Manes, Brains and Branes

Why the Lion Grew Its ManeI’m playing catch up, after some offline time last week (holidays, families, and illness), so today’s post is a grab-bag of the various items (mainly books) sitting in a large pile on my desk that I thought deserved a quick mention and a link or two for more information.

First up: Why the Lion Grew Its Mane – a big floppy book with a glossy cover and some wonderful nature photography. Author Lewis Smith (a science reporter for The Times (London) describes it as a miscellany of recent scientific discoveries from astronomy to zoology, and that’s pretty much what you get. Somewhat more esoteric is the cosmic book – The Origins of the Universe for Dummies – from Financial Times writer Stephen Pincock and sci-tech writer Mark Frary. Apparently, this is an easy book about a tough question, written at a time when dark energy, dark matter and the validity of the Big Bang are all offering humanity an array of new questions about the nature of reality. Although I didn’t see mention of ‘branes.

My old friend Kyriacos “KC” Nicolaou and colleague T Montagnon are next up. I have written widely about KC’s organic odyssey over the last (almost) two decades of my career as a science writer, having become fascinated by the incredible ways in which he and his team turn simple starting materials into some of the most complex natural products. In Molecules That Changed The World, Nicolaou and Montagnon provide a brief history of the art of chemical synthesis and its impact on society from aspirin and penicillin (sample PDF chapter) to the anticancer compound Taxol.

Nothing is static in the world of health, and as Brian L Syme suggests in Seasonally Fit, improving fitness and health is not just about diet and exercise, it’s about understanding the “rules of the game”. I must confess to agreeing with many of the critics of this book that it is aimed at too wide an audience but fails to hit the spot for any single group – whether health practitioners, academics, or lay people. Nevertheless, there is a nugget of an idea here – that our health is affected by the seasons – and with a decent ghost writer could become a useful book to add to the library of anyone hoping to understand their health more fully.

Also on my desk – Achieving Sustainable Mobility by Erling Holden (a scientific study of the impact of the European Commission’s 1992 motion), Darwin’s Paradox a novel by Nina Munteneanu (about an intelligent virus), Neuromatrix from Morphonix Inc (a PC game based around rogue nanobots, a kind of Lemmings for the 21st Century).

Finally, I’m thoroughly enjoying Brain Rules by John Medina in which he presents 12 principles for surviving and thriving at work, home, and school. This is not just a book, but has an interactive and augmentative website as well as an accompanying DVD to help you get the most out of your brain.