Friday, December 05, 2014

Books for Christmas Part 10: The Science of the Absurd, the Music of Nick Cave and the History of Mankind - Science, Nature and Music books for Christmas

The Naming of the Shrew - John Wright - £14.99
Latin names - frequently unpronounceable, all too often wrong and always a tiny puzzle to unravel - have been annoying the layman since they first became formalised as scientific terms in the eighteenth century. Why on earth has the entirely land-loving Eastern Mole been named Scalopus aquaticus, or the Oxford Ragwort been called Senecio squalidus - 'dirty old man'? With wonderfully witty style and captivating narrative, this book will make you see Latin names in a whole new light.

You Are Here: Around the World in 92 Minutes - Chris Hadfield - £20.00
Hadfield’s 'An Astronaut’s Guide To Life On Earth' became a bestseller in the wake of his photos and educational videos from the International Space Station, not to mention his TED talk, and his much-viewed zero gravity rendition of “Space Oddity”. This is his collection of breathtaking photos taken from the ISS, arranged continent by continent, and representing one (idealized) orbit of the Earth. The photos are accompanied by a commentary from Hadfield, whose expert eye sees more in the images than we ever could.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind - Yuval Noah Harari - £25.00
As far as themes go, they don’t get much bigger than the entire history of our species. Yuval Harari’s ‘Sapiens’ is one of those monumental works that gives a dizzying perspective on how we came to rule – and threaten – the entire planet. It starts with the changes in our brain that allowed us to tell stories, imagine alternative scenarios, and out-manoeuvre other species (notably Neanderthals). From there we become farmers, develop religion, invent money, harness technology and threaten widespread extinction – including our own. The writing is superb – never dry, occasionally brazen, at times almost sardonic – and never afraid to come off the fence in areas that are controversial: did we domesticate wheat, or did it domesticate us? Did stockpiling food lay the psychological seeds for consumerism? Are we happier now than *any* of our ancestors? And what is going to replace our species, as surely as we replaced earlier species?

What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions - Randall Munroe - £14.99 
When will Facebook contain more profiles of dead people than living? How many humans would a T-Rex rampaging through New York need to eat a day? Munroe - ex NASA roboticist and creator of ur-science web cartoon xkcd - answers the absurd questions with responses that are masterpieces of clarity and hilarity - but based on serious science! (Signed copies available whilst stocks last)

Simpsons & Their Mathematical Secrets - Simon Singh - £8.99
Brilliant writers have smuggled in mathematical jokes throughout the cartoon's twenty-five year history, exploring everything from to Mersenne primes, from Euler's equation to the unsolved riddle of P vs. NP, Singh offers an entirely new insight into the most successful show in television history.

The Wisdom of Tees - Max Adams - £12.99
Trees are marvels of nature, still-standing giants of extraordinary longevity. In a beautifully written sequence of essays, anecdotes and profiles of Britain's best-loved species (from yew to scots pine), Max Adams explores both the amazing biology of trees and humanity's relationship with wood and forest across the centuries. Embellished with images from John Evelyn's classic SYLVA (1664), this is a passionate and informative celebration of trees and of man's ingenuity in exploiting their resources: the perfect gift for anyone who cares about the natural world. 

Live At The Brixton Academy - Simon Parkes and JS Rafaeli - £9.99
In 1982, aged twenty-three, Simon Parkes paid GBP1 for a virtually derelict building in Brixton. Over the next fifteen years he turned it into Britain's most iconic music venue. And now he's telling his story: full of fond - and wild - reminiscences of the famous musicians who played at the venue, including Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, Lou Reed, The Ramones, New Order, the Beastie Boys and The Smiths.

A Little History: Photographs of Nick Cave and Cohorts 1981-2013 - Bleddyn Butcher - £18.99
When Bleddyn Butcher first saw The Birthday Party play, back in 1981, he was astonished. And then enthralled. He set about trying to catch their lightning in his Nikon F2AS. That quixotic impulse became a lifelong quest. A little history got made on the way.

Collected here for the first time are the fruits of his labour. A Little History is an extraordinary document, tracking Nick Cave's creative career from the apoplectic extravagance of The Birthday Party to the calmer disquiet of 2013's Push The Sky Away via snapshots, spotlit visions and sumptuous, theatrical portraits. It mixes the candid and uncanny, the spontaneous and the patiently staged, and includes eyeball encounters with Cave's baddest lieutenants, men for the most part who long since burned their own bridges down.

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