Eds Bruce Clarke & Sébastien Dutreuil Cambridge Univ. Press (2022)
In 1966, independent scientist James Lovelock proposed that Earth’s climate and the chemistry of its surface, air and sea “have evolved with life to provide optimum conditions for its survival”. From 1972, he and evolutionary biologist Lynn Margulis developed this concept into the Gaia hypothesis. Their trans-Atlantic correspondence appears in this enlightening book, edited by historians Bruce Clarke and Sébastien Dutreuil. At the time, the idea had little backing from Earth and life scientists; now, notables in the field contribute essays of support.
The Doctor Who Wasn’t There
Jeremy A. Greene Univ. Chicago Press (2022)
Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, physician Jeremy Greene converted his clinic to telemedicine, with mixed results. He became curious about the medical history of communications technology such as the telephone, invented in 1876. The 1910 ‘telephonic stethoscope’ was hailed for monitoring hearts, lungs and abdomens. Yet it was no use to the numerous patients who lacked a telephone even decades later. This vibrant, highly readable but US-focused history describes how many other technologies tried “to democratize access to healthcare”.
Códice Maya de México
Ed. Andrew D. Turner Getty Research Inst. (2022)
Only four Maya books survived the Spanish conquest of Mesoamerica. Three are in Europe and proved key to deciphering Maya glyphs. The fourth, discovered in the 1960s, remains in Mexico. Its authenticity was debated until 2018, when scrutiny of its colours, notably ‘Maya blue’, established it as the oldest surviving book of the Americas, from around 1100. Archaeologist Andrew Turner and contributors provide a fascinating analysis of this science and the book’s supernatural content — predictions based on Venus’s movements — with a vivid facsimile.
Scott L. Gardner et al. Princeton Univ. Press (2022)
Parasite originally meant ‘next to food’, but later signified sitting next to a host to get free food. Now it describes a long-term relationship between species, in which the parasite benefits and the host is harmed, although in practice the latter ranges from “deadly effects” to “some benefits”, note parasitologists Scott Gardner and Gabor Rácz, and parrot specialist Judy Diamond. Their world-ranging study, illustrated by Brenda Lee, focuses on three abundant types of parasite — nematodes, flatworms and thorny-headed worms.
The Pandemic Divide
Ed. Gwendolyn L. Wright et al. Duke Univ. Press (2022)
US Black and Latinx populations experience illness and COVID-19 deaths at a higher rate and earlier age than the national average. “COVID-19 pulled back the curtain on the extent of racialized inequality in the United States,” notes the foreword to this disturbing but proactive collection of articles by 27 US academics from many fields. So did George Floyd’s murder in 2020. Both events highlight inequality arising from discrimination in health care, policing, education, employment, housing and credit markets.
The author declares no competing interests.