience; not easily available, though.
- Thomas D. Seeley: Honeybee Democracy Despite their tiny stature bees can provide Homo sapiens with many interesting role models. Entomologist Tom Seeley of Cornell University (see adjacent photo) tells us why.
- Jorge Cham: The PHD Movie Are you one of those Nameless Heroes who spend the best years of their lives – at all unsociable hours – in the lab? Yes? Well, Jorge Cham has made a film about you.
- Several Authors: Calendars In the last Lab Times of the year, we traditionally present a number of fine calendars that will please any scientist’s heart. This year, feast your eyes on a pocket diary for botanists, an extraordinary anatomical calendar from the US and an extravagant circular calendar that perplexes the eye. And, as always, there is an opportunity to win one of them.
- David Price et al.: Building Brains First you need a zygote, then things get complicated. Will this book help its readers to make a brain, or at least to gain a better understanding of how brains are built during animal development?
- Jaboury Ghazoul & Douglas Sheil: Tropical Rain Forest Ecology, Diversity, and Conservation The incredible biological profusion of tropical rain forests has long inspired adventurers and writers to expound on their majesty. Even hard-nosed scientists are in awe of the evergreen home to half the living animal and plant species on Earth.
- Scott F. Gilbert: Developmental Biology. 9th Edition. The growth and development of organisms is a thrilling thing, in theory as well as in reality. Just ask professional cyclist Tyler Hamilton.
- Jane Gitschier (ed.): Speaking of Genetics: A Collection of Interviews. There is a story behind every scientific discovery. Jane Gitschier turned on her recorder to capture the stories of 22 people who have shaped the field of genetics.
- Michael Madigan et al.: Brock Biology of Microorganisms
The smaller the leading actors, the heavier their appearance. The 13th edition of the “bible” of microbiology is devoted once again to the first, smallest and most widespread creatures on earth.
- Daniel E. Lieberman: The Evolution of the Human Head Grafted onto a slim neck, we carry around an energy-wasting appendage that torments us with headache, hair-loss and protruding ears. However, we can’t get by without it.
- Mark S. Blumberg: Freaks of Nature The shape of an animal is not as predefined as some may think. The disfigured of today may be the ordinary of tomorrow.
- William Graham (director): Acceptable Risk / The Drug This educational film for biomedical scientists provides, besides atrocity, homicide and fire raising, many interesting insights into life science research conducted in shady basements. Along with laughs for lovers of B movies.
- Scott F. Gilbert & David Epel: Ecological Developmental Biology It’s nutrition that makes a bee larva become a huge, fertile queen or a tiny, sterile worker. And it’s hot weather that makes unborn turtles become female. A didactic masterpiece about environmental effects on embryonic development.
- Rebecca Skloot: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks “If you could pile all HeLa cells ever grown onto a scale, they’d weigh more than 50 million metric tons — as much as a hundred Empire State Buildings.”
- Differebt Manufacturers: 3D modelling Kits 3D modelling kits appeal to every scientist’s inner child. Your Lab Times reporter checked out three common systems, each with a rather different character.
- Bruce V. Hofkin: Living in a Microbial World Here comes a huge textbook with sometimes unscientific and occasionally even inaccurate information. But it’s not all bad.
- Isa Schön, Koen Martens & Peter van Dijk: Lost Sex Even though many animals and plants reproduce sexually, plenty of creatures don’t need males to procreate. Maybe they have chosen an even better way.
- E. O. Wilson: Anthill. A Novel After controversial and groundbreaking books on social insects, biodiversity and human behaviour, myrmecologist and twofold Pulitzer Prize winner, E. O. Wilson, has written his first novel. Unsurprisingly, ants are the protagonists.
- Several Authors: Calendars When the pipetting gets tough in November, it’s time to put colour onto your lab’s walls. If your workgroup’s budget is exhausted and there’s no money left for paint, however, simply take part in the Lab Times calendar competition. Answer three questions correctly and stand the chance of winning a great calendar.
- Craig B. Stanford: The Last Tortoise The future of tortoises is uncertain and their biggest threat is human predation. Craig Stanford takes us closer to these creatures, showing us their biology and analysing their current situation.
- Boris Mikhaylovich Kozo-Polyansky: Symbiogenesis: A New Principle of Evolution In the 1920s, the Russian biologist Boris Mikhaylovich Kozo-Polyansky recognised symbiogenesis – the merging of two separate organisms to form a single new organism – as an important evolutionary tool. 86 years after the publication of his historic 1924 opus, Symbiogenesis, an English translation is available.
- Michael Ruse and Joseph Travis (Eds.): Evolution. The First Four Billion Years. In 1859, Darwin wrote On the Origin of Species, a book that changed the perception of the natural world. At the sesquicentennial of the publication, more than one hundred authors were gathered to explore the current state of evolutionary science.
- Mike Hansell: Built by Animals While posing countless interesting and profound questions about the technical skills of animals, the author, an emeritus professor of animal architecture, unfortunately fails to answer them.
- David Attenborough: Life In Cold Blood. A British TV legend proves, with never weakening enthusiasm and stunning scenery, that skilfull knowledge transfer hasn’t anything to do with excessive special effects.
- Alice Roberts: The Incredible Human Journey A promising BBC documentary emerges as a hotchpotch of mystery television and ethnic medley, filled out with curious freaks and gaudy effects.
- The Knife: Tomorrow, In A Year A stodgy interpretation of Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species”
Asthmatic Rooster, playing Video Games.
The new extravaganza by Swedish pop duo The Knife scares main stream music listeners but enraptures electro pop and techno aficionados.
- Petra Seeger (Director): In Search of Memory. An unorthodox, but entertaining, documentary acquaints the viewer with the brain researcher Eric Kandel. While the film only provides an outline of the science behind its main character, the laboratory scenes with Kandel’s co-workers are amazingly inspirational.
- Jennifer Rohn: Experimental Heart Most science fiction is simply bad. Either the story is miserable or the scientific details aren’t correct or both. But recently I discovered a book by Jennifer Rohn that, for me as a fan of mysteries and love stories, became a real page turner. There’s a well-written, engaging plot and the science, ranging from ELISA to SCID mice, is correct (as far as I can tell, not being an expert in signal transduction).
- Several Authors: Calendars The Language of Flowers 2010
Planet Earth 2010
- Several Authors: Going Further into Evolution Michael Ruse & Robert J. Richards (Eds.): The Cambridge Companion to “The Origin of Species”
Colin Tudge: The Link: Uncovering Our Earliest Ancestor.
- David Goodsell: The Machinery of Life After exploring the look of life for more than twenty years, a Scripps researcher and self-educated artist has again assembled an abundance of beautiful insights into the microscopic and submicroscopic world.
- Sue Eden: Living with Dormice They are invisible, but they are there – says Sue Eden, a retired plant taxonomist and self-taught rodent expert from Dorset, South-West England. She is talking of dormice, small rodents of the family Gliridae, particularly known for their long periods of hibernation.
- Jeffrey Lockwood: Six-Legged Soldiers Biological warfare has always been a big taboo, and military secretiveness soon resulted in confused conspiracy theories. Jeremy Lockwood’s “first comprehensive look at the use of insects as weapons of war”, however, doesn’t contribute reliable facts, but dozens of unverified urban legends.
- Stephen Stearns and Jacob Koella (eds.): Evolution in Health and Disease A new book about the influence of evolutionary ideas on medical problems emerges as a veritable treasure trove, according to our Lab Times reviewer.
- Michael J. Benton (Ed.): The Seventy Great Mysteries of the Natural World. Acanthostega, a dull-looking tretrapod, once paddled with eight digits on each chubby hand through Upper Devonian waters to prepare for a successful career on the mainland. Tulerpeton, one of the first true tetrapods, tramped six-digited through sticky swampland...
- G. J. Sawyer et al.: The Last Human Our prehistoric ancestors are rewarding subjects for every ambitious author of specialised books. Just take a bony superstar like Lucy, the 3.2 million-year-old lady from Awash Valley, Ethiopia, garnish the pages with showy pictures, advertise the opus extensively before publication and you’ll get a moneyspinner that sells itself (no matter what its actual value is).
- National Academy of Sciences & Institute of Medicine: Science, Evolution, and Creationism According to a Gallup poll conducted in May 2008, 44 percent [or 135 million] of all U.S. citizens “believe that God created human beings within the last 10,000 years”, while 14 percent “believe that God didn’t play any role in this process”.
- Charles Darwin: The Beagle Letters Charles Darwin was a sedulous writer of letters. He corresponded with roughly 2,000 people during his life (1809-1882). Surprisingly, most of his letters have been preserved – more than 14,000 documents in total.
- Peter Badge: Nobels. Nobel Laureates photographed Wiley-VCH has published a unique photographic record of all 305 living Nobel laureates. The weighty coffee table book is not worth reading, but its captivating photos plug the gap.
- Wolfgang Stuppy and Rob Kesseler: Fruit Fruit have a short life, followed by a cruel death. Two sympathetic authors have erected an illustrated memorial to the progeny of plants. Can this third part of a so far marvellous series meet its readers’ high expectations?
- Calendars: Three great 2009 calendars for life scientists and nature lovers Guess right and win a great calendar! Lab Times wants to know the name of the Danish scientist who discovered a famous device that is present in every human cell.
- K.C. Nicolaou & T. Montagnon: Molecules that Changed the World Tiny chemical compounds, such as penicillin and acetylsalicylic acid, have made a huge contribution to the quality of modern life. Others, such as strychnine, have enhanced performance in sport and, well, homicide. A new illustrated book offers a colourful investigation into three dozen compounds.
- Jürgen Tautz, Photographs Helga Heilmann: The Buzz about Bess Since Karl von Frisch identified honeybees’ mechanisms of communication and translated the meaning of the waggle dance 60 years ago, Apis mellifera has disclosed plenty of extra secrets. Von Frisch’s kindred spirit, behavioural physiologist Jürgen Tautz, revisits a forgotten superorganism.
- Rosa Margesin et al.: Psychrophiles. From Biodiversity to Biotechnology Permanently frozen environments host a wide diversity of life. A new text book shows how the inhabitants’ strategies enable them to thrive successfully in their cold habitats and their important roles in the terrestrial biosphere.
- Ralph Rapley and David Whitehouse (eds.): Molecular Forensics A laudably wide-ranging attempt to present the current state of affairs in forensic science. Unfortunately, the result is neither fish nor fowl.
- Eric Bertrand & Michel Faupel (eds.): Subcellular Proteomics. Who is Reading this Book? ... wonders Lab Times reviewer Hubert Rehm, who reviewed it mainly for the sake of university librarians. His conclusion is rigorous to the publishers and frustrating for the authors.
- Tibor Braun (ed.): The Impact Factor of Scientific and Scholarly Journals. A compilation of the most interesting articles on scientometrics would be an advantage for everyone who wants to be informed about developments in the measurement of publication quality. This is exactly what this book is trying to do. A good read, despite a lot of mathematics and statistics.
- Reinhard Renneberg: Biotechnology for Beginners Are American text books better than those written by elsewhere? Yes. But this state of affairs seems set to change.
- Victor R. Alekseev, Bart De Stasio and John J. Gilbert (eds.): Diapause in Aquatic Invertebrates Some aquatic organisms possess the odd ability to to enter a reversible state of dormancy to overcome harsh living conditions. A new text book offers a detailed insight but has also some shortcomings.
- Luis M. Chiappe: Glorified Dinosaurs. The Origin and Early Evolution of Birds. Ornithologists beware! The twittering cuties in our back gardens are, in fact, direct cousins of Tyrannosaurus and Velociraptor. A recently published book reviews what we know about the origin and evolution of birds.
- Gerhard Gottsberger & Ilse Silberbauer-Gottsberger: Life in the Cerrado The Cerrado, also referred to as "Brazil’s unknown heart", features an extraordinary range of plant and animal biodiversity. A two-volume opus brings the endangered ecosystem closer to readers.
- Thomas Hager: The Demon under the Microscope Until the 1930s, a trivial bacterial infection meant mortal danger. A German physician produced hope for mankind.
- Several Authors: Therapeutic Antibodies / Clinical Microbiology / World Without Us A highly anticipated compendium emerges as the new reference point for therapeutic antibodies. An enjoyable approach to clinical microbiology goes into its 4th edition. An author’s thought experiment scares readers.
- Matt Ridley: Francis Crick. Discoverer of the Genetic Code. Widely known as the co-discoverer of the molecular structure of DNA, Francis Crick was significantly more than James Watson’s alter-ego but an incessant and keen thinker. A worthy read, this biography reminds us of that great scientist.
- Rob Kesseler & Wolfgang Stuppy: Seeds – Time Capsules of Life. Seeds are the most complex organs that plants produce and they have been doing it for 360 million years. Now a stunning new book delves into the noble history of the humble seed.
- Nicolas Fraser & Douglas Henderson: Dawn of the Dinosaurs. Life in the Triassic. The age before the dinosaurs was called the Triassic. This breathtakingly illustrated book enables the reader to travel back in time. Bon Voyage!
- Timothy D. Veenstra & John R. Yates: Proteomics for Biological Discovery. Multiple-author books have their advantages and disadvantages. How does this new textbook on proteomics, written by 29 proven experts, measure up?
- Michael Stebbins: Sex, Drugs & DNA. Science’s Taboos Confronted. Many people, mainly in the USA, regard this book as the polemical rant of a “liberal scumbag”. This is not surprising. With a devilish pleasure, Michael Stebbins outspokenly presents his views on the most controversial topics in science.