The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

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.

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