By training and practice, Edward O. Wilson is one of the pre-eminent biologists of our time, and is perhaps unmatched in myrmecology, the study of ants. Luckily, Wilson has ranged far beyond his specialty, and as books like The Meaning of Human Existence show, Wilson is as much a philosopher as he is a scientist. He carries on this dual practice in his brilliant The Origins of Creativity (Liveright, $24.95), though he would say that science and philosophy are not parallel modes of inquiry, but exist along one continuum. This essential connection between the sciences and the humanities is the heart of the vision of a third Enlightenment that he outlines here. The two have always been linked, despite C.P. Snow’s diverging “two cultures,” forming parts of one mutually reinforcing coevolution, with language—the “supreme achievement, genetic in origin, cultural in its elaboration,” uniting them. Wilson’s own language is lucid, elegant, and irresistibly quotable: “the realm of science is everything possible in the universe, the realm of the humanities is everything conceivable to the human mind,” he says. And by utilizing these capacities to their fullest, we as a species can accomplish much, including solving the mystery of human consciousness and discovering “why we exist.” As apt to draw examples from film, literature, and music as he is from the natural world, Wilson, who has collaborated with the poet Robert Hass on The Poetic Species, is perhaps his own best example of the kind of wide-ranging, ever-inquiring mind he describes.
Do you ever find yourself looking at the starry sky and wondering how it all came to be, asking what is a universe and what is our place in it? Do you wish you knew more but are just too busy with your everyday life to start exploring and looking for answers? Well, then, Neil deGrasse Tyson’s new book, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry (W.W. Norton, $18.95), is just what you need. And even though Tyson starts with the premise that “the universe is under no obligation to make sense to you,” he will try to explain. There’s no reason to feel intimidated; I’m sure you remember learning about Einstein’s E=mc² and Sir Isaac Newton’s Universal Law of Gravitation, and that’s all you need to start reading this book. How it all begun, the Big Bang and the expansion of the cosmos, dark matter and black holes, everything is explained in clear and understandable language with short chapters that you can read whenever you find a spare minute. You will learn that the observable universe may contain a hundred billion galaxies, bright and beautiful and packed with stars, and that “we are stardust brought to life then empowered by the universe to figure itself out—and we have only just begun.”
Kelli Anderson is a graphic designer whose works on paper don’t stay flat on a table. Previously she’s made, among other things, a paper record player and a paper camera. Her newest project, This Book Is a Planetarium (Chronicle, $40), is not so much a pop-up book as it is a book of pop-up mechanisms. In addition to being a planetarium that can project the autumn night sky on your ceiling, it’s also a decoder ring to encrypt secret messages, a spiralgraph to create unique designs, a smart phone speaker, a perpetual calendar, and a paper lyre. Each contraption is accompanied by easy-to-understand explanations of why and how they work. In addition to its contents, the book itself is a stunningly engineered object and beautiful, too. As you open each page, the colors pop at the same time the gadget unfurls. The sturdy cardboard construction will hold up well to repeated use and two elastic bands are cleverly positioned to hold the book open when investigating each device. Get ready to be amazed and delighted.