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Planet Earth

What to Read This Summer

Whale tales, an ancient road trip, a Mars to-do list and more.

By Gemma TarlachJune 25, 2018 5:45 PM


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Summer’s here, and the time is right for reading. So slather on the sunscreen, sink your toes into the sand or soft grass, and dig in to these new books.

Top Picks


Spying on Whales: The Past, Present, and Future of Earth’s Most Awesome Creatures By Nick Pyenson

From thrilling fossil finds in Chile’s Atacama Desert to ad hoc dissections during an Icelandic commercial operation, Smithsonian Institution curator Pyenson tells, ahem, a whale of a tale about these beloved — and besieged — marine mammals.

Atlas of a Lost World: Travels in Ice Age America By Craig Childs

Part paleoanthropological investigation, part travelogue: Childs and his family and friends kayak, hike and minivan their way along the routes likely taken by the first humans to explore the Americas. Whether foraging in tidal pools (don’t eat the worms) or imagining the “ragged bassoons” of dire wolves outside his tent, Childs delivers a thought-provoking road trip through the Late Pleistocene that’s rich in detail and drama.

The Equations of Life: How Physics Shapes Evolution By Charles S. Cockell

If a ladybug lands on you while reading this provocative perspective, don’t swat it away before you’ve taken a good look. Astrobiologist Cockell uses the insect, along with assorted microbes and other earthly residents, to reassess the story of life both on and beyond our planet.

Quick Takes

Human Errors: A Panorama of Our Glitches, From Pointless Bones to Broken Genes By Nathan H. Lents

We are a mess. Every one of us is riddled with anatomical disadvantages and evolutionary missteps. Biology professor Lents provides a funny, fascinating catalog of our collective shortcomings that’s tough to put down.

Chasing New Horizons: Inside the Epic First Mission to Pluto By Alan Stern and David Grinspoon

Journey to the far reaches of our solar system without leaving your chaise lounge through this insider’s view of an extraordinary space odyssey.

Still Waters: The Secret World of Lakes By Curt Stager

From iconic Walden Pond to East Africa’s explosive Lake Kivu, natural sciences professor Stager takes a deep dive into the geological and cultural backstories of these bodies of water, many imperiled by 21st-century development.

Life on Mars: What to Know Before We Go By David A. Weintraub

Don’t plan on any s’mores and campfires on the Red Planet: Astronomer Weintraub lays out how humans have prepped for the interplanetary trip, plus the many tasks still on the to-do list.


Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray By Sabine Hossenfelder

While physicist and Backreaction blogger Hossenfelder is known in her field for blunt takedowns of its sacred cows, her witty, accessible writing is a delicious read for anyone — especially if you’ve got a touch of physics-phobia.

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