Why you should love wasps, and what is emotion? Books in short

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Endless shapes

Seirian Sumner William Collins (2022)

There are over 100,000 species of wasps, compared to just 22,000 for bees. Wasps are vital pest controllers, pollinators, seed dispersers and decomposers. Yet much less is known about them than about bees, writes entomologist Seirian Sumner, who hated wasps as a child — but hugged them during her PhD, after an experience flat on a jungle floor with a wasp’s nest above her nose. Her mesmerizing, captivating study finds that “bees are just wasps who have forgotten how to hunt”.

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The nature of the beast

David J. Anderson Base (2022)

What are emotions and what is their role? Neurobiologist David Anderson explains all the ways we can’t know. Brain scanning reveals blood flow, not electrical activity — and it’s unclear whether emotion triggers brain activity or vice versa. Scientists are like the blind men in the parable, who describe individual parts of an elephant, and “don’t even have the same word for ‘elephant,'” he says. Animals – the key to this deeply delightful book – unfortunately cannot confirm or deny the emotional interpretations of their behavior by pet owners.

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Beyond Measure

James Vincent Faber (2022)

Journalist James Vincent became engrossed in measurements while interviewing scientists in 2018, when the kilogram was formally redefined in terms of Planck’s constant. His appealing book encompasses much more than science; measuring, he says, is “a mirror to society itself”. Think warehouse workers whose work is checked every second – a complex relationship Vincent likens to William Blake’s classic satirical portrait of Isaac Newton who obsessively measures detail with a compass.

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Transformer

Nick Lane Profile (2022)

Biology has been dominated by genetic studies for too long, says biochemist Nick Lane. Genes do not reveal whether a cell is alive or dead, nor how it undergoes a billion metabolic transformations per second. These include the Krebs cycle, a sequence of reactions by which cells generate energy, and the focus of this analysis. Deeply researched and convincingly written, it is sometimes difficult to cope with, as Lane admits, “for many people” the biochemistry is “full of runic symbols suggesting that a priesthood intends to hide the path to meaning”.

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The confrontation with climate whims

Daniel S. Cohan Yale University. Press (2022)

“Faced with the greatest environmental challenge of our time,” notes environmental engineer Daniel Cohan, “the US Congress has failed repeatedly.” In his proposals to break this deadlock, he argues that action will come not from one piece of legislation, but from international diplomacy to encourage U.S. actions, policies to boost innovation and investment in infrastructure. Chapters cover technological efficiency, clean fuels, carbon capture and geoengineering.

Competing Interests

The author declares no conflict of interest.

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