Planet Earth

The Best New Books for the Holidays

We review four new science releases that would make great stocking stuffers.

By Gemma Tarlach, Brenda Poppy, and Elisa NeckarNov 6, 2014 6:02 PM


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Liquid Intelligence

By Dave Arnold

Friends don’t let friends mix drinks badly, and Arnold, the man behind Manhattan’s fabled Booker and Dax bar, is your friend. More than a collection of boozy recipes — though there are plenty of those — Arnold’s first book is a crash course in, and celebration of, mixed drink chemistry. He covers everything from how the size and source of an ice cube affects a drink’s taste to colonial America’s affinity for cocktails finished with a red-hot poker. The amount of material would be overwhelming without Arnold’s conversational tone and egalitarian approach: Don’t have a customized blowtorch or clarified lemon juice? No problem! He suggests workarounds to suit any aspiring mixology master. — Gemma Tarlach

Lives in Ruins

By Marilyn Johnson

Johnson, who previously delved into the worlds of librarians and obituary writers, explains in the opening pages that Lives is not about radiocarbon dating or arcane scientific theory. She’s writing about “people who study people and the things they left behind” — archaeologists who endure stingy funding, ruthless competition, long hours and often intolerable working conditions, all in hopes of documenting a past long gone before developers or the passage of time destroy a site forever. Johnson climbs into field trenches around the world, sweating and shoveling beside these unsung heroes. Through her, we come to appreciate their tenacity and drive, as well as how much we need them — GT

Animal Weapons

By Douglas J. Emlen

Bigger is better — at least when it comes to survival of the fittest. Through personal stories, historical narrative and detailed sketches, biologist Emlen charts the evolution of animal weapons so bizarre and gargantuan, it’s amazing they even exist — like the towering antlers on an elk or the enormous claws on fiddler crabs. The one-upmanship that leads to such brutal adaptations isn’t unique to the animal kingdom; we see it again and again in the arms races of our own species. According to Emlen, understanding what drives this competition, as well as the conditions that can lead to detente, might just help us survive in a world of human weapons more extreme than ever. — Brenda Poppy

The Hunt for the Golden Mole

By Richard Girling

Environmental journalist Girling ponders the many ways humans have steadily deteriorated biodiversity in our attempt to catalog and conquer the natural world, from bloody quests that stocked early zoos to the current ravages of the ivory trade. By juxtaposing this sobering history with his own almost giddy search for the elusive, and perhaps extinct, Somali golden mole, Girling conveys a passionate enthusiasm for the wonders of the animal world, regret for what we’ve lost and cautious hope for what we might still save. — Elisa Neckar

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