Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear By Dan Gardner, Scribe, 395pp, $ 35
NOW and again someone is eaten by a shark. It’s sad and scary. But while the terror created by a shark attack is enormous, the odds of becoming a great white’s dinner are small. We’re likelier to be taken out by a bee than a bronze whaler. Still, that’s the way the human brain works. It’s great on specific in- your- face threats but lousy on serious but abstract risks such as smoking and obesity. According to Dan Gardner, a Canadian journalist, that makes us easy pickings for politicians, activists and even the media, all of whom promote fear. Now that’s really scary.
The History of Astronomy
By Heather Couper and Nigel Henbest, Cassell Illustrated, 288pp, $ 65 ROCK up, space fans. British astronomers Heather Couper and Nigel Henbest — known collectively as Hencoup — have released another beauty that satisfies the eye and the mind. The conceit is that the history of astronomy reflects the ( pre) history of humanity. So Hencoup take us sky watching in the company of Aborigines, Americans, ancient Egyptians, early Europeans, Pacific Islanders and Mesopotamians. They trace the evolution of ideas and instruments, leaving us searching the stars for cosmic company. The forward, written by Arthur C. Clarke, left me with a sniffle and a smile. EUROPEANS were hardly the first strangers on Australia’s shores. But they were the first to leave a record of where they dropped anchor, providing a 400- year story- line. Not normally fond of edited academic books, I make an exception for Strangers . Its editors are full- bottle on the archeology, anthropology and prehistory of Australia. They’ve pulled together a highly readable collection of essays by indigenous and non- indigenous scholars about contacts between Australians and Macassans, Dutch, English, French and others. Plus, good illustrations.
Strangers on the Shore: Early Coastal Contacts in Australia Edited by Peter Veth, Peter Sutton and Margo Neale, National Museum of Australia Press, 246pp, $ 29.95 Elizabeth Blackburn and the Story of Telomers
By Catherine Brady, The MIT Press, 392pp, $ 48.95 LIZ Blackburn is a lass from Tasmania who made good. While not mentioned in this biography, rumour has it that she’s in the pipeline for a Nobel prize and the sooner she gets one the better. Why? Blackburn’s work with telomers — caps at the ends of chromosomes — promises insight into and possible treatments for cancer and even ageing. No slouch, she. Blackburn tolerates fools not at all, whether dogmatic religious opponents of stem cell research or dogmatic US presidents. She’s fabulous. Pity this mundane biography isn’t.