Bill Nye’s new book tackles one of the critical issues confronting today’s world, climate change and global warming. It is an incontrovertible fact that the Earth becomes warmer every year and the polar ice caps are melting. If that doesn’t scare you enough, the resources we need to survive are becoming more and more scarce. Nye argues that we should all stop and rethink the way we live and try not to leave to future generations an Earth that is dirty, overheated, and depleted of resources. By his own admission, Bill Nye is an engineer and a tinkerer so he always looks for technical solutions to a problem, and that is what this book offers. Among other things, he says we need to find new sources of energy, new ways to store and transmit that energy, and new ways to include our government and citizens everywhere in this immense undertaking. You don’t need to be a science nerd or to have a lot of knowledge on the topic to understand this book. It is, after all Bill Nye, The Science Guy who wrote it! He is undeniably unstoppable in his optimism and putting a positive spin on negative issues, and he has a way of explaining things in a way that is both understandable and entertaining.
In 2011, when the Pulitzer committee awarded Siddhartha Mukherjee the non-fiction prize, it praised The Emperor of All Maladies as “an elegant inquiry, at once clinical and personal.” Well, he’s done it again in The Gene: An Intimate History (Scribner, $32), which tells the story of the development of genetics by weaving science and social history with some of Mukherjee’s personal narrative about his own relatives. As Mukherjee recalls in the acknowledgments, he was actually so physically and mentally exhausted after Emperor that he hadn’t expected to write another book. But The Gene turns out to be a natural pairing with Emperor—a sort of prequel in that it focuses on biological normalcy before things get distorted into the malignancy of cancer. If you’ve ever wondered how much of our lives is determined by genes or by external environmental factors, read this book. But don’t expect a simple answer!
Like Stephen Hawking, “one of those physicists who know that time travel is impossible but also know it’s fun to talk about,” James Gleick, author of Chaos and The Information, plays with a century’s worth of ideas about time, from its secret identity as the fourth dimension to alternative sequences for past-present-future, to the obsolescence of the future itself in the digital age. His point of departure for this buoyant yet substantial “history” of Time Travel (Pantheon, $26.95), a phenomenon that hasn’t quite happened yet, is H. G. Wells’s The Time Machine, published in 1895, which marked the divide between old notions of cyclical time and the modern sense of time as an inexorable advance. Until the twentieth century, there were no time zones, no daylight saving time, no centennial celebrations. Utopias and dystopias were distant lands, not visions of the future. Gleick lays out the technological and scientific contributions to this new concept of time as well as examining what the changes meant for age-old questions about free will and the nature of consciousness. But “the rules of time travel have been written not by scientists but by storytellers,” and Gleick focuses on the literature of time, dipping into works by Wells’s contemporary, Proust, and their long line of descendants such as Asimov, Gibson, Calvino, Stoppard, and Wallace. Gleick has a sharp eye for wit, puzzles, and the telling paradox; if you don’t already have a taste for science fiction, his sampler will send you after more of this “roisterous temporal complexity.”